The Spencer Foundation was established in 1962 by Lyle M. Spencer. The Foundation received its major endowment upon Spencer's death in 1968 and began formal grant making in 1971. Since that time, the Foundation has made grants totaling approximately $250 million. The Foundation is intended, by Spencer's direction, to investigate ways in which education, broadly conceived, can be improved around the world. From the first, the Foundation has been dedicated to the belief that research is necessary to the improvement in education. The Foundation is thus committed to supporting high-quality investigation of education through its research programs and to strengthening and renewing the educational research community through its fellowship and training programs and related activities.
The Spencer Foundation remains committed to Lyle Spencer's original mandate, and it is hard to imagine a time when that will change. But even as we remain constant in purpose, we must, like any vital enterprise, from time to time renew our approach and our methods. We have undertaken such a process of renewal at Spencer. A description of that process can be found in two documents: President Michael McPherson's essay from the 2003-2004 Annual Report presents some reasons for looking at the Foundation's work in a somewhat new way, and the second document puts forward a list of "areas of inquiry" that the Foundation aims to promote through its grant making programs.
Beginning in February 2006, the Research Grants program began accepting applications that fit within one or more of four areas of inquiry:
- The Relation between Education and Social Opportunity;
- Organizational Learning in Schools, School Systems, and Higher Education Institutions;
- Teaching, Learning, and Instructional Resources; and,
- Purposes and Values of Education.
In addition to proposals in these defined areas, the Foundation will continue to provide an opportunity to submit field-initiated proposals outside these areas.
These areas of inquiry are intended in the first instance as a guide to applicants in our Research Grants program, but they have a larger purpose as well. We intend to use these declared areas of interest as starting points for a richer conversation with both the research community and with communities of policy and practice about the best ways to focus our work. We will strive to develop within these broad areas of inquiry more focused and sustained programs of research and improvement, undertaken in a spirit of partnership with our colleagues in the worlds of scholarship and of educational practice.