Feb 2020

New Grantmakers for Education Report Exposes Differences in Content and Volume of Requests, Likelihood of Funding by School Poverty Level

PORTLAND, OR – A new report based on 1.8 million teacher requests from the crowdfunding site DonorsChoose reveals that teachers across the nation are turning to fundraising to meet their basic classroom needs. An analysis of 10 years of teacher requests, from 2009 to 2019, underscores growing inequity in America’s schools. As school poverty rates rise, so do requests for outside support. While the majority of overall dollars flow to high-poverty schools, requests from low-poverty schools are more likely to get funded. This latter trend has only emerged in the past two years.

Moreover, the funding requests from high-poverty schools illustrate a need to fulfill basic human needs like warmth and hunger, whereas low-poverty schools are more likely to request funding for academic enrichment.

“This massive database provides an unprecedented window into teachers’ perceptions of the needs of schools, and how those have changed over the last decade. It tells a story of deep resource equity gaps. Teachers in high-poverty schools are playing a growing role in ensuring students basic needs are met, while they also seek additional resources for their academic needs,” said Celine Coggins, executive director of Grantmakers for Education.

The data make clear that teachers, especially those in high-poverty schools, are primarily seeking academic materials their schools do not provide. Teacher requests for academic materials far exceed any other type of request: seven in ten requests over the last decade fall into the Language & Literacy and Math & Science categories. This pattern is true regardless of a state’s per-pupil spending, student performance or economic region.

The fastest-growing categories of requests are nonacademic, underscoring the expanded role of schools in preparing students for life and meeting needs like health and hunger that enable students to learn. Teacher requests in the category of Warmth, Care & Hunger, just added by DonorsChoose in 2016, has grown 187% in less than three years. Together with Warmth, Care & Hunger, the sub-categories of Health & Wellness and Character Education make up the top three fastest growing areas for requests. Demand for projects relating to social and emotional learning and equity are on the rise.

The report also compares patterns in teacher requests to funding trends in education philanthropy, drawing on the DonorsChoose database as well as survey-based research of funder giving patterns. Analyzing the priorities of funders and teachers reveals both areas of alignment and areas of dissonance. 

The fastest growing categories of teacher requests focus outside the academic sphere on the needs of the whole learner (i.e. supports to meet basic needs, equity, and social and emotional learning). This growth in teacher requests corresponds to fast-growing areas of funder interest.

Grantmakers for Education board member and CEO of the Andy Roddick Foundation, Richard Tagle, commented about the report, "It is heartening to see that funders' growing interest in supporting strategies centered on social and emotional learning and addressing equity with the fastest growing areas of teacher requests."

However, requests from teachers show that academic supports remain at the core of what teachers need. By contrast, many education philanthropists have shifted away from the academic core in recent years. Teacher requests indicate that funders may be overlooking an important area of need for the nation’s learners.

"Through their actions, teachers are telling us what they value most," said Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. "And that's the core mission of our schools: improving academic achievement. It's a good reminder for funders not to lose focus."

Differences in requests from high-poverty and low-poverty schools illustrate systemic inequities in public education. High-poverty schools are 3.5 times more likely than low-poverty schools to request projects in the Warmth, Care & Hunger category and other projects to fulfill basic human needs. Low-poverty schools are much more likely than high-poverty schools to request projects in the Economics and Foreign Languages subcategories, areas that could be considered enrichment.

“Teachers have given us a new lens on how equity gaps in our schools play out. We look forward to working with our partners to address this challenge in both individual schools as well as in district, state and federal policy,” said Coggins.

The full report, A View from the Classroom: What Teachers Can Tell Philanthropy About the Needs of Schools, can be viewed online at bit.ly/ViewFromTheClassroom.

A statement by DonorsChoose: DonorsChoose reflects on A View from the Classroom


For more information, contact Rebecca Smith, communications manager, at rsmith@edfunders.org.