The Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education

When Brooke Astor died in 2007, at age 103, The New York Times called her the City’s “First Lady of Philanthropy.” As president of the Vincent Astor Foundation from 1959 to 1997, she invested nearly $200 million in libraries, museums, hospitals, homeless shelters, and community programs.

Her dedication to philanthropy and the City continues with the Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education, which was created at The New York Community Trust as part of the settlement of her estate.  The purpose of the Astor Fund is to support charitable programs and activities that improve education in the City.

Mrs. Astor was a great reader and she understood that reading skills are essential to a productive life.  She wanted everyone to enjoy reading, and so most of the Astor Fund is being used to improve reading skills in the early grades, particularly among disadvantaged students.


In addition to Trust staff Shawn Morehead and Barbara Taveras, who direct the Astor Fund, five experts serve on the advisory panel: 

  • Christina Fuentes, NYC Department of Education, Emerita
  • Michael J. Kieffer, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at NYU
  • Martin Kurzweil, Educational Transformation Program, Ithaka S+R
  • Vanessa Leung, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families
  • Catherine Snow, Harvard Graduate School of Education


Since 2013, the Astor Fund has awarded $35,010,000 to 20 nonprofits to improve literacy in the early grades. Astor-funded nonprofits have worked in hundreds of public elementary schools, training thousands of teachers and tutors, and reaching tens of thousands of low-income students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

During the 2018-2019 school year alone, Astor grantees worked in more than 250 schools and pre-kindergarten centers in all five boroughs, training more than 3,000 educators and more than 65,000 young readers. An independent evaluator, Metis Associates, found that nearly all the students in Astor-funded projects were better readers at the end of the programs, and the number of students reading on grade level increased by 16 percentage points. In addition, the evaluators found a significant increase in teachers’ knowledge of ways to develop oral language, rich vocabulary, and reading comprehension skills. So the benefits will continue; these teachers’ future students will become better readers for years to come.

A student in a Read Alliance program funded by the Brooke Astor Fund for Education in The New York Community Trust.
A student in a Read Alliance program funded by the Brooke Astor Fund for Education in The New York Community Trust.


Over the years, many nonprofits have contributed to the successes of the Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education. With the help of our five-member advisory panel, The Trust has funded a broad range of programs—both established and cutting edge. After evaluating the results, our Distribution Committee approves continued support for projects that seem likely to achieve substantial, long-term benefits.

Over the next two to three years, recent grants will help train at least 2,000 additional teachers in 100 schools, and tens of thousands of young readers will benefit.  Here’s an overview of some programs that have received Astor grants:

Teaching Matters supports elementary schools for three years. In the first year, it provides intensive training for teachers, teacher-leaders and administrators in a professional development program called Early Reading Matters. In the second year, teacher-leaders coach more teachers to plan, encourage and evaluate students’ progress; and in the final year, Teaching Matters supports teacher-leaders and school administrators as they assume responsibility for the program. By the end of the 2019-2020 school year, Teaching Matters will have worked with 1,550 teachers in 62 Bronx schools, reaching about 37,000 young readers.

New Visions for Public Schools, together with Teaching Matters, are designing a system to help schools monitor and support students as they learn to read. It will track young readers’ progress—such as test scores, grades, attendance, and out-of-classroom support—so teachers can incorporate their strengths (or weaknesses) into real-time reading lessons.

ReadWorks developed the Article-A-Day program in 2014 to help teachers improve students’ vocabulary, reading comprehension, and general knowledge. For 10 to 15 minutes a day, kindergarten to fifth-grade teachers discuss an article on topics ranging from history to weather to geography or health. The free program is available online, and thousands of City teachers use it. Now ReadWorks is tailoring the articles to different reading levels within the same grade and translating them for English language learners to share at home with their families as well as read at school.

New York University’s R-Success is training pre-K teachers to use storytelling to boost young children’s vocabularies even before they learn to read.  R-Success first coached teachers working with Latino preschoolers, then expanded to include storytelling traditions of Afro-Caribbean and African-American cultures. The program has trained more than 100 pre-K teachers, reaching about 4,000 preschoolers.  Over the next two years, NYU will bring R-Success to pre-K teachers citywide.

Four community groups—CAMBA, Chinese American Planning Council, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, and ExpandED Schools—collaborated to create Ready Readers, building on what children learned during the school day. One of the earliest recipients of an Astor Fund grant in 2014, Ready Readers has since expanded its afterschool programs to 35 City schools, reaching more than 2,300 students in kindergarten to third grade. The program trains teachers and afterschool staff to use projects in the arts and sciences to encourage reading, writing, listening, and speaking.  It was a whole new way of engaging young readers.  Metis Associates, the independent evaluator, concluded that more than 95 percent of students in the program had significantly higher vocabulary and reading comprehension skills.  And the percentage of youngsters reading at grade level jumped from 30 percent to 50 percent. Over the next two years, Ready Readers will expand to 50 City schools, coaching nearly 7,000 students.  And if all goes as planned, ExpandED Schools will soon make Ready Readers available to at least 40 of the City’s 118 afterschool providers.

Fund for Public Schools, a nonprofit that raises money for the City’s public schools, is using a grant from the Astor Fund to help reading coaches and administrators in the City’s 792 elementary schools select reading programs that meet their students’ needs. The City’s Department of Education, along with Dr. Thomas Hatch at Teachers’ College, Columbia University, will collect data from each school about which nonprofit reading programs they use to provide extra support to students and/or training to teachers as well as which are most effective—if at all. The Department of Education will then compile a guide and train school administrators to use it to select the best reading programs for their students.  Researchers also will evaluate whether the schools are better defining their reading goals and selecting appropriate programs to improve their students’ reading skills.

The Trust, along with its advisory panel, are proud of the grantees’ accomplishments, and we are grateful for the opportunity to honor Mrs. Astor’s legacy.

A young reader in the ExpandED Schools network reflects on a story. Photo by Jim Burger