The mission of Overdeck Family Foundation is to open doors for every child in the U.S. by measurably enhancing education inside and outside the classroom. As we recently highlighted in our 2022 Grantmaking & Impact Report, our funding model is designed to unlock innovation, evidence building, and growth opportunities for our grantees, clearing the path to scale for their organizations and the work they do. At the end of each year, we conduct a strategic review of what we’re seeing in the education landscape, combined with lessons learned from last year’s grantmaking. These insights guide the coming year’s strategies, helping ensure that our funding is responsive in meeting timely, complex, and dynamic needs.
Foundation strategy for 2023
Across portfolios in 2023, we’re seeing opportunities for deepened investment in developing and evaluating tech-enabled teaching and learning solutions, improving cost-effectiveness of labor-intensive programs given the ESSER funding cliff, and continuing to innovate on staffing and personnel models to navigate the complexity of the labor conditions in the education sector—many of which we outlined in our 2023 predictions blog post. We’re also seeing a need to ensure that evidence-based interventions are able to scale to the students who most need them, which is why we’re promoting the importance of evidence-based decision making and purchasing by states and districts. This is especially critical given the large amount of ESSER funds available for learning recovery, and the short timeline in which to use them.
Our direct impact grantmaking, which makes up approximately 75 percent of our total giving, supports much of the above. But, we also see an opportunity to expand our ecosystem investments to ensure that the programs and models that are being developed are supported by evidence, and that the ecosystem is primed for those programs to scale once they are ready to do so. For example, we’re going to continue research and development funding to promote innovation in education, as well as to measure the impact of the programs that are being developed to understand what is working for whom, under what conditions, and why. We are also planning to increase our funding of organizations that promote and advocate for the use of evidence in decision making on a local and state level, as well as those that highlight bright spots and case studies of impactful programs and models in action.
Based on grantee feedback from past Center for Effective Philanthropy surveys and our internal assessment of grantee needs, we will also be expanding our capacity-building strategy to better position grantees to navigate shared areas of challenge. For example, since we anticipate a potential recession and future funding cuts, our team hopes to bolster our support of grantees’ cost effectiveness with the theory that increased price sensitivity by purchasers means more cost-effective models are more likely to scale. With the same logic in mind, we’re also planning to increase our support for grantees to develop more flexible revenue and financial models, as well as engage in leadership resilience coaching to help organizational leaders navigate potentially difficult times ahead. And lastly, we will continue to support grantees to build evidence of effectiveness for their programs in order to best position them for scale and post-ESSER funding cliff readiness.
Portfolio strategies for 2023
Last year, we shared a holistic portfolio refresh with new strategies across our four grantmaking portfolios to better align with the needs of the education sector in a COVID-inflicted world. This year, we remain committed to many of the same problems we identified last year, with the strategies to match. From what we’ve seen in the landscape and lessons learned from our grantmaking, we are confident that funding along these lines allows us to meet today’s challenges by scaling cost-effective, sustainable programs that improve academic and socioemotional outcomes for all children and make progress towards our broader vision of unlocking every child’s potential.
Here’s what you can expect in 2023 from our four main investment areas.
Early Impact: Creating strong foundations for early learning
Our Early Impact portfolio supports families and educators in early learning environments in expanding their use of evidence-based practices that are proven to make a difference in the lives of children, with the ultimate goal of increasing the likelihood that all children enter kindergarten “ready to learn” and experience early school success.
As was true even before the pandemic, fewer than half of all kindergarteners come to school kindergarten-ready, with significant disparities by race and income. Like the portfolio predicted last year, children and families have emerged from the pandemic in worse shape than before, making funding for early childhood programs even more important.
- The U.S. preterm birth rate increased to 10.5 percent in 2021, a four percent increase in just one year and the highest recorded rate since 2007. Within this average rate, Black and Native American women are 62 percent more likely to have a preterm birth.
- The number of parents who read to their babies every day decreased from 37.8 percent in 2020 to 36.8 percent in 2022.
- Just 33 percent of fourth graders are reading at or above the NAEP Proficient level, a two percentage point decrease compared to 2019.
Keeping in mind these continued and growing challenges, coupled with a lack of a universal early child care and education system and worsening workforce shortages, we are continuing to invest in the areas we believe are best suited to directly improve children’s early lives and later school success. These include:
- Developing and scaling parent supports that increase healthy birth outcomes and family ability to support children’s early learning and development;
- Improving early learning environment quality through curriculum, professional development, and push-in supports;
- Encouraging a greater connection between home and early learning environments; and
- Encouraging evidence-based decision making across the early childhood field.
These areas remain consistent from last year, with some amplification in our funding for parent supports, professional development for early childhood educators, and family engagement solutions given the opportunity for impact and improvement in these areas.
Exceptional Educators: Increasing the retention of expert educators in K-9
Our Exceptional Educators portfolio aims to increase the retention of effective educators in K-9 so that more children have access to educators who empower them to reach their full potential. We do this by funding grantees that provide teachers access to high-quality professional development, evidence-based instructional materials and tools, and innovative staffing models that have been shown to improve teacher efficacy and student outcomes.
The education landscape increasingly points to the role of excellent educators in accelerating student learning, with high-quality instructional materials and differentiated staffing models as two potential solutions to address learning loss. We hypothesize that the status quo model of “one teacher, one classroom” will be forced to change due to continued challenges with staffing, the need to retain and promote high-performing educators, and a growing diversity of student needs.
Given this we’re:
- Amplifying investment in differentiated staffing models, creating opportunities for teachers to teach in teams that leverage their strengths;
- Continuing to invest in high-quality instructional materials and aligned professional development so educators are best positioned to use the materials in their classrooms; and
- Building an evidence base for teacher-facing data tools.
We believe these strategies will provide teachers with new, meaningful opportunities for leadership, collaboration, and learning, leading to improved teacher retention and stronger school cultures and student outcomes.
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 schools nationwide continue to grapple with the lingering effects of the pandemic, we believe technology-enabled practices and models continue to hold promise in accelerating student learning, closing widening achievement gaps, and personalizing learning for each student. We also know that not all technology is created equal. Amidst unprecedented levels of edtech spending and usage ahead of the impending funding cliff, we feel a renewed sense of urgency to identify and uplift the most effective solutions that will safely and positively impact student outcomes.
To meet this pivotal moment in education, in 2023 the Innovative Schools portfolio is:
- Amplifying investment in personalized, technology-enabled math and literacy interventions and high-quality instructional materials that accelerate students’ mastery of foundational academic and socioemotional skills—this includes core and supplemental curriculum, as well as tutoring;
- Exploring investments in technology-based active learning, aligned with our hypothesis that these experiences can enhance student engagement while allowing students to apply learning on their own, deepening knowledge and skill building; under this emergent strategy, we will focus on peer-to-peer mentoring and tutoring, project-based, experiential, or small-group learning, and formative assessments; and
- Continuing to fund evidence that advances the field’s understanding of effective technology-enabled programs and models, and promotes evidence-based decision making and purchasing.
Given the rapid expansion of technology-enabled programs and models that we’ve seen over the past several years, we believe these investments are both timely and important to the sector. Our goal is to understand what type of technology-enabled learning experiences work best for students, and promote the scaling of those programs in a crowded field, ensuring that all children, including those in under-resourced communities, have access to solutions that work for them.
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.
With recent NAEP scores revealing sharp declines in math for fourth and eighth graders, and the undeniable effect the pandemic has had on mental health for children across the country, there’s an increased awareness among policymakers, families, and educators of a belief we’ve long held to be true: the importance of out-of-school time in helping children improve both academic and socioemotional skills.
As such, our portfolio strategy is staying consistent from last year. We are continuing to invest in out-of-school experiences that increase children’s access to engaging and challenging STEM learning and provide children the opportunity to experience both joy and rigor outside the school day, either in-person or online. We’re doing this by:
- Scaling STEM programs that blend rigor and joy, creating learning environments outside of school that build academic and socioemotional skills by promoting curiosity, collaboration, and fun;
- Elevating the role of families in STEM learning by equipping families of young and school-age children with resources to build their confidence and capacity to support their children’s STEM education; and
- Funding self-directed STEM learning programs which provide children agency to independently explore content and materials on their own and with peers.
These funding priorities ensure that high-quality out-of-school programs are more accessible to students and that those programs are structured in a way that not only promotes academic learning, but also drives student engagement and curiosity about the world around them. We believe these types of programs, and the skills they impart, will only grow in importance in our technology-centered culture.
We look forward to learning from each one of these strategies as the year progresses and commit to continuously monitoring the progress and success of our work to see how it supports our mission and addresses the needs of the field at large. At the end of the year, our team will reevaluate our strategy areas based on an internal analysis and the external landscape. As always, we pledge to share lessons learned and mistakes made to stakeholders across the field.
We hope you will join us on this journey! If your organization fits into any of the strategy areas outlined above, please do not hesitate to reach out to the appropriate portfolio contact.
Header image courtesy of BEAM