Below is a roundup highlighting some of the impactful work our grantees and Foundation staff accomplished in August 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect many of our grantees and those they serve. You can learn more about how our Foundation is responding through some of the stories below and by reading this post.

Combating Learning Loss Through High-Dosage Tutoring: Saga Education

Keanna Marshall, a City Year team leader works with a student in a school in Tulsa, OK, in 2017. Image via Amadou Diallo for The Hechinger Report

Keanna Marshall, a City Year team leader works with a student in a school in Tulsa, OK, in 2017. Image via Amadou Diallo for The Hechinger Report

Many experts believe that tutoring could play an outsized role in combating the education loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, programs like Saga Education’s could make a substantial difference for students in an era when education needs major innovation, says USA Today.

Saga provides intensive math tutoring services to students in high-need schools. After the pandemic forced people into the safety of their homes, math tutors, many of whom are AmeriCorps members, connected virtually with their students. One tutor shared their experience—and four lessons learned—via an op-ed published in the 74. 

Due to increased demand and a strengthened evidence base, Saga has recently received enough philanthropic support to double the number of students it plans to serve. But that number is only around 4,500 students, significantly less than the total number of students who could benefit from Saga tutors, reports Chalkbeat. Alan Safran, Saga’s president, told Chalkbeat that the organization hopes to expand to serve up 10,000 students nationally, but they currently lack the funding. 

“It takes time and money to deploy an effective program,” said Safran. “We know there’s a lot of kids who need this, but let’s keep plugging and we’ll grow as we can over time.”

In a comment published in Gates Notes, Bill Gates said of his foundation’s investment, “Students who work with Saga’s tutors are also significantly less likely to fail classes in other subjects. Our foundation recently funded 28 Saga tutors for six high schools in New York City; they’ll work with 2,000 9th graders over the next two years.” 

Saga Education is a grantee in the Innovative Schools portfolio.

Partnering To Improve Summertime Learning: Teach for America & Springboard Collaborative

Last month, Teach for America Detroit concluded its Detroit Summer Learning Institute—called the ‘Fall Warmup’—a three-week virtual program that supports students K-12 and their families, reports Click On Detroit

Teach for America Detroit partnered with Springboard Collaborative on this year’s program. Springboard, which has a strong track record of improving literacy rates through programs that create partnerships between families and educators, helped develop phonics instruction lessons and workshops for students and families in K-3.  

Springboard Collaborative also received a $100,000 grant from Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) last month to support Springboard’s new resource portal. The portal offers two-week coaching plans for teachers and parents that incorporate a strategy-of-the-week video, a tip sheet (available in multiple languages), daily lessons, and related e-books. It also provides families with free access to Springboard Connect and virtual workshops hosted on Facebook Live.

Teach for America is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio. Springboard Collaborative is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio.

Boosting Early Education: Waterford UPSTART

Image via Pexels

With a new school year starting, school districts around the country are laser-focused on educating their students while keeping them safe. And the usual  “summer slide,” or the loss of educational skills that students typically experience during the summer, is now being compounded by the pandemic—dubbed the “COVID cliff.”  

Waterford UPSTART helps Utah families with preschool-aged children who don’t have access to traditional Pre-K increase Kindergarten readiness at home, reports ABC4. UPSTART provides parents with the tools necessary to “become their child’s first teacher,” including a short, adaptive curriculum that requires only a computer, Internet access, a parent to act as a coach, and an app that uses push notifications to engage the child’s social/emotional development. 

UPSTART is offered at no cost to families in Utah, and the program will even provide a computer and Internet connection to qualifying families.

Fred Anderson, a Montana legislator and former educator, also highlighted the UPSTART program for families in an op-ed published in the Montana Standard. Anderson encourages Montanans to enroll in the program, which is currently supported by a federal grant.

Waterford UPSTART is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio.

Bringing Excellent Teachers to More Classrooms: Public Impact

This school year, school administrators and teachers are experimenting with staffing arrangements to support a new learning paradigm of blended in-person and online learning. Education Week asked educators across the country about their plans to support a hybrid learning environment and found one teacher-leadership model increasingly sparking interest: the Multi-Classroom Leadership model

Designed by Public Impact, the Multi-Classroom Leadership model is used by more than 200 schools in 10 states. In this model, a teacher with a strong student growth record trains as a “multi-classroom leader” or MCL. MCLs coach teams of five-to-eight teachers to co-teach and design instruction, and they help their teams assess and respond to data on their students’ learning.

Education Week explores how this model, among others, is helping schools in the new school year. We highlight this model and more in our recent blog post on innovations in teacher staffing.

Public Impact is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio. 

Equipping Tutors to Reduce the COVID Cliff: Instruction Partners

Savannah, age 7, works through a reading lesson with tutor Julia in Maury County, Tenn. Image via Michelle Lamont, EdSurge

Savannah, age 7, works through a reading lesson with tutor Julia in Maury County, Tenn. Image via Michelle Lamont for EdSurge

In response to the education disruption caused by COVID-19 and the potential of the “COVID cliff,” the Haslam Foundation in Tennessee launched a statewide tutoring program called the Tennessee Tutoring Corps. The program, which used Instruction Partners’ curriculum, provided college students a paying summer job tutoring K-6 graders on material forgotten during the summer or never covered in the spring.

The Instruction Partners team started developing the curriculum materials when schools closed in March, adapting their math and English language arts lessons for the tutors to use over eight weeks this summer. The Tennessee Tutoring Corps served almost 3,000 K-6th graders attending a Boys & Girls Club site in Tennessee. EdSurge’s Emily Tate explores the program here.

Instruction Partners is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.

Helping Schools Adapt to Hybrid In-Person/Online Learning: TNTP

In some districts, discussions have shifted quickly from focusing on social distancing and ventilation to tense debates over how many hours of live interaction teachers will be expected to provide to students. Image via Mark Wickens for The New York Times

Education in America has historically been a matter of local interest, rather than state or federal direction, leaving back-to-school preparation to individual schools and school districts. During the pandemic, this preparation has drastically changed. 

“Every system, every school had to think through this, often in isolation,” said TNTP’s Jamila Newman to the NY Times. “Districts were spending the lion’s share of their time focused on an in-person plan or a hybrid plan that feels incredibly untenable in most places.” 

Students and teachers might also have less time together this year than usual due to rolling school closures or hybrid schedules. EdWeek profiled organizations like TNTP that released guides to help schools and districts adjust their curricula to counter another potential disruption, advising that educators focus on skills most important to students’ future success—and prioritizing depth rather than breadth. For example, dispensing with lessons like telling time on an analog clock, a first-grade standard, allows those teachers to focus more on foundational math concepts, like adding and subtracting.

TNTP is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio. 

Finding New Partners In Afterschool Programs: Afterschool Alliance

According to a survey commissioned by Afterschool Alliance and covered by Education Week, nearly 90% of programs have long-term funding concerns because of school closures caused by COVID-19; 60% fear that their funding woes may force them to close permanently. 

This survey is the first in a series meant to gauge the health of an industry that served an estimated 10 million children before the pandemic struck. More than half of providers who responded said they were unsure if the “worst is over or yet to come,” and more than 75% laid off, furloughed, or cut staffing hours.

Despite the financial crunch, some programs are increasing their services to help families and students in their communities. In cities like San Antonio, Denver, and San Francisco, organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA are becoming “learning hubs” or places for students to do their online schoolwork while their parents are at work, in addition to their afterschool programming. The 74 reports that many afterschool sites are planning to open their doors during school hours for students—often at no cost—providing desks, Internet access, and even meals.

“Schools need other partners to step in,” said Jen Rinehart, vice president of research and policy for Afterschool Alliance. “Certainly, it’s challenging. But it’s an opportunity to work together and co-create what a new learning day can look like.”

Afterschool Alliance is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

Investing in Future Educators: Urban Teachers

Raymond Pyle, a teacher at Moten Elementary School. Image via Rodney Choice for Street Sense Media

Street Sense Media interviewed Raymond Pyle, a first-grade teacher at Lucy Ellen Moten Elementary School in Fort Stanton and a first-hand witness to the harsh realities faced by some school-aged children growing up in Southeast D.C.

Pyle is part of the Urban Teachers program, which places teachers in Baltimore, D.C., and Dallas schools. D.C., where Pyle teaches, has a 25% rate of attrition for its public school teachers, 10% more than the national average. A report published in March by D.C. State Board of Education found that most teachers who left voluntarily did so during the first three years, despite planning to stay for ten or more years.

The Urban Teachers program provides three years of intensive training to its participants and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University with dual certification in special education and elementary education, secondary math, or secondary English.

“We have a lot of young, passionate teachers who just want the opportunity and the space to do this,” Pyle said of the program. 

Urban Teachers is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.

Pushing the Field to Rethink Linear Education: Khan Academy

Image via Insta_photos/iStock, via Getty Images

Sal Khan is the founder of Khan Academy, a nonprofit dedicated to providing students with free, high-quality education via its online platform and tools. Since the start of the pandemic, Khan Academy usage has boomed. Yet Sal is using his platform to advocate for better school innovation—not more online programs and tools.

“[F]or most students, distance learning can’t replace a great in-person experience,” Sal wrote in the NY Times. “Pure distance-learning is suboptimal, but we have to do it out of necessity because of the pandemic. I have been working with teachers over the last several months and together, we have realized that lesson plans designed for in-person classes don’t work in this coronavirus world… So, no, virtual school will never be a perfect replacement for in-person school, but we can do a lot better.” 

In a piece published on Medium, Sal also suggests that it’s time for “ctrl+alt+delete” on education (tech talk for “reset”), one that focuses on differentiation and access. To Sal, differentiation would allow learners to exit the linear approach to education, where a course continues whether you understand a key concept or not, and fill gaps in their knowledge by personalizing their learning trajectory.  

Khan Academy is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

Exploring the Role Fathers Play in Children’s Brain Development: TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health

Image via Brookings

Fathers play an incredibly important role in their children’s brain development, writes Dr. Dana Suskind with the University of Chicago’s TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health. In this Brookings piece, Dr. Suskind says that a father’s early interactions with a child are particularly influential during the first three years of life when the brain’s growth is most rapid. A slew of research continues to suggest that when fathers actively engage with their babies and toddlers, they positively impact their children’s cognitive, language, and executive function skills

“During this time, billions of neural connections are created, building the complex circuitry that becomes a child’s foundation for learning. And thanks to recent advances in neuroscience, we know that the back-and-forth of conversation increases brain activation and ultimately contributes to stronger skill formation,” writes Dr. Suskind.

This research is particularly timely, given surveys that suggest that mothers are shouldering more responsibilities in caring for children while working at home. 

TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio.

Nurturing Children’s Social-Emotional Development: BellXcel

Social and emotional skills development has garnered increased attention in recent years as it’s been integrated into the classroom and afterschool programming. These skills build a child’s capacity to work productively with others, resolve conflicts, and manage feelings—skills critical to school and career success.

Following a day-long meeting last October, the Wallace Foundation published SEL+OST=Perfect Together: A Conference Report, which unpacks research findings on nurturing social-emotional development and language to help parents and other caregivers understand why SEL is important for kids. Among the contributing practitioners is Brenda McLaughlin from BellXcel, a nonprofit summer and afterschool program organization.

The full report is available here.

BellXcel is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

Recruiting a More Diverse Pool of Teachers: Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity

Dr. Cassandra Herring is the founder, president, and CEO of Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity. Image via The74

While school leaders are grappling with planning for the new school year—and how to safely return to the classroom—Dr. Cassandra Herring, founder, president, and CEO of the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity, argues that this could be an opportunity to address well-known issues that have long undermined our education system’s quality.

“[P]lenty of attention has been devoted to documenting the technical instructional challenges teachers have faced during the pandemic. Likewise, there has been a steady stream of guidance intended to help teachers navigate those challenges. Little, though, has been said about how we can strengthen and diversify our teacher workforce to be better constituted and equipped to provide inclusive instruction consistently and universally.”

Evidence from within the education sector and other fields, like cognitive science, suggests that educator diversity benefits both students and teachers. However, people of color account for only 20% of the public school teacher workforce, and more than 40% of public schools lack even a single teacher of color.

Dr. Herring argues that we do not have to wait to develop a powerful new solution or revolutionary strategy to diversify our teacher talent pool. We already know what we need to do and how we need to do it. Read her full article in The74.

Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.

Foundation News

Rethinking the Role of Teachers

Image via Pexels

What good can come from a global pandemic? Maybe one thing is the opportunity to rethink how teachers engage with and teach their students, writes Overdeck Family Foundation Director of Research and Senior Program Officer Laurie Sztejnberg.

The coming school year is sure to be challenging for educators and families alike, but the innovation reflected by grantees in the Exceptional Educators portfolio may be one bright light to come out of a dark year. An aspirational outcome of this school year’s flexibility and uncertainty would be to consider how best to use educators’ unique strengths to help students learn even after the pandemic is over. 

Read Innovation: Rethinking the Role of Teachers to learn more about how our grantees are approaching teacher staffing this school year. 

Tech-Enabled Innovation for Today’s Distance Learning “Classrooms”

Image via Pexels

The speed and grace with which schools were able to move to distance learning largely depended on pre-COVID structures and implementations in five areas. Generally, schools that fared better during the transition already had a deep understanding of their students’ and families’ needs, were committed to high-quality materials and professional development, practiced student-centered learning, had robust technology architecture, and were able to adapt to new innovations.

Internally, the Innovative Schools portfolio started thinking about their investments around three areas: preparing for multiple models of school (in-person, hybrid, online), addressing learning loss, and rethinking measurement and benchmarking of student success. In Tech-Enabled Innovation for Today’s Distance Learning “Classrooms,” Innovative Schools Program Analyst Ipek Bakir shares how grantees have used tech-enabled innovation to accomplish the above.

We’re Hiring

Interested in joining our team? We are looking for a Program Analyst for Early Impact and an Expansion Project Manager.