Commentaries

Grassroots Movement Education and Philanthropy

Ann Paisley Chandler is currently in the M.S. Fundraising and Grantmaking program at NYU. She holds a B.A. in English Literature with Creative Writing emphasis from Wofford College and is a Peace Corps alum (Ghana 08-11). She worked with government officials, artisans, and donors to design, finance, and construct a library, now staffed and operated by community members, and worked closely with Books for Africa to coordinate the shipment of 22,000 books from the U.S. to Ghana. She planned activities and events at Ghanaian orphanages, organized and executed HIV/AIDS education projects, in collaboration with ActionAid, and partnered with Ghana Sustainable Change Project and USAID on the Malaria Day Campaign. Fluent in Twi and and familiar with Ewe, she has a particular interest in African philanthropy and volunteers at charity: water in New York City.


 

Public education is a matter of national concern, but few of us know the range of challenges facing our students. The problem is particularly acute in South Carolina where one in seven adults are illiterate – meaning almost 15% of the adults in the state cannot read. Additionally, South Carolina possesses the fourth lowest graduation rate in the U.S., with only about half of its students graduating from high school. Of those that do graduate, many can read at only a fourth grade level.
 
As two fellow South Carolinians studying philanthropy in New York, Susanna Johnson and I wanted to understand how the “next generation” of changemakers in South Carolina can reverse this dismal legacy. We spoke to a state and national leader in education and personal friend, Darla Moore. Moore serves on the National Board of Directors of Teach for America and was instrumental in bringing TFA to South Carolina last year. In addition to TFA, Moore has made many other investments in the South Carolina education system. She shared her experience and wisdom with us.
 
Moore repeatedly stated that the most important facet to improving education is personal commitment. The issue is not money; it is vision, time, and dedication. It is about wanting to foster change and working toward a positive outcome. As a group, we must be willing to talk about the challenges that exist and to discuss the successes and failures of the U.S. education system. In order to change the educational landscape, the private sector needs to transpose talk into dedicated effort, accompanied by a willingness to stay committed until the job is done.
 
There is, of course, no quick fix to problems like high dropout rates, large achievement gaps between groups of students, and lagging performance by U.S. students on international assessments. Out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math. These harrowing statistics sound an alarm about the nation's failure to lead the world in educating its youth.
 
However, by acknowledging the issues now, the next generation will have a unique and greater opportunity to make an impact. The next generation needs to devise a reliable system and to develop the mindset for change. It is more about saving the country than saving the education system. After all, education impacts us all, socially and economically, and connects many parts of our society GDP, healthcare, and unemployment.
 
Change starts with the private sector and private commitment, and the government will follow once success is proven. Relationship building, within communities and within the private and public sectors, is paramount. It can take years to build the relationships needed to be successful, but this is critical to the success of the next generation of changemakers. Public-private partnerships work on the theory of linking the best of the public sector the government and all its resources with the reform mindedness and innovation of the private sector and private commitment. In education, the government provides the vast majority of the money, although it is taxpayer money. However, the government is ineffective in driving change and innovation when it is needed at the grassroots level. The private sector can provide philanthropic dollars, but even the large foundations understand that there is not enough money in the private sector to fund education. Yet, this is the sector most likely to force change on the educational system, which has to be implemented at a grassroots level. 
 
Education is the key to unlocking the potential of our state and living up to the ideals of our country. Every child in America, regardless of background or socio-economic status, should be able to receive a first-rate education. Schools and educators have to be accountable for student learning, families need transparent information and educational choices, and funding must be spent wisely in ways that increase student achievement.
 
A catalyst for change and justice can be wrought by a lone voice of hope for students in any area of America. A dedicated commitment to investing in education by starting small just where you are can become infectious, producing positive results that grow statewide and nationally. 

 




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