The responsibility for educational quality and achievement lies in the hands of the government and its agencies. Israel already invests more than 8% of its GDP in education and the education system operates in a centralistic manner. Nonetheless, alongside government there are numerous players in Israel that work hand in hand across the education system, taking on different roles. Typically they supplement and complement government activity, however sometimes they work independently of the government and even take critical and adversarial positions. These players include schools of education, teachers colleges, research and development organizations, intervention programs, school networks, teacher unions, advocacy groups, and many others. Largely speaking, if the government is mostly focused on the operations of education, the added value of these private entities is when they prove to be innovative, experimental and challenging.
The experience of countries that have managed to improve their performance in education in recent years indicates that success depends on the extent of alignment and coordination between the government and all of these entities and their joint effort toward common goals. A special role is reserved for philanthropy in the shared effort to improve education. In countries where there is a philanthropic tradition and infrastructure, foundations act as a catalyst for innovation. Foundations identify and disseminate best practices; they convene the players to agree on shared goals and measures; and they push wider circles of participants in pursuit of the focused objectives.
The specific role that a philanthropic foundation chooses to embrace is dependent on various considerations and circumstances. In his book The Foundation, Joel Fleishman writes: “Philanthropic foundations can choose to play one of three roles: driver, partner or catalyst”:
A foundation acts as a driver when its social goal is clear and can be realized through a practical strategy. The foundation analyzes the existing situation and formulates the plan for progressing from the current situation to the desired situation. The foundation establishes new organizations and mobilizes existing organizations in order to achieve the objective.
A foundation acts as a partner when there are well-established organizations or authorities that bear the responsibility for realizing the foundation’s objectives. In this case, the foundation shares with its partner the important decisions for formulating a strategy and together they support the organizations that put it into practice.
A foundation acts as a catalyst when it is not possible to design a practical strategy for realizing its objective. This is the case when many external variables operate in parallel and there are large gaps in knowledge and capabilities. The foundation supports organizations that operate in this field, hoping that some of them will succeed and that together they will generate momentum for driving change.
The Trump Foundation has adopted three strategies in order to advance the high-quality teaching of Mathematics and the Sciences in secondary schools in Israel: attracting talent into teaching, nurturing the clinical expertise of teachers and demonstrating support networks for quality teaching at scale.
Attracting Talent into Teaching
Philanthropy is unable to take responsibility for harnessing talented people to the teaching profession at scale. There are many elements that candidates take into consideration when thinking about a possible career in teaching, the majority of which are beyond the influence of a philanthropic foundation. Teaching becomes more attractive as salaries improve, public support is felt, policy implementation is stable and academic performance is on a positive trajectory.
Indeed it seem as all these elements are developing in Israel over the past few years, as the country has enjoyed a decade of economic prosperity and relative security stability. As a result, the government was able to sign new wage agreements with teachers and invest considerably in educational programs. Early signs of improvement are evident, with a slight increase in student achievement, more talented applicants for teaching studies, and a sense of public optimism.
This window of opportunity must be maintained with coordination and persistence in order to make a real impact on the attractiveness of the teaching profession and eventually on academic performance. As a philanthropic foundation, it is clear to us that we must engage with this subject as a catalyst in order to create examples for success and toencourage others to act quickly and determinedly.