The last two years of unexpected challenges and quick pivots have left a lasting impression on the education space, transforming how students experience school, how educators approach instruction, and how families support their children’s growth. Throughout this time, Overdeck Family Foundation has continued to evolve our strategy to help grantees meet the urgent and complex needs of children, families, and educators, while also looking to the future and seeding investments for an improved education system on the whole that works for all children.
As you likely saw in our recently released inaugural Grantmaking & Impact Report, at the beginning of 2021 we announced updates to our funding model to better position our grantmaking to find, fund, and scale cost-effective and sustainable programs that improve academic and socioemotional outcomes for all children. As before the change, under the model we still engage in two “types” of grantmaking: direct impact (~75 percent of grantmaking dollars) and ecosystem (~25 percent of grantmaking dollars); the former allows us to fund innovation and growth, and the latter clears the path to scale for our grantees through research and field building. But the updates to the funding model also included some key changes that allow us to make more measurable progress towards our goal, mainly:
- Increased funding for early-stage organizations we may not have funded before
- Increased transparency for grant size, grant duration, and renewal expectations
- Larger, longer, and more flexible (general operation support) funding for growth stage organizations after a pilot year
- Differentiated diligence by organizational stage, with streamlined multi-year grant renewals
- A non-monetary support strategy that offers support beyond funding dollars and is aligned to helping grantees achieve sustainable, cost-effective scale
In combination with our team’s continued dedication to learning and improvement, we believe that our funding model makes us well-equipped to navigate the changing tides occurring in education at this time. As in 2021, our focus this year remains on unlocking grantee capacity for innovation, evidence, and growth. We have several differentiators in place as a foundation that help us accomplish this, including:
- A focus on interventions both in and out of school, which is more important than ever given the pandemic’s disruption to students’ lives
- A belief that evidence is a theory for scale, with dedicated funding for validation and knowledge generation efforts
- A blended team, bringing social sector expertise and business sensibilities to achieve greater impact
Yet despite the work we’ve done over the past year to strengthen how and what we fund, it’s important to note that the current moment is both critical and challenging when it comes to making measurable improvements in education. Here are some of the key landscape trends we’re tracking as we enter 2022.
The landscape for 2022
We’re one month into the year, and while much remains uncertain, it’s clear that our nation is at a crossroads as we grapple with the effects of Covid on education and our lives. Here are the key trends and shifts in education that we are analyzing as we think about how to best make impactful investments moving forward.
- The effects of the pandemic are widespread: COVID-19 has caused more than 775,000 deaths in the U.S., and experts estimate that 140,000 children may have lost a caregiver. This massive loss and the ongoing effects of the pandemic have implications for all aspects of education, in particular the socioemotional well being of everyone involved, from children to educators.
- Staffing shortages are affecting schools nationwide: The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen drastically to 3.9 percent, which creates a supply and demand problem for staffing, particularly in schools. Approximately 32 percent of teachers say Covid is driving them to leave the profession earlier than expected, and while teacher staffing shortages have been localized, the early childhood sector is disproportionately affected. Things have been particularly challenging during the Omicron wave, making staffing a critical aspect to consider going forward.
- Learning loss remains high: Although ESSER funding of $122 billion provides relief to K-12 schools, learning loss remains an ongoing issue. Students in 2021 were approximately five months behind in math and four months behind in reading, with a disproportionate impact based on race. While these numbers are more positive than originally anticipated, there is increasing pressure on educators to differentiate content to close learning gaps, making solutions to support educators in personalizing instruction and accelerating learning key.
- Assessments are being reimagined: The difficulty of conducting summative assessments during Covid created a renewed focus on finding creative ways to obtain interim feedback on student progress through short-cycle formative assessments. Figuring out how to provide real-time feedback to both educators and students will likely be an essential component of learning acceleration and classroom instruction going forward.
- Family engagement is essential: Covid has made clear what many in the education space have long known—family involvement is crucial to student success. As one study revealed, in places where families were a part of the instructional core, student achievement was on par or higher than it was pre-pandemic. Even without hybrid or remote learning, we believe schools will benefit from considering families as part of strong instruction.
- Technology remains critical to learning: Ninety-five percent of K-12 schools are back to in-person learning as of early January 2022, but one thing that’s changed since before the pandemic is the use of technology in the classroom. Schools used an average of 1,449 edtech tools during SY 2020-21, compared to 703 edtech tools during SY 2018-19, making clear that technology has a role to play in learning acceleration, remediation, and personalization even post-pandemic.
As you can see below, the above trends were crucial in helping us consider 2022 portfolio strategies.
In combination with our team’s continued dedication to learning and improvement, we believe that our funding model makes us well-equipped to navigate the changing tides occurring in education at this time.
Portfolio strategies for 2022
When developing strategies for this year, we centered our attention on three main areas where we felt our foundation could have the maximum impact based on the trends we’re tracking in the landscape and our strengths and differentiators. These areas were:
- Spurring innovation by funding the development of programs that address the challenges listed above
- Evaluating virtual or hybrid learning models given their continued use in the classroom
- Providing support for evidence-based decision-making in education given the heavy influx of stimulus funds
Additionally, we’re tracking two cross-cutting themes across our four main grantmaking portfolios: the expanded role of families in children’s learning and the difficulties programs are facing with staffing. These themes affect our work both inside and outside of school, and we will be collaborating as a team to learn from our investments and each other to see whether any best practices emerge that can help guide our investments and the field going forward.
Given the above, we made several updates to our portfolio strategies for this year. Here’s what you can expect in 2022 from our four main investment areas.
Early Impact: Creating strong foundations for early learning
Our Early Impact portfolio supports families and early learning environments in expanding their use of evidence-based practices that are proven to make a difference in the lives of children, setting them on the path toward early and later school success.
This year, given the current challenges within the early childhood space, we are deepening our investment in interventions that promote healthy birth outcomes and kindergarten readiness. Our grantmaking will continue to be spread across parent supports (home visits, group-based prenatal and pediatric care, parenting programs, developmental screeners, and care or school choice navigation services), as 30 percent of children are currently in parent care. We will also focus on child care and school supports (curricula, teacher PD, family engagement, and business and licensing supports), as the remaining 70 percent of children are in some form of care outside the home.
While historically we have focused our Early Impact grantmaking on children from birth to age eight, we are intentionally limiting new grantmaking in 2022 to focus on children ages zero to five, given the early reports of the pandemic’s detrimental effects on kindergarten readiness. By scaling evidence-based practices in home and early learning environments, both of which we know are critical to child development, we hope to reverse these trends.
Exceptional Educators: Increasing the retention of expert educators in K-9
Our Exceptional Educators portfolio empowers teachers and school leaders by increasing access to professional learning aligned with high-quality instructional materials, innovative data tools, and differentiated staffing models.
This year, the portfolio will continue to invest in professional learning and high-quality instructional materials, ensuring that all students have access to these resources in addition to teachers who are trained in their use. Our belief is that this combination of supports can ensure that teachers are more effective, more efficient, and ultimately, more likely to stay in the profession.
We will also increase our investment in developing and scaling data tools that allow leaders and teachers to use real-time information and early-warning indicators to differentiate their time, practices, and efforts. We believe improved and more timely data will make it easier for great educators to use critical information to improve their instruction.
Lastly, we’re increasing our focus on identifying and scaling differentiated staffing models that retain the most effective teachers, promote diversity, and differentiate teacher roles. Today’s staffing challenges require innovative solutions that make the best use of limited resources, which is why we believe it’ll be imperative to help school leaders use their great teachers to impact more students, and to ensure they are compensated accordingly.
With this focus on interventions targeted to support in-service educators, Exceptional Educators will pivot away from funding recruitment and teacher preparation efforts.
Innovative Schools: Supporting student-centered learning environments
Our Innovative Schools portfolio supports grantees that leverage technology to create student-centered, evidence-based K-9 learning environments that engage, challenge, and improve academic and socioemotional skills for all students.
As has been well documented by research, not all students are being served equitably in schools and learning gaps have only widened during Covid. We believe that technology can play a key role in accelerating student learning and personalizing learning experiences to close the widening gaps, which is why we’re going to increase our funding in personalized interventions that accelerate students’ mastery of foundational academic and socioemotional skills. This includes math and literacy core and supplemental curriculum, tutoring, and evidence on edtech purchasing, procurement, and implementation.
We also see an opportunity for the Innovative Schools portfolio to amplify its funding for socioemotional learning by investing to increase active learning experiences. Active learning experiences, part of the constructivist learning theory, allow students to participate in the learning process and apply what they have learned, which enhances student engagement, helps students to contextualize their learning, and leads to improved mastery of academic and socioemotional outcomes. Our funding in this area will include formative assessments (especially those that provide immediate feedback to the learner and incorporate disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, or voice tech), peer-to-peer mentoring or tutoring, project-based or experiential learning, and research or validation studies that advance the field’s understanding of how active learning experiences improve academic and socioemotional outcomes.
Inspired Minds: Inspiring young minds through out-of-school STEM opportunities
Our Inspired Minds portfolio is dedicated to building the next generation of creative problem-solvers by expanding access to engaging and challenging STEM learning experiences. We do this by expanding access to high-quality out-of-school STEM programs that deepen family engagement, build STEM mindsets, and inspire students with joyful and rigorous learning.
During Covid, many students missed out on the social benefits of in-person learning and extracurricular activities, which has resulted in a rise in mental health challenges and a drop in academic engagement. These trends have led parents to seek out opportunities for joy in their child’s day: 83 percent of parents reported that seeing their child happy was the most important child-centric quality driver for out-of-school programs. This reality has pushed the Inspired Minds portfolio to reframe what type of out-of-school STEM programming we fund. While we still believe programs should be rigorous and impactful, we are expanding our criteria of what it means to be a “high-quality” STEM program with the addition of joy and engagement.
Inspired Minds will also continue to invest in elevating the role of families in supporting children’s STEM learning by equipping families of both young and school-age children with the tools and knowledge needed to effectively support their child’s STEM education and skills. We know that families play a crucial role in the shaping of STEM attitudes for young children, and we will continue to be a leader in funding family math efforts specifically.
Lastly, we plan to pursue an emergent investment strategy in self-directed STEM learning programs where students have agency to explore on their own and with peers. Our hypothesis is that these programs are more personalized to student needs and can differentiate pace and content in effective ways, requiring fewer staff to manage implementation and mitigating the risk of workforce challenges. Student self-directed STEM learning programs could also mitigate transportation issues for staff—which are the second most cited barrier to out-of-school STEM participation—and increase access in rural areas.
The year ahead
In the spirit of continuous improvement, we’re excited to learn more from each of these strategies as 2022 unfolds. Throughout the year, we plan to monitor the success of each strategy to help identify the most cost-effective, sustainable programs and solutions within each focus area. We will also be closely monitoring progress on our 2022 learning agenda, which my colleague Jon Sotsky outlined in a recent blog post.
At the end of the year, we will reevaluate our strategy areas based on the external landscape and our internal analysis of success. Our goal is to use both our blog and newsletter to share lessons learned and mistakes made throughout the year with other funders and the education community at large, so we can all learn together on which efforts are best suited to accelerating improvement in academic and socioemotional outcomes for all children.
We hope you’ll join us on this learning journey. And if your organization fits into any of the strategy areas outlined above, please do not hesitate to reach out to the appropriate portfolio contact.
To view the full presentation from the February 17th Overdeck Family Foundation 2022 Strategy Update webinar, click here.
Header image courtesy of Silicon Schools Fund