Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Philanthropies and Intermediary Organizations in Denver, Colorado: Incentivist-Oriented Advocacy Coalitions

Note: This blog is adapted from paper presented by our research team at the 2014 AERA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. This research is funded by the William T. Grant Foundation’s program on Understanding the Acquisition, Interpretation, and Use of Research Evidence in Policy and Practice. The Principal Investigators of this project are Drs. Elizabeth DeBray, Chris Lubienski, and Janelle Scott. Please contact Priya La Londe with any questions.

Philanthropies and Intermediary Organizations in Denver, Colorado: Incentivist-Oriented Advocacy Coalitions

Philanthropist involvement in education policy has contributed to the emergence of a dynamic sector of intermediary organizations (IOs). These IOs broker the production and use of research evidence targeted at government and education policymakers. We frame this relationship between foundations and intermediary organizations by drawing on the analogy of a hub and spoke structure, whereby parts of a wheel work together to move an incentivist policy agenda forward. Philanthropists see their investments in IOs as a way to realize more promising and effective educational interventions whose “profit” is understood to be a scaling up of reforms they favor. Foundations exercise investment in the following ways:
·         provide the financial backing for many charter management organizations;
·         place system and district leaders in positions of authority;
·         scale organizations to expand across multiple school districts;
·         actively promote the successes of their investments to policymakers in an effort to convince them that such reforms and reformers are also worth public support and alterations in public policy;
·         and help to support local, state, and national coalitions.

        Drawing on data from a larger study of research use and dissemination, we examined the role of foundations in Denver, Colorado, a key site for incentivist reforms including teacher pay-for-performance and charter schools. To analyze how foundations support new networks of IOs to channel the production and consumption of research, we drew upon the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1999) as well as Local Intermediary Networks (DeBray et al., 2014), a relatively new and important dimension of the “supply side” of research in support of incentivist reforms. Since 2011, we have reviewed a range of documents and conducted 35 interviews in Denver with policymakers, representatives from over 25 intermediary organizations, researchers, and journalists.

Proliferation of Incentivist Reforms in Denver Public Schools

          Denver Public Schools (DPS), a school system that is diverse across several markers, adopted school choice and teacher pay-for-performance early on. Forty of the 161 public schools in Denver were created as charters and magnet schools. The 2005 Denver Plan accompanied a voter initiative approving salary increases for teachers that included merit pay, raising over $25 million from taxpayers. With support from the Janus Foundation’s Education Alliance, the program Denver Plan has expanded. ProComp allows teacher to earn and lose salary increases based on improvements and declines in student performance as well as earn raises based on commitment to teaching in hard-to-staff schools, knowledge and skill development, and student growth. Drawing on support from teachers unions and the Board of Education, philanthropists played a key role in the implementation of these reforms. Since ProComp was implemented, incentivist reforms goals remain important to DPS visionaries. Still though, despite alignment with many of the Obama Administration’s priorities for educational reform, Colorado was unsuccessful in its application for the RttT program.

Findings: Denver foundations invest in and proliferate incentivist reforms through translation of research, targeted partnerships with policymakers, and funding preferred IO agendas

Local philanthropies have catalyzed much of the recent policy movement in Denver, and intermediary groups have responded to funding possibilities and to meet the needs of marshaling research evidence in support of the agendas the philanthropies are promoting. Denver had been relatively free of the adversarial politics that characterize such reforms in other cities, and the local philanthropies saw themselves as building bridges across political constituencies, including reform organizations and teachers unions. Intermediary organizations are increasingly creating a more acrimonious policy climate as they embrace a politics of opposition to advance their agendas. Several smaller philanthropies have indicated ambivalence toward the incentivist reforms they fund, yet they lend support in their goal to be seen as “players” in the philanthropic and policy worlds, with direction from the policy agendas of larger, national foundations (e.g. Gates Foundation) and federal reforms (e.g. Building Charter Schools Quality) that fund reforms in their cities. Denver philanthropies have positioned themselves as visible champions of ProComp and charter management organizations. Foundations invested in these reforms in two ways: 1) Advocating through selective dissemination and translation of research to a targeted audience of policymakers; and 2) Funding preferred agendas practices that lead to reform proliferation. The Daniels, Piton, and Donnell-Kay Foundations provide most of the funding. Furthermore, the Denver Public Schools and Denver Classroom Teacher Association worked with the private sector actors to form a unique coalition in their convergence on ProComp1 and ProComp2, the teacher pay-for-performance programs implemented in Denver.

Foundations as Private Policymakers?

Our analysis suggests that foundations “outsource” the “work” of research production and advocacy to intermediary groups. Working in ideologically defined coalitions, while perhaps intending to preserve the credibility of philanthropies, those operating within interstices may instead lead to a more divisive rather than monolithic policy environment. Foundations are therefore not just funders—they are also investors and private policy makers. They view their financial support as an investment in realizing the adoption and implementation of incentivist reforms. In this sense, we argue that foundations are the “hub” that moves the “spokes” in a local IO coalition. In Denver, we see the importance of foundations for the production of evidence, the communication of evidence to policymakers, and the overall support to IOs to scale their organizations. Without this hub of funding and alignment around the importance of incentivist reforms, it is unlikely that such reforms would have moved forward at the size and scope that we witness in Denver and within the Colorado legislature.

Further Reading
DeBray, E., Scott, J., Lubienski, C., & Jabbar, H. (2014). Intermediary organizations in charter school policy coalitions: Evidence from New Orleans. (30%)  Educational Policy 28(2), pp. 175-206. 

Gonring, P., Teske, P., & Jupp, B. (2007). Pay-for-Performance Teacher Compensation: An Inside View of Denver's ProComp Plan. Harvard Education Press.

Lubienski, C., Scott, J., & DeBray, E. (2011). The rise of intermediary organiza- tions in knowledge production, advocacy, and educational policy (ID No. 16487). Teachers College Record. Available from http://www.tcrecord.org

Sabatier, P., & Jenkins-Smith, H. (1999). The advocacy coalition framework: An assessment.  In P. Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (pp. 117-166). Boulder, CO: Westview.

Scott, J., & Jabbar, H. (2013). Money and measures: Foundations as knowledge brokers. In D. Anagnostopoulos, S. Rutledge & R. Jacobsen (Eds.), The infrastructure of accountability: Mapping data use and its consequences across the American education system (pp. 75-92). Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

Scott, J., & Jabbar, H. (2014). The Hub and the Spokes: Foundations, Intermediary Organizations, Incentivist Reforms, and the Politics of Research Evidence. Educational Policy, 28(3), pp. 233-257. doi:10.1177/0895904813515327
Wiley, E. W., Spindler, E., & Subert, A. (2010). Denver ProComp: An Outcomes Evaluation of Denver's Alternative Teacher Compensation System. Denver Public Schools.

Wohlstetter, P., Smith, J., Farrell, C., Hentschke, G., & Hirman, J. (2011). How funding shapes
         the growth of charter management organizations: Is the tail wagging the dog?

         Journal of Education Finance. 37(2), pp. 150-174.