It is hard to envision a prosperous future in America without a strong education system that prepares young people for productive and fulfilling lives. Education is the greatest single predictor of individual wealth creation and civic participation. Empirical evidence clearly documents the substantial effect of education on wealth mobility, social networks, financial choices (such as savings and debt), and demographic behavior (such as marriage and fertility). Simply put, education is one of the greatest "enabling technologies" we have to improve human welfare.
Yet, if we look at the education systems across America, it is easy to see that, as a country, we are not fully preparing our young people for productive, economically independent futures. Despite the continuous cycle of "school reform," student achievement stubbornly has not budged over the past forty years. In 2008, the average twelfth grade math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress—coined "The Nation's Report Card"—were virtually unchanged from scores in the early 1970s. These averages, of course, mask disparities within our educational system. Too many of our K–12 students are being left behind by schools that fall well short of serving their needs. To lay the foundation for a successful economic future, the United States cannot continue to allow the loss of so much talent, potential, and possibility among students who are not receiving a quality education.
Just as entrepreneurs in business bring innovative and disruptive products to the market, so, too, are the education entrepreneurs of our time.
Over the past twenty years, a quiet movement in education has begun to demonstrate different kinds of results. This movement now seems to be turning into an evolution in American education. Just as entrepreneurs in business bring innovative and disruptive products to the market, so, too, are the education entrepreneurs of our time. Leaders like Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach For America, are writing a new story of how low-income students can be educated. (Read more about this inspiring work in an interview with Wendy on page 51.) Charter schools are demonstrating remarkable results in cases where they are focused, coherent, and aligned around a powerful school culture and clear achievement goals. Their practices are busting through the argument that we have to solve poverty before we can educate low-income students.
Whereas these "new sector" education approaches used to be small experiments, new support from the federal government indicates that these approaches demonstrate real merit and promise to scale and improve education across the United States.
Imagine if the majority of our students would graduate prepared for college and work, with a sense of purpose and goals for a productive and fulfilling future. We believe students in our home town of Kansas City deserve that kind of school. Thus, after years of funding others to do the hard work of improving educational outcomes, the Kauffman Foundation made the decision to become the first grantmaking foundation in the country to start a rigorous college preparatory charter school. You can read about the philosophy of this school in an interview with the school's two new leaders on page 46.
We see great promise in these new developments in education. We continuously research and investigate how the Foundation's limited resources can most effectively advance this work. One area we are particularly interested in is the increased use of data and research to understand what works in education, especially for low-income students. For this reason, Kauffman will be funding a new national dissertation fellows program to encourage more scholars to study these emerging educational efforts. Closer to home, we are supporting the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium, a collaboration of social science and education researchers from four regional universities for the study and improvement of student achievement across the region.
You can learn more about how we are investing in education in an essay on the following pages, which explains a number of our educational research and policy initiatives now under way that are designed to inform educational practices and policies. You'll also read about our experiences of working with more than 1,500 students in Kauffman Scholars, an after-school program that provides academic life skills training so students are fully prepared to enter and succeed in college.
We also are interested in what is happening in higher education institutions. You'll read a summary of the book, The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities are Reshaping the World, by Ben Wildavsky, which looks at trends of higher education institutions in other countries, and the intense international competition for students among universities located around the world.
Why Start a Charter School?