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Education: Pathways to Student Success

How philanthropy can level the educational playing field for low income children

Nearly a decade ago, the Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP) published its first piece of donor guidance, Pathways to Student Success. In the report, we detailed the education pathway that children must navigate to achieve success in school and showed philanthropists ways they could address student achievement gaps by targeting a child’s needs inside and outside of the classroom. Since then, advances in neuroscience have dramatically affected the field’s understanding of brain development, particularly in early childhood and adolescence. As part of CHIP’s 10-year anniversary, we are updating our original guidance, building on new research in areas such as early childhood and adolescent brain development, behavioral science, and program evaluation. Here we present an abbreviated version of the updated guidance, highlighting once again a child’s educational trajectory and ways that philanthropists can help children succeed in school.

The education pathway starts at birth and has four phases: Early Childhood (prenatal to 3rd grade), Primary (K to 8th grade), Middle/ Secondary (6th to 12th grade), and Secondary/Postsecondary (ages 16 to 24, or roughly 10th grade through college). Differing family circumstances mean that even at birth, kids do not start at the same place. Children born to low income families start life at a disadvantage that too often persists throughout their education pathway. In fact, socio-economic status and the segregation that comes from it are the most important factors related to education outcomes. Different policies and programs, however, can help switch students onto better trajectories. Donors can help by investing in efforts that have impact, ensuring that kids get on—and stay on—a path to success.

There are also “across-ages” opportunities for investment. Across-ages programs may target specific subgroups (such as children in foster care/special needs), or work on general issues at a more systemic level. Donors interested in a particular group of children may want to help those children across the different phases of their education path. Other donors may want to address issues affecting all students. For example, some may want to fund a nonprofit that guides and coaches teachers, given that having a skilled teacher is the largest in-school lever for improving children’s learning.

What follows is a brief description of each phase of the education pathway and an example of a nonprofit making an impact in each stage.

This article was excerpted from the Center for High Impact Philanthropy's “2017 High Impact Giving Guide,” sponsored in part by Fidelity Charitable's Trustees' Initiative. The guide features specific high-impact giving opportunities, handpicked by the center and analyzed for evidence of impact and cost-effectiveness, as well as more ways to improve the effectiveness of your giving.

The Center for High Impact Philanthropy is a multidisciplinary, nonprofit center housed at the University of Pennsylvania. The center provides actionable and evidence-based guidance for individuals who want to ensure that their philanthropy makes the greatest possible difference in the lives of others.

Download the full report

Please note that this article does not represent all the organizations that address education. Fidelity Charitable does not endorse these organizations and provides this list for reference purposes only. All grant recommendations are subject to review and approval by the Fidelity Charitable Trustees.

1City Connects is a program of the 501(c)(3) public charity Boston College Trustees.
2Coalition for Community Schools is a program of the following 501(c)(3) public charity: The Institute For Educational Leadership Inc.
3Talent Development Secondary is a program of the following 501(c)(3) public charity: the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University (520595110) School of Education.

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Opportunities to make an impact

Early education


Learn about AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation and how effective it is.

Primary education


Learn about City Connects and how effective it is.

secondary education


Learn about Citizen Schools and how effective it is.

postsecondary education


Learn about Jobs for the Future (JFF) and how effective it is.

Education across ages


Learn about New Teacher Center (NTC) and how effective it is.

Education across ages


Learn about BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) and how effective it is.

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