Interest Groups & Advocacy

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 258–288 | Cite as

Financing the education policy discourse: philanthropic funders as entrepreneurs in policy networks

  • Sarah ReckhowEmail author
  • Megan Tompkins-Stange
Original Article


We examine the spread and influence of ideas supported by philanthropic foundations within the context of a broader policy network. Our case focuses on the development of policy related to teacher quality—a field involving academic research, think tank involvement, and interest group participation. We conduct discourse network analysis of testimony from 175 Congressional hearings from 2003 to 2015 to examine network ties based on shared policy preferences expressed in hearings, which were used to create networks linking policy actors via shared policy preferences. We also conducted 51 interviews with funders, grantees, and policymakers involved in the policy debate over teacher quality. We examine the spread of a key policy reform promoted by several large foundations, particularly the Gates Foundation: test score-based evaluation of teachers, with a focus on value-added evaluations. We show that expert witnesses in hearings who were funded by foundations shared policy preferences with regard to teacher evaluation at a statistically significant level, compared to non-grantees. We find that a group of major national foundations were sponsors of the advocacy groups that were central in Congressional hearings. We show that these funders were acting as policy entrepreneurs—strategically promoting the spread of favored ideas to encourage uptake by policymakers.


Policy networks Discourse analysis Philanthropy Education policy Mixed methods 



Funding was provided by William T. Grant Foundation (Grant No. 183183). The authors would like to thank Sarah Galey for her important contributions to the project and research assistance. We would also like to thank Abigail Orrick and Jeffrey Snyder for their research assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Michigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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