Innovative Schools

Innovative Schools

To unlock all children’s potential, schools need to expand their definitions of success to include not only mastery of academic knowledge, but also the habits, mindsets, and skills critical for children’s futures. Our Innovative Schools portfolio supports research and organizations that partner with schools to create student-centered, evidence-based learning environments that are responsive to local needs.

Goal
Every child attends a school that supports them in reaching their full potential.

Mission
Ensure every child has access to an education that is engaging, challenging, and meets both academic and socioemotional needs.

By the Numbers

  • 29 grantees
  • 560 schools
  • 78k students

Our approach

  • Invest in developing and studying student-centered school models and practices that foster an expanded definition of success
  • Increase schools’ access to high-quality professional learning programs, instructional resources, and model providers that enable the development of rigorous personalized academics, socioemotional development, and/or engaging learning environments
  • Build school and partner capacity for monitoring and collecting academic, social-emotional, and learning environment measures that are used to create quality educational opportunities for all children
  • Establish a rigorous evidence base for student-centered learning

What we’ve learned:

  • The majority of schools teach to the middle in a lecture-based model designed to achieve a narrow goal: improved ELA/Math test scores. Students are bored and unmotivated: by high school as many as 40-60% of students become chronically disengaged from school (Klem & Connell, 2004). Achievement suffers (only 53% of high school graduates are college and career ready), and students lag in skills employers value most, like critical thinking and problem solving (“Are High Schools Preparing Students…”; It Takes More than a Major…).
  • Student-centered approaches to teaching and learning that acknowledge student variability can accelerate mastery of academic standards. SAGA Innovations, an Overdeck Family Foundation grantee providing high dosage tutoring to high needs students, was able to improve student math scores by 0.28 standard deviations, equivalent to an extra 1-2 years of learning.
  • Social-emotional learning correlates to improved academic achievement. Multiple studies have found that students who engage with experiences that develop social-emotional competencies earn more course credit, higher grades, and higher standardized test scores (Durlak et al., 2011).
  • The learning environment matters. Learning is most effective when content is meaningful and relevant, when adults build caring relationships with their students, and when students are in classrooms that foster a sense of belonging and a growth mindset. (Duke et al., 2017; Dweck, 2006; The Science of Learning, 2016). NewSchools Venture Fund, an Overdeck Family Foundation grantee, has found this to hold true in the schools they support, with early findings showing that increases in growth mindset strongly correlate with academic growth and proficiency in both reading and math, including for students across grades, races, and ethnic backgrounds.

Sample Grantees


Klem, A. M., & Connell, J. P. (2004). Relationships Matter: Linking Teacher Support to Student Engagement and Achievement. Journal of School Health, 74, 262-273.

Are High Schools Preparing Students to Be College- and Career-ready?” The Hechinger Report. April 06, 2016.

It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success. 2013. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities and Hart Research Associates.

Duke, N. D., Halvorsen, A-L., Strachan, S. L., Kim, J., Konstantopoulos, S. (2017). Putting PBL to the Test: The Impact of Project-based Learning on Second-grade Students’ Social Studies and Literacy Learning and Motivation.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.

The Science of Learning, 2016. Deans for Impact. http://www.deansforimpact.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/The_Science_of_Learning.pdf

Durlak, J., Weissberg, R., Dymnicki, A., Taylor, R., & Schellinger, K. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432.