Philosophy in Educational Policy and Practice

As of May 31, 2015, the Spencer Foundation will no longer be accepting proposals for this initiative. The Spencer Foundation will continue to support work in philosophy of education through a grant program to be administered by the Center for Ethics and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in collaboration with the University of Illinois Chicago. Details about the new grant program are expected to be released by the end of June, 2015. Please check back then for further information. If you have any questions about the Center for Ethics and Education, you may contact Paula McAvoy at

This initiative aims to strengthen work that brings the tools and perspectives of contemporary moral and political philosophy to bear on concrete problems that arise in addressing problems of education practice and policy. Some such problems, like issues of efficiency and fairness in the distribution of educational resources among different socio-economic, ethnic, and racial groups, are long-standing; others, like the use of neurological data (such as brain scans) in diagnosing and “treating” students’ educational difficulties, are novel. Challenging issues like student privacy arise in the daily work of individual teachers; others, like the proper role of religious instruction in public education, are community - or nation-wide. Educational policy and practice provide rich material for philosophical reflection, and policymakers and practitioners would benefit from the arguments and insights provided by the kind of work we are proposing to support.

Doing this work well is difficult. It is best done by scholars who combine deep institutional and practical knowledge of educational policy-making and the daily work of teaching with the analytical skills and intellectual background afforded by education in moral and political philosophy. Few leading political and moral philosophers have elected to work seriously on educational questions, and it is equally rare to find experts in the worlds of educational policy and practice with strong preparation in philosophy. 

Through this initiative, which we anticipate will extend over a decade or more, we aim substantially to improve the quality and to expand the scope of work in this important field. Success will require engaging over time with several more-or-less distinct segments of the philosophical community, including

  • Encouraging the work of those scholars of moral and political philosophy who have consistently done excellent work on educational issues;
  • Encouraging deeper engagement with education among moral and political philosophers who may be favorably disposed to the subject but have not worked extensively on it; and
  • Assisting in the training and encouraging the work of advanced students and less experienced scholars who may find developing a specialty in education congenial.

In addition we shall promote improved communication and better mutual understanding across the divides among philosophers, social scientists, policy makers and educational practitioners.

In the months and years ahead, Spencer will announce specific activities intended to advance this work. The first such undertaking is a three year “small” grants competition with maximum awards of $40,000 for scholars proposing studies in the philosophy in educational policy and practice.

IPEPP Research Grants

Click here for a complete list of IPEPP Research Grants.


Click here for the Philosophy in Educational Policy and Practice RFP.