Peter Lettenberger, Brady Education Foundation

TITLE: Director and Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Early childhood education

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Acquiring research funding from the Brady Education Foundation may seem as rigorous as the peer review process in academia. Lettenberger, a retired attorney, can spot proposals with weak ideas and scant evidence. However, the effort may prove rewarding, as this funder values research and evaluation aimed at identifying promising early childhood education practices.

PROFILE: An attorney by profession, Peter Lettenberger knows how to gather evidence, build a persuasive case, and spot weaknesses in opposing arguments and analyses. These skills serve him well at the Brady Education Foundation, where he serves on the board, which is tasked with selecting proposals for funding. Lettenberger has been active in the foundation for more than 30 years.

Lettenberger retired from the legal profession after 40 years of practice with the law firm of Quarles and Brady in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he was a partner. Since retiring, Lettenberger remains active in numerous civic and charitable organizations, including United Way.

The Brady Education Foundation, based in Chapel Hill, N.C., is one of the best friends early childhood education researchers can have. This philanthropic group is all about funding research and evaluation of such programs. However, this is not an organization that funds research for its own sake. Projects supported by Brady should have the goals of improving the effectiveness of early childhood education programs and guiding public policy decisions in this critical area.

Lettenberger is one member of the foundation’s five-member board, which reviews proposals for approval. Brady utilizes a two-stage proposal review process. In the first stage, the funder accepts proposals throughout the year. Proposals at the first stage are similar to most research proposals prepared by academic research and evaluation professionals, including such elements as the overall aim of the study, proposed evaluation timeline, literature review, budget and budget justification, and information about the principal investigator.

Once proposals are received, Lettenberger and the other board members review them. The board meets three times a year to review proposals. If a proposal receives board approval, the applicant is invited to continue to Stage 2 of the process. This may sound simple enough, but Lettenberger and the Brady Education Foundation board do not approve many proposals. The board generally approves between two and four Stage 1 applications and one or two Stage 2 applications at each meeting. In a recent year, for example, the Brady Education Foundation awarded only two grants:

  • $190,020 over two years to a pair of New York University researchers for “Oral Stories in the Classroom.” This project explores storytelling traditions among low-income Latino families and uses that knowledge to assess the efficacy of a culturally based classroom storytelling curriculum.
  • $118,328 to two researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts for Partnerships for Early Childhood Curriculum Development: Readiness through Integrative Science and Engineering. This program strives to engage preschool students with linguistically diverse backgrounds in science, technology, and engineering activities.

As a board member of the Brady Education Foundation, Lettenberger funds two types of projects: evaluations of existing model programs and innovative research or new program development. In particular, Lettenberger has a history of funding projects that connect researchers and program providers to demonstrate the effectiveness of programs for children from poor backgrounds, as well as identify through research areas for program improvement. Because of the emphasis on connecting researchers with practitioners, grantseekers should ensure that their proposals allocate time for collaboration between these two groups. In addition to documenting the effectiveness of model early childhood education programs, the foundation is interested in projects that have the potential to guide policy and funding decisions.

Brady Education Foundation funds should be a part, rather than the whole, of a project’s funding. Lettenberger and the other board members at Brady look for projects that leverage other funds. Past Brady grants, for example, have supplemented funding by the National Science Foundation, as well as other philanthropic groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Although Lettenberger is interested in evaluations of model programs, grantseekers looking for funding to scale up a program already demonstrated to be effective should look elsewhere for funding, as the Brady Education Foundation does not support this type of work. This foundation does not fund continuing education for providers, program operating costs, or research that focuses on children at risk because of medical conditions or substance abuse issues.