The coming year, 2021, marks 50 years since the Spencer Foundation made its first grant in 1971; more than half a century since Lyle Spencer envisioned an education foundation dedicated to cultivating learning wherever it happens, across the lifespan and propelled by the belief that scholarship has the potential to transform lives. For us at Spencer, it is a momentous occasion. We are incredibly proud of the foundation’s commitment to supporting scholarship in education, of the legacy of prolific scholars and consequential lines of research that we have funded, and of our abiding and longstanding commitment to research and research training as a key aspect of creating more expansive educational and learning opportunities. We have much to be proud of, and certainly, the Spencer 50th anniversary is a milestone occasion to look back at the important scholarship we’ve funded and to celebrate our work.
And yet, like any 50th birthday (I have one coming up myself quite soon!), it is also a sobering occasion, and one that calls for attention to the critical work that lies ahead—in education research, in our education systems, and in our world. To be sure, this is a unique and consequential time in education: the vast and devasting disruption to education systems in the wake of an international public health crisis; the ever deepening inequalities in our society that have left families and communities without even basic necessities; the rampant systemic racism and anti-blackness in the U.S. and globally, and in our policing and carceral systems; the rise of polarizing racial discourse; the extreme resource differentials in educational access and the hard truth that our systems are built in ways that shortchange us as societies. Our systems leave the potential contributions and innovations of too many young people and their communities untapped, leaving us all ill-prepared to adapt to impending large-scale societal shifts, from changing climates to changing economic systems. Racial inequality is perhaps the greatest risk and challenge to education, and to the future of our nation, right now. It is a time that demands our collective action in the service of equity and justice; in the service of the public and social good; and in the service of systems that honor our collective humanity.
Thus, in honor of the Spencer 50th anniversary, we will launch our Racial Equity Initiative, which will consist of a set of activities centered around scholarship on racial equity, as well as activities designed to support the impact of research to the improvement of educational equity through policy and practice. We think this occasion is an opportunity to deepen our commitment and focus on scholarship dedicated to supporting racial equity.
Our goal is to foster research that supports equity in education. This will involve supporting cutting-edge, interdisciplinary, empirical research that takes on ambitious challenges and scholarship that widens the range of methodological approaches and builds new data sets. It will also involve support for research syntheses around key high-leverage topics, to make them more usable to audiences including and beyond scholarly audiences; and for the design of new research with an eye towards potential impact on creating more equitable learning systems.
Towards this end, our Racial Equity Initiative will involve commissioning new research, convening scholars and other stakeholders, and collaborating with other foundations on shared goals to increase impact. Be sure to check our website for resources and opportunities as this initiative rolls out over the course of the next two years. As we engage in these activities, we are particularly interested in work that not only aims to understand the reproduction and deepening of educational inequality, but also work that seeks to disrupt racial inequality in education. We believe that this is a time to stretch our collective imagination, to illuminate and build on the significant strengths in communities and in families, and to expand our notions of what’s possible in order to remake and reimagine new forms of equitable education for just and thriving democracies.
Our plans begin at the heart of our work with a new grant funding opportunity for scholars. We will be issuing a special grant opportunity, with one cycle beginning in December 2020 to be awarded in early Spring 2021, and an additional cycle in the following year, for research grants focused on supporting racial equity in education.
Please see our website for the RFP for this new grant opportunity.
Of course, even as we commemorate the 50th anniversary by recommitting to our work in the service of equitable education systems, there will also be time for celebration, for cultivating our collective joy and inspiration as a field, and opportunities for colleagueship and collective learning.
But for now, we hope that you and your loved ones are staying well, and we invite you to join us in the critical work of using our research to reimagine equitable education, and to move towards a world where all children have access to robust learning that fosters joy, purpose, and a meaningful life. I believe that with each of us walking in our purpose and doing our most ambitious work, we can build a new future together.
Spencer Foundation President