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DonorsChoose Honors Teachers by Empowering Them to Identify and Fund Student Needs

November 5, 2020

I’ve read and written countless posts on the “universal needs” of students and the government’s’ failure to provide the funding required to meet those needs. Among the “universal needs” are equitable access to technology, PPE and training for teachers, and the provision of social services and basic needs for students living in poverty or encountering stress.

Charles Best, CEO of DonorsChoose, a philanthropy organization that provides small bore grants to teachers, is looking at the smaller and arguably more important needs that are unique to each student and providing teacher with the means of identifying those needs and meeting them with small grants. While I am generally no fan of philanthropic funds displacing local funds and, thereby, displacing the local decision making that is achieved trough democratic means, I was immediately supportive of the approach taken by DonorsChoose. By empowering teachers to identify and solve small bore problems that are unique to them and their students, DonorsChoose is meeting unique needs by funding items that school boards could not afford, especially in the coming months and years when state and local funds will be increasingly difficult to raise.

Forbes contributor Michael B. Horn describes some the problems teachers identified and solved, and one problem in particular is a good example. Headphones, it turns out, are far and away the most requested “technology”, a need that most members of the public would dismiss as frivolous but one that turns out to be vital in households where many are using computers in a small space or households where small children, animals, and noises from the outdoors compete for the attention of students attending Zoom classes.

Mr. Cook has come away from his experience as CEO of DonorsChoose with a new respect for teachers:

“They’re so determined for their students to have the materials and experiences they need for great education that they spend time outside of their working hours telling the world about a set of materials that their students really need,” he said.

Thanks to the funding model of DonorsChoose, determined teachers can get the materials their children need relatively easily and quickly— especially when compared to the hoops they would need to jump through to get these materials through the traditional budgeting process.

Maybe after the pandemic is over school districts could develop a similarly empowering means for teachers to secure funds for ad hoc needs and, in doing so, discover “technology gaps”— like headphones— that could be addressed quickly and cheaply.


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