Overview: National Program

The Carnegie Corporation of New York National Program is designed to uphold and extend the Corporation’s historic values of promoting and preserving a vibrant American democracy and advancing knowledge and understanding by expanding educational opportunity and renewing democratic institutions through civic participation and integration.  Goals include:

  • Creating Pathways to Educational and Economic Opportunity: generating systemic change across a K-16 continuum, with particular emphasis on secondary and higher education, to enable many more students, including historically underserved populations and immigrants, to achieve academic success and perform with the high levels of creative, scientific, and technical knowledge and skill needed to compete in a global economy and exercise leadership for a democratic society.
  • Creating Pathways to Citizenship, Civil Participation, and Civic Integration in a Pluralistic Society: increasing integration of immigrants in the polity through opportunities for citizenship and civic engagement; increasing tolerance through education about new and growing immigrant cultures; broadening understanding of democratic institutions and pluralism; and strengthening education to prepare young people to live in a complex society and contribute to a vibrant democracy in the United States.

In pursuing those goals, we act on strong evidence that our nation’s systems for educating young people and for integrating immigrants into political, social, and economic life are inadequate to the demands of a 21st-century democracy and a changing economy. We believe that urgent action is needed in both spheres, and that improvements are necessary and possible through strategies that are attuned to the larger policy context, prioritize core issues, build the capacity of key institutions and nonprofit entrepreneurial organizations, and address barriers that have thwarted past efforts at reform.

The three levers of change that underpin the National Program’s education strategy—fewer, clearer and higher standards; strategic management of human capital; and new designs for schools and systems—have emerged as key focus areas for government, the private sector, nonprofits, and universities, and ideas advanced through our education strategy are gaining wider currency and acceptance. This is an important moment of opportunity for the Corporation in education reform. The United States is experiencing a daunting combination of challenges from global economic competition, rising inequality, and demographic changes. Yet changes have been put in place through state and federal leadership over the past three years that provide a platform for systemic transformation that is more promising than at any time in the last three decades. Conditions seem right to build on what we and our partners have accomplished so far toward implementing new, common standards and strengthening teaching and learning in American schools. To capitalize on this moment, we are focused on making clear, coherent and significant investments to protect recent advances and to support the critically important transition stages as states across the nation take up the Common Core.

The Corporation is also highly regarded for our strategic leadership in philanthropy on issues of comprehensive immigration reform and immigrant civic integration. Our active engagement has helped to counter negative messaging about immigrants, expanded the circle of champions for fair and sound immigration policy, and served as a continuing reminder to the nation of the importance of immigrants in our national life. Strategically, the nation is at an inflection point in immigration reform. Communications efforts over the past few years have significantly expanded the breadth of the alliance for reform, and careful field building has succeeded in mobilizing a broad range of voices—from police chiefs to business and religious leaders to immigrants themselves—to oppose negative policy directions in the states and promote affirmative steps like the DREAM Act. Our continuing investment in the organizations that are central to the web of support for immigrant civic integration throughout the country is essential for sustaining the capacity and momentum built so far, especially as the country addresses comprehensive immigration reform.


The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics, and similarly the Next Generation Science Standards, seek to raise the bar for students to create an education system that ensures that every young person who graduates from high school is ready for college and career. These standards include curricular content that is more academically demanding and embeds within it the development of higher-order cognitive skills, such as strong communication and collaboration skills, the ability to solve complex problems and imagine solutions, and the ability to learn new content and apply it in unfamiliar situations, referred to increasingly in the field as “next generation learning.” 

If the Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards are rigorously implemented, the new, higher standards should result in a sharp decrease in the number of students who will need remedial supports in college, a rise in college persistence and graduation rates and an increase in scores on tests like NAEP, which provide the U.S. with a benchmark of progress against the rest of the world.

Implementing these standards across states and districts will be daunting. They require a deeper, more skills-based level of mastery from all students. Many students will have to accelerate their learning to meet the academic challenges posed by the Common Core. At the school level, this will require significant changes in what is taught, and how to teach for more complex learning. As stated in the Opportunity Equation report published by the joint Carnegie Corporation of New York/Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education, standards are a powerful tool only when they are coupled with a push to rethink and redesign how schools work, moving away from the industrial, one-size-fits-all model that persists today

This year is a critical moment of risk and opportunity. With the adoption of the Common Core Standards, 46 states have overcome the fragmentation of the decentralized education system to join together to raise standards for learning in the core areas of mathematics and English language arts. At this time, 26 states are working together to develop Next Generation Science Standards based on a framework formulated by the National Research Council that establishes both a more demanding content core and a stronger emphasis on students learning to do science. Philanthropy has played a large role in supporting this work; the Corporation has led the field in supporting the development of the Next Generation Science Standards for voluntary state action. Buoyed by the new common standards platform, significant private and public investments are funding the development of high-quality assessments tied to the Common Core. Together, these changes present a tremendous opportunity to rationalize and align the expectations for what K-12 students throughout the country will know and be able to do to prepare for success in postsecondary education. Equally important for achieving change at scale, they provide a coherent platform to enable innovation against a common set of expectations. Carnegie Corporation now aims to build on the momentum generated by our investments and seize the opportunity presented by the implementation of the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards and related assessments. 

We propose to advance the nation’s capacity for adopting transformative school designs by pressing forward with four major priorities:

  • meeting the nation’s need for strong teachers, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), by strengthening the 100Kin10 partnership—to increase supply, retain excellence, and build the movement for 100,000 excellent STEM teachers in 10 years—as a core talent strategy, supporting the commitments of 100Kin10 partners through the 100Kin10 registry, and supporting related human capital grantmaking
  • developing system architecture to enable the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, and completion of the science standards
  • promoting a vision of transformative school designs and building understanding, confidence, and demand for change through strategic communications
  • stimulating the adoption of transformative school designs through a design challenge that incentivizes districts in key states to create new schools, accompanied by the necessary system changes

New Designs for Schools and Systems to Meet the Challenge of Implementation

To begin to understand the risks of Common Core adoption and implementation absent any changes to how teaching and learning happen in schools, Carnegie Corporation of New York engaged McKinsey and Co. to model the impact of the Common Core on graduation rates for today’s students, the majority of whom are entering 9th grade with skills far below Common Core levels. Without major changes in how schools seek to serve these students, implementation of the Common Core across the 46 states is likely to result in either a watering down of these standards and related assessments or higher dropout rates—an increase of 16 percentages points in total. The graduation rate for English Language Learners (ELLs) would likely drop 18 percentage points from today’s rate, and the rate for low-income students would fall 22 percentage points. Also modeled were the number of highly effective teachers—those who can move students more than one grade level in a single academic year—what it would take to bring all students to the level of the Common Core. An estimated 67,000 additional highly effective teachers would be needed in high schools mathematics alone to help students meet the higher bar.

A focus on increasing the proportion of high capacity teachers is essential, and the Corporation is leading the most far-reaching and flexible vehicle for advancing the commitment to excellence and equity in STEM teaching and learning—the 100kin10 partnership. Yet, to reach this goal and to meet the challenge of implementing the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, these data points are a call to think about how we can support all students, especially those in need of recuperation, as the Common Core is implemented in schools.

Design Principles

Generating and supporting new designs in education has been a key lever of the National Program’s K-16 pathway strategy in education since 2007, when we called for states and districts to develop “school designs that produce more powerful learning environments and focus the school’s assets on student learning and achieving the core mission.” We believe that full implementation of Common Core State Standards is essential for social mobility and economic competitiveness and that a decrease in graduation rates is avoidable, but only if states and districts begin to think about redesigning schools to help more students effectively recuperate and accelerate their learning. As MDRC’s study of New York City’s high school redesign efforts from 2002 onwards shows, it is possible for graduation rates to increase even as standards rise. The Common Core brings with it an opportunity for states and districts to think deeply about composing new school designs that use personalized learning to enable targeted recuperation and acceleration for vast numbers of students, considering how time, people, money, and technology are used together in school design to support students in their individualized pathways to college and career readiness.

Carnegie Corporation of New York has released a paper, Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success, on the extent of the challenge posed by the Common Core, and the principles of effective school design that must be linked together to increase student attainment and persistence as the Common Core is implemented.

Strengthening Teaching and Human Capital 

The Corporation has identified getting effective teachers and principals into high-need schools as a key goal for reforming public schooling. There is overwhelming evidence that teachers have greater in-school influence on student achievement than any other person or program. The difference between being taught by a highly effective teacher and an ineffective one amounts to up to one full grade level of additional progress a year. A broad range of stakeholders, including the general public, recognizes the importance of a high quality teacher on student achievement.

Accomplishing that requires a systematic approach to human capital, and policymakers have prioritized the need to strengthen the teaching profession through innovations in recruitment, professional learning, evaluation, and leadership development that stimulate high performance. Reform efforts related to teacher quality, many of which the Corporation has funded, have been effective at both expanding the supply of qualified teachers to high-need schools through alternative certification pathways and at developing more effective approaches to teacher preparation.

The Corporation has heightened the focus on STEM teaching in our strengthening human capital in education priority, both because teacher shortages are particularly acute in math and science and our nation’s output of STEM talent is not keeping up with current and projected demand, and because through the Opportunity Equation work, the Corporation is an influencer with other foundations and the field to generate innovative strategies to meet the nation’s STEM teacher challenges.


The Corporation holds a place of national leadership on issues related to immigration reform and civic integration. Our active engagement has helped to counter negative messaging about immigrants, expanded the circle of champions for fair and sound immigration policy, and served as a continuing reminder to the nation of the importance of immigrants in our national life. Strategically, the nation is at an inflection point in immigration reform, and our continuing investment is essential for sustaining the capacity and momentum built so far, especially as the nation addresses comprehensive immigration reform in 2013-14.

Our focus on immigrant civic integration reflects our conviction that American democracy cannot flourish unless the nation resolves the problem of a “broken” immigration system. The number of foreign-born people residing in the United States, 38 million, is at the highest level in U.S. history and has reached a proportion of the population, 12.5 percent, not seen since the early 20th century; of that total, only 16.4 million are naturalized citizens. Moreover, according to a 2010 estimate by the Department of Homeland Security, roughly 10.8 million foreign-born residents are unauthorized, with no clear pathway to citizenship and severely limited opportunities for participation in American society. To change that picture, the nation needs more effective immigration policies, along with stronger systems for integrating newcomers into the pluralistic mainstream of civic and economic life.  

The Corporation has concentrated since 2007 on legal and social integration of immigrant populations and disconnected youth, including greater tolerance for pluralism within a functioning democratic society, and on increased voting and civic participation by young people, immigrants, and disconnected populations. Our current strategy was crafted in 2008, following the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2007. Without comprehensive reform, we reasoned, other efforts to advance the civic integration of immigrants into American society—and particularly efforts to ensure that immigrants and their children are able to take advantage of the educational and economic opportunities of this country—would be ineffective. After careful analysis, we identified four levers of change that would be necessary to produce a more successful outcome, along with specific indicators where we expected to see improvements:

  • Strategic communications: balanced and nuanced coverage of immigrants and immigration in the news media; wider public recognition of our lead communications grantee, America’s Voice Education Fund; alliances with new messengers to encourage passage of sound policies; and building the communications skills of field allies
  • Strengthening the field: more and stronger state-level immigrant integration anchor organizations and allies; better grantee communications skills and organizational capacity; pro-immigrant media coverage, including more public education about immigrants and why they have come to U.S. communities that have not historically been destinations for new immigrants; and continued support by funders to our lead field-building grantee, the Four Freedoms Fund
  • Citizenship and civic engagement: naturalization of eligible legal immigrants; increased voter registration and voting among naturalized citizens and citizen children of immigrants; and a public education campaign promoting citizenship and voting in ethnic communities and by new citizens
  • Improving policy development: development of federal policies that focus on fixing the current immigration system that include controlling future flow; public policies that support and decrease barriers to immigrant civic integration; evidence of cross-national learning on patterns of migration and the need for integration policies; and establishment of a working naturalization system and a pathway to citizenship

As part of a renewed strategy over a four-year period from 2009 through 2013, we also identified specific benchmarks toward three central goals:

  • enactment of federal legislation with a pathway to citizenship, along with state and local policies that support legal integration of immigrant populations
  • increased voting and civic participation by immigrants and the children of immigrants
  • increased tolerance for pluralism within a functioning democratic society

Immigrant civic integration is the principal focus of the Corporation’s Democracy Program. The expanded emphasis on immigrant integration responds to the demographic shifts both in traditional urban centers and in a more diffused pattern throughout the country. It also responds to the urgency of addressing the civic and social dimensions of this major demographic change occurring simultaneously with significant global labor market shifts, a downturn in the economy, and the growing link between higher educational attainment and social mobility in the United States.