Since 2021, Overdeck Family Foundation’s venture-inspired funding model has incorporated funding across direct impact and ecosystem investments with the goal of identifying and fueling the scale of cost-effective, sustainable programs and solutions that accelerate improvement in key academic and socioemotional outcomes for all children. As grantmakers, we design our support to intentionally help nonprofits unlock innovation, evidence-building, and growth opportunities in an effort to provide all children the opportunity to unlock their potential. You can see how we’ve performed against our ambitions in our 2023 Grantmaking & Impact Report, which launched last month.

At the end of each year, in addition to celebrating what worked well and our grantees’ successes, our team conducts a strategic review of what we’re seeing in the education landscape, combined with lessons learned from last year’s grantmaking. These valuable insights guide the coming year’s funding strategies, helping ensure that our grantmaking is strategic and responsive in meeting the needs of our grantees and their beneficiaries.

As detailed in our team’s predictions for 2024, there are three cross-cutting focus areas we’ll be closely tracking in the year ahead as we refresh our grantmaking:

  • The degree to which AI can cost-effectively advance student or teacher outcomes;
  • Promising approaches to effective family engagement in support of student learning and engagement; and
  • Challenges and opportunities as districts and nonprofits navigate the expiration of ESSER funding.

These areas impact our work outside of specific portfolios and are all critical to ensuring that our grantmaking remains focused on the highest priority needs and opportunities. Throughout the year, we’ll revisit what we’ve learned in each of these areas, distilling lessons and best practices that inform our investments and the field at large. You’ll also see some of these themes represented in the individual portfolio strategy updates detailed below.

As grantmakers, we design our support to intentionally help nonprofits unlock innovation, evidence-building, and growth opportunities in an effort to provide all children the opportunity to unlock their potential.

2024 portfolio strategies

Given the amount of change in the sector last year, our 2023 strategies were designed to promote continuity and remained largely consistent from 2022 across our four core grantmaking portfolios. This year we made several updates, often rethinking how to best address some of the timely challenges in the education landscape without letting our own internal definitions bar us from success. We’re hopeful that this approach helps us operate at the nexus of what’s possible within our funding model and what’s most needed in the sector.

Below is a detailed overview of what you can expect in 2024 from our four main investment areas.

Early Impact: Creating strong foundations for early learning

Our Early Impact portfolio remains focused on ensuring that all types of early learning environments are high-quality and effectively support children’s development throughout the early years. Its ultimate goal is to increase the likelihood that all children experience supportive early learning environments that ensure they enter kindergarten ready to thrive and achieve early school success.

As we continue to monitor the early childhood landscape, several factors are shaping our Early Impact grantmaking strategy. Since the pandemic, chronic absenteeism in the U.S. has increased from approximately 15 percent in SY 2018-19 to nearly 30 percent in 2021-22, with higher rates in the earliest years. Child mental health is also a top concern, with 93 percent of school health workers reporting that they’ve seen an increase in students with anxiety since 2019. Lastly, we know that access to high-quality Pre-K remains a challenge: while 1.2 million four-year-olds attended a state-funded Pre-K program in SY 2021-22, only six programs in five states met all 10 of NIEER’s quality standards benchmarks.

With these factors top of mind, we’re deepening our investments in the areas we continue to believe are best suited to effectively support children’s early development and early school success. Specifically, we’re focusing on:

  • Supporting the development and scale of parent/family supports that improve healthy birth outcomes, early relational health, and home learning environments;
  • Supporting the development and scale of childcare and school supports that improve early learning environment quality;
  • Fostering greater connection between home and care/school environments; and
  • Encouraging evidence-based decision-making across the early childhood field, with a special focus on state and local level policymakers.

These strategies remain consistent with last year, with an amplified focus on high-quality Pre-K, early intervention supports, and attendance as a key measure of strong family engagement. New this year, in light of the growing mental health crisis post-pandemic, we are adding a focus on solutions that emphasize play to support children’s emotional and academic well-being.

Courtesy of Robin Hood Fund for Early Learning

Exceptional Educators: Improving teacher engagement and practice

The goal of our Exceptional Educators portfolio is to improve teacher engagement and instructional practice across K-9 so that all children have access to educators who empower them to reach their full potential.

We know that teachers are the most impactful in-school factor affecting student achievement, but a variety of challenges can negatively impact their ability to deliver rigorous, engaging instruction that meets student needs. Only 36 percent of teachers report they have the curricular materials needed for effective instruction, with even fewer reporting that they have received training on effective implementation of those materials. This is exacerbated by ongoing, localized staffing challenges, widening learning gaps, and increased teacher dissatisfaction with working conditions—all of which raise pressure on teachers, making the job increasingly challenging.

We are responding to these urgent needs by redefining our Exceptional Educators investment strategies for 2024. This year, the portfolio will focus on investing in teacher development and educator staffing/supports that aim to:

  • Ensure teachers experience impactful professional learning/coaching aligned to high-quality instructional materials (HQIM), aligned assessments, evidence-based pedagogy, and the foundational mindsets to reach all students;
  • Expand access to coaching that provides high-quality, timely feedback to teachers based on research-backed pedagogy and the science of learning, including through direct school leader support and/or by leveraging technology and AI;
  • Support flexible, team-oriented strategic staffing models that provide teachers with increased growth opportunities, extend the impact of more effective educators, and/or leverage technology to rethink expectations for teachers’ time; and
  • Deepen family partnerships in support of student engagement and success.

New this year, the portfolio will redefine “teacher-facing data tools” to focus on services that support the use of aligned assessments in HQIM and professional learning/coaching, which may include tools leveraging technology and AI to increase teachers’ impact on student learning. The portfolio is also exploring the inclusion of families and school leaders as critical partners in working with educators to positively impact teacher and student outcomes. We believe these types of solutions and programs will provide meaningful opportunities for teachers to increase their effectiveness, ultimately improving student learning and reimagining the teaching role as more sustainable, dynamic, and impactful.

Courtesy of Next Education Workforce

Innovative Schools: Supporting student-centered learning environments

Our Innovative Schools portfolio remains dedicated to expanding access to tech-enabled, student-centered K-9 learning environments, intentionally designed for all students to thrive.

Today, too many students attending K-12 schools do not graduate with proficiency in basic math or literacy skills. This was true before the pandemic, and is even more problematic now, as pandemic recovery has been uneven across districts. According to a recent analysis, students in lower-income communities are at a greater disadvantage today than they were five years ago.

Given this uneven student progress and the impending funding cliff, we feel a renewed sense of urgency to identify and uplift the most effective models and practices that support students in mastering core academic content and developing the essential skills that promote lifelong learning and success. As noted above, we anticipate this will be particularly important as districts reduce their spending and policymakers and local constituents renew calls for accountability and measurable progress.

This year, the Innovative School investment strategies will aim to:

Courtesy of Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund

  • Support the development and scale of personalized, tech-enabled math and literacy interventions, practices, and experiences; this includes core and supplemental curriculum, tutoring, AI tools, and data to inform evidence-based decision-making;
  • Support the development of tech-enabled active learning experiences designed to enhance student engagement, including project-based learning, peer-to-peer mentoring/tutoring, and AI-fueled formative assessments; and
  • Continue to fund evidence that advances the field’s understanding of effective technology-enabled programs and models and encourages evidence-based decision-making and purchasing.

New within our Innovative Schools strategies this year is an increased focus on the potential of AI for teaching and learning. While more work is needed to build the evidence base for edtech innovations utilizing AI—something we plan to prioritize funding—we hypothesize that these tools may have the potential to increase the impact of edtech platforms while reducing the costs of providing personalized learning opportunities to students.

Inspired Minds: Inspiring young minds through hands-on STEM learning

Our Inspired Minds portfolio aims to build the next generation of confident, creative problem-solvers by expanding access to engaging and challenging science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning experiences.

Research shows there are a range of meaningful pathways to engage students in STEM, and both in- and out-of-school settings provide unique opportunities for sparking and maintaining students’ STEM interest. But in the grades when initial STEM interest is most likely to form—elementary and middle school—students only spend, on average, between 18 and 27 minutes per day focused on science. Outside the classroom, even fewer students have access to afterschool or summer learning programs that provide hands-on STEM learning opportunities, which leads to missed opportunities to build invaluable STEM skills and attitudes that can carry into adulthood.

After careful consideration, the Inspired Minds portfolio is reorganizing its 2024 investment strategies to better improve access to joyful and rigorous STEM learning that ignites and maintains STEM interest and identity. Specifically, the portfolio will fund organizations that:

  • Increase the supply of out-of-school-time STEM experiences in elementary and middle grades, including hands-on learning, math and logic games, STEM media, outdoor learning, family activities, and more;
  • Improve in-school STEM learning by scaling interventions, such as field trips and teacher professional development, that connect students to authentic, relevant STEM learning experiences;
  • Improve and expand the skills of adults who have the potential to engage with children in STEM education through increased caregiver support and professional development for out-of-school-time workers; and
  • Encourage evidence-building in the out-of-school-time space to better capture programmatic impact.

This reorganization reflects what we’ve learned from our grantees after years of STEM grantmaking, as well as shifts in the education landscape that see increased focus on STEM as a key component to helping students catch up to pre-pandemic achievement levels in math.

Courtesy of Challenger Center

Supporting our grantees

In addition to refreshing our portfolio strategies, our team will spend this year focusing on supporting our grantees in several areas where we anticipate the greatest need in the year ahead:

  1. Evidence building: As we continue a period of innovation within the education sector, we anticipate a growing need for evidence-building. We plan to address this through increased direct impact and ecosystem grants dedicated to supporting research and validation for innovative models—especially those that are hybrid, online, or support the use of emerging technologies—and making that evidence easily available to state, school, and district decision-makers. We also plan to commission field-building research around timely topics such as the degree to which AI can cost-effectively advance student or teacher outcomes and which family engagement approaches lead to improved student learning and engagement.
  2. Managing the funding cliff: With the approaching ESSER funding cliff, we’re anticipating reduced district spending, pushing nonprofit providers to rethink their sustainability in response to tighter budgets and potentially slowing growth. Across portfolios, this means an opportunity to help our grantees accelerate their impact not only through scaling, but also through innovation and strengthened implementation as well as more diversified funding streams.
  3. Increasing organizational capacity: One of our key priorities for the year is working hand-in-hand with grantee organizations to help them navigate the challenges that lie ahead. Informed by grantee feedback from our 2023 CEP Grantee Perception Report, this includes deepening our own impact as a funder by providing enhanced capacity-building supports for grantees. For instance, ahead of the tough fiscal climate, we’re planning to increase support for grantees to make financial management and infrastructure improvements, including scenario planning to evaluate potential risks and opportunities. Our support offerings will also help grantees navigate generating prototypes in fiscal constraints, focusing on cost-effectiveness, and diversifying revenue plans. Lastly, we plan to pursue opportunities to host additional convenings across portfolios with the goal of creating new connections and shared learning between grantees and amongst our staff.

Moving forward

As our grantmaking kicks off for 2024, we remain committed to continuously monitoring the impact of our work to measure how it aligns with our mission and addresses the needs of the field at large. Throughout the year, we also plan to monitor progress aligned with our 2024 predictions, which inform our grantmaking decisions. Our hope is that refreshing our strategies each year based on internal and external landscape analyses allows us to be responsive and nimble, making our grantmaking dollars as impactful as possible.

As always, we invite you to follow along on our journey by subscribing to our newsletter. And if your organization fits into any of the strategy areas outlined above, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Header image courtesy of Khan Academy