Although this country’s education system has been the primary means for achieving a more inclusive society, its public school systems have failed to provide African American students and students who live in poverty, equitable, high-quality learning experiences.
This long-standing failure has perpetuated, through systems of mostly segregated schools with inadequate funding, social injustices based on race and socio-economic status. Among the most damaging effects are policies and practices that encourage low expectations on the part of both educators and students. The end result is a destructive pattern where shockingly high percentages of African American students and those in poverty disengage from the learning process, fail to achieve, drop out of high school and experience diminished life outcomes.
The starting point for this depressing pattern is traced most often to the country’s middle and high schools where preschool and early elementary learning successes are squandered. It is in this sixth- through 12th -grade period where students all too often face non-challenging, depersonalized environments that lead to a stalling of their earlier academic progress. Too often, expectations differ based upon a student's socio-economic circumstances or ethnic identity. Opportunities to engage in culturally responsive, rich and collaborative educational experiences are rare for the very students who need them most.
Volumes of research and expert observation establish that the quality of the entire education track – from preschool through high school – is a key determiner of how well these students will be able to attain broader social engagement and life fulfillment. Educators in the best education systems understand that providing a solid foundation of learning success for these students in their early years is essential to ensure continued academic success. But they also realize that the early foundation is only the beginning of a learning process that is strong enough to enable these students to graduate and reach their best life potential.
After months of evaluating its grant-making history in pursuit of the goal of education equity in southwestern Pennsylvania, especially in supporting efforts to provide high-quality learning experiences to all students, The Heinz Endowments is recommitting to achieve this goal. The Endowments recognizes that each stage of the educational process needs to play its part in sustaining learning progress for all students, and is therefore focusing its attention on middle schools and high schools throughout Allegheny County, with a special concentration on the Pittsburgh Public Schools and organizations that partner with them.
By supporting the development of secondary school environments that respond to a range of needs, abilities, experiences and interests; respect racial and cultural differences; and value the contributions of all students, the Endowments believes that African American students and students at the low end of the economy can be affirmed in their abilities, graduate high school, successfully complete post-secondary education and have fulfilling lives.
For more information on the Education Program's new direction, please see: