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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Foundations would better drive education innovation by focusing on Homeschoolers

I remember so clearly the moment when I was talking to the head of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in his office and he said, "Oh, we've given up on schools."
I have come to agree. The pockets of innovation nurtured by non-profit foundations in traditional schools will be erased shortly after the funding stops. The money that The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is spending on grants, for example, will likely have no real effect on education in fifteen years.
However, giving up on schools does not mean giving up on education. I believe that foundations will shortly realize that they can better drive permanent education innovation by focusing instead on homeschoolers. Here are some things they could consider doing:
  • Develop certification programs to demonstrate levels of competency outside of school to replace high school and college diplomas. And they can create repositories for verifiable portfolios.
  • Work to get town and state governments to provides supplies, including workbooks and art materials, even tutors, for homeschooled students that correspond to those given to enrolled students.
  • Create web sites with detailed and diverse curricula for every grade. This can include topics, or the content itself. Nurture online communities to capture alternative approaches and user generated content.
  • Track sample sets of homeschooled students over time to compare success against industrial schooled students.
  • Identify and publish best practices in home- and unschooling.
  • Provide a single clearing house, with ratings, around free and for-cost resources. One area that would especially be valuable is tutors. This would also have the effect of encouraging vendors to create innovative educational services and products that otherwise would view the market as too fragmented.
  • Negotiate for bulk rates of technology.
What else? How might non-profit foundations improve the diversity of education approaches, and the relevancy and authenticity of experiences? (Note: this has to be done realistically - i.e. not by paying for large projects but instead providing a bit of infrastructure, a bit of "air cover", and by being an ombudsman to various government or corporate entities.)
It is my deepest belief that any true innovation that is developed in home- and unschooling communities will eventually make its way back into industrial schools. And I also believe there is probably no other way of nurturing lasting innovation in education today.


  1. There are "schools" that are non-coercive communities throughout the world. We're working on starting one in San Diego (using the Sudbury Valley School as a model). We could all use some funding as we find ourselves applying for grants from people who don't understand how people can learn without being forced.

  2. Funding for parents who are home-educating. I know this is available in some places (eg BC in Canada) but it's not here in the UK. I like the idea of modules/mini courses/workshops being available in the community which children could sign up for to learn something or so they could be in a group activity, a bit like adult community learning. Funded, local and informal. I also think it would be great to have people with insight and experience offer something back to children, again in an informal setting. This works well in our home-ed group, eg we attended a dig recently and a university student worked with the kids and showed them an amazing amount in a short time, all the while actually doing the dig. I would also like to see practical crafts offered which relate to real life, shown in a way that enables children to quickly pick up the skills and use them in a real way. Oh there's so much more....