While many ed funders these days are working around local school districts, or trying to blow them up, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund is directly partnering with San Francisco public school leaders to tackle the achievement gap. That's not surprising for a progressive foundation that steers clear of the solutions championed by the centrist and conservative funders who are so visible in the ed space right now.
You won't find this foundation backing charter networks or bashing teachers unions or chanting the mantra of "choice" and "accountability." Instead, Haas believes progress lies in boosting early learning, strengthening school leadership, and better engaging parents and communities in the public schools as "essential partners."
Haas has opened its checkbook to the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) in a big way. The foundation's goal here is to help close the achievement gap among low-income and racial minority students, which it sees as a key to ensuring equal opportunity for all children in San Francisco. The foundation's bigger hope is that SFUSD can become a national model of how America's most challenged students can make big academic gains (and without letting a bunch of hedge fund guys level the existing system).
Before saying more about this partnership, some context: Nearly a decade before the 2007 Supreme Court decision that race may not be used as an admissions factor in K-12 schools, parents of Chinese students sued the SFUSD for its decree that no more than 45 percent of any racial group could make up the student body at a single school. While the rule was intended to help more students of color gain access to some of the educational opportunities available at the district’s top schools, parents of Chinese students felt the rule unfairly elevated admissions requirements for Asian students.
In 2000, the district agreed to remove race as a factor of consideration for admission. But it since has sought alternative ways to broaden access to cutting edge educational opportunities for disadvantaged kids. And partnering with the Haas Jr. Foundation has paid off big.
The Haas Jr. Fund has made a number of large grants to the SFUSD to address and close the achievement gap impacting low-income kids of color. Earlier this year, the fund announced a $500,000 grant to support the SFUSD’s PreK-3 grade plan to improve school readiness in the earliest years, improve math and English language arts scores, and improve the social and emotional well being of young students.
And the cash flow doesn’t stop there.
Haas has also backed the Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth to advocate for low-income students and parents before elected officials. And it's granted the National Equity Project funds to build leadership capacity within the district to boost achievement among African-American students. In addition, it's given money to Partners in School Innovation, a San Francisco-based group that seeks to turn around the lowest performing schools.
Recently, the foundation announced a $30,000 grant to the Imagine Bus Project, which works with community-based after-school programs to provide weekly visual arts programs to elementary school students. Ninety-five percent of the 2,000 students Imagine Bus Project served last year were from low-income families or at risk of gang violence and incarceration.
What Haas is doing reinforces a broader reality we're seeing in the K-12 space, which is that progressive approaches to improving education are alive and well in many big cities, along with keen philanthropic support for public education officials, even as charter school advocates get all the ink with their calls to burn the existing system to the ground.
Message to beleaguered ed progressives: You might have more deep pocketed friends than you think.