Below is a roundup highlighting our grantees’ and Foundation staff’s impactful work in December 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 the 2020 end-of-year letter from Anu Malipatil, our Foundation’s Vice President.
Helping New Jersey Through COVID-19: The New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund
The New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund (NJPRF) released its 2020 Impact Report, detailing how the fund has raised over $41 million dollars and already distributed over $36 million to more than 460 non-profits in all 21 counties in New Jersey. $2.7 million of funds went to address the digital divide in education, with an additional $250k spent on meeting classroom needs. The NJPRF was set up to address the social, economic, and medical impact of COVID-19 on New Jersey. Over 61,000 donors have donated money to the Fund.
The NJPRF is also working to solve the increasing challenge of access and affordability of high-quality childcare for working families in the state.
“Without safe, reliable, affordable, and quality child care, New Jersey’s long-term recovery is in doubt,” writes New Jersey First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy and United Way of Northern New Jersey CEO of Kiran Handa Gaudioso in NJ.com. “If parents cannot return to work, businesses do not have a steady workforce and the children of low-wage workers—who cannot afford pandemic pods—are at greater risk of starting life behind and never catching up.”
To address this issue, the NJPRF, Overdeck Family Foundation, the United Way of Northern New Jersey, New Jersey Health Initiatives, and David Tepper Charitable Foundation are collaborating on United In Care, a new model for stabilizing the state’s child care industry long-term. Philanthropists, childcare experts, entrepreneurs, and data scientists are invited to join this new collaborative.
The NJPRF is a grantee of the Foundation. Laura Overdeck, Chair of Overdeck Family Foundation and the Founder and President of Bedtime Math, sits on the Board of Directors of the NJPRF.
A Commitment to Quality Early Childhood Education: UPSTART
The best way to ensure kindergarten readiness is a commitment to quality early childhood education, writes Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota’s superintendent of schools, in an op-ed.
Despite funding challenges and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, North Dakota has found some success with innovative early education programs, including a partnership with Waterford UPSTART, which is a free, at-home kindergarten-readiness program for preschoolers that provides online and offline lessons in literacy and social skills, as well as a laptop and internet connection at no cost to families who need it.
“What makes the Waterford Upstart program so effective in balancing public health, learning and our communities is that it provides tips on academic and social-emotional support to our families, in their homes, as they choose,” writes Baesler in The Hechinger Report. “Our families’ membership in the Waterford Upstart program has rapidly increased during the pandemic.”
Waterford UPSTART is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio.
Addressing the Diversity Problem in Teacher Preparation: TNTP
Improving teacher diversity is an important step to make public education more equitable. In the newly-released report, A Broken Pipeline: Teacher Preparation’s Diversity Problem, TNTP uses data from the U.S. Department of Education to compare state-by-state demographics of program enrollees to calculate the “teacher pre diversity gap” and provides a series of recommendations for programs, districts, and state governments to improve teaching staff diversity from the beginning.
TNTP is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.
Former NFL Player Brings His Love of Math to a New Generation: MoMath
John Urschel has a master’s degree in mathematics, a pending doctorate from MIT, and a new book under his belt. But what really boosts Urschel’s popularity among young students is that he’s a former NFL player, writes David Ginsburg for the Chicago Tribune.
“In the broader context, it helps because it makes me more believable. It shows I have an interest in doing other things,” Urschel said. “Often, a mathematician is too abstract for young people… Math for its own sake is a pretty reasonable pursuit because no matter what field you go into, you really need to able to think reasonably to some degree.”
Urschel attracted 700 participants to ‘Bending the Arc,’ a recent virtual event hosted by the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), where he is a member of the board of trustees and serves as the organization’s ambassador to children, particularly Black students.
“John has a lure because he was a professional football player, and we really honor that in this country,” said MoMath CEO and Executive Director Cindy Lawrence. “People are very excited to meet someone who played professional football. So that’s the hook. And then we complete that with someone who is enthusiastic and eloquent and speaks wonderfully about the benefits of math.”
MoMath is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.
The Role Parents Play in Helping Children Through COVID-19: Phil Fisher, University of Oregon
Parenting during a pandemic has led many parents to ask whether their children will be okay, and if they should expect long-term impacts due to remote school, reduced socialization, and increased screen time.
Research shows that a caregiver’s well-being is directly tied to their child’s, with the best buffer for most stressors being a supportive parent. An interview with child development experts in USA Today explored how staying mentally well can be difficult for parents in the midst of so many stressors, with financial hardships adding to the burden.
Dr. Phil Fisher, psychology professor at the University of Oregon and director of the Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development Early Childhood Household Survey Project (RAPID-EC Project), which is studying the effect of the pandemic on children 5 years old and younger, said the survey has found caregivers in lower-income households report experiencing more depression and anxiety. Those stressors affect a parent’s ability to be available.
RAPID’s surveys show caregivers of young children are experiencing distress, financial hardship and loss of emotional support. Because the project’s data is sequential, it’s able to show a chain reaction. When a family is stressed about meeting basic needs, the next week they report more emotional distress, and the week after they report increases in their child’s emotional distress.
“There’s no question that if you can’t buy food or you can’t pay your rent, that you are experiencing the kind of stress that is going to be toxic to your children,” Fisher said.
Experts are especially worried about low-income children because the pandemic is exacerbating the structural inequities that already exist within the system, including less-resourced schools and lack of access to Internet and devices.
“It’s different if you can’t get access to a WiFi hotspot. It’s different if you have six kids or three kids or two kids who are fighting over one tablet and a parent who needs it as well,” Fisher said.
Dr Fisher’s work on national measures to better understand and develop shared definitions of early childhood outcomes is funded by the Early Impact portfolio.
Giving Students a Head Start in STEM: BEAM
Helping students advance in STEM early may help them climb the social and economic ladder later in life. In Forbes, Associate Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, Mohamed Omar, points to the Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM) program as an example of how to make such an early investment.
Starting from sixth grade, BEAM creates pathways for students from low-income and historically marginalized communities to enter STEM careers. BEAM founder and Executive Director Dan Zaharopol described the organization’s goal as fostering opportunities for success in STEM through scaffolding, encouragement, and guidance. BEAM starts with a five-week math-immersion summer program, where students learn an advanced curriculum and meet former BEAM students—now serving as counselors and role models—who support their development through college.
BEAM’s new initiative, BEAM National, which launched in collaboration with The Art of Problem Solving, provides a gateway to advanced math starting at second grade. Thousands of students from across the country will receive free access to Beast Academy Online program, plus ongoing mentoring and support.
BEAM is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.
The Potential of Tutoring To Make Up for Learning Loss: EdTrust
A new report from McKinsey & Company details how the pandemic is causing Black and Hispanic students in particular to fall further behind their white peers.
John King Jr., former Education Secretary and head of The Education Trust, thinks a national tutoring corps is one way to help students catch up and get back on track.
“We have decades of research showing that high intensity tutoring can help students make up lost ground academically very quickly,” King tells Mary Louise Kelly on NPR’s All Things Considered.
King believes tutoring can be particularly effective because, “…tailoring the instruction to students’ individual needs is incredibly challenging [for one teacher], especially when you have students who may be multiple grade levels apart in their academic skills.”
You can listen to the entire interview here.
The Education Trust is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.
Demand for Afterschool Programs Rises, But Participation Rates Fall: Afterschool Alliance
Since 2004, the demand for afterschool programs has increased by 60%, according to new data from Afterschool Alliance’s report, America After 3pm. For every child in an afterschool program, three are waiting for a spot.
Despite the demand, student participation in aftershool programs is down sharply from its peak of 10 million students in 2014 to 7.8 million students, the lowest participation since 2009. More than half of the 31,000 report respondents said that cost—which averages to about $100 per week—is the primary barrier to accessing an afterschool program for their child. Higher-income families spend approximately $3,600 annually on out-of-school-time activities, compared to the roughly $700 per year spent by lower-income families. As a result, fewer students from low-income households are involved, dropping to 2.7 million this year from 4.6 million six years ago, reports The74 in an analysis of the Afterschool Alliance survey findings.
States with the highest participation rates—including Georgia—serve more low-income children and have higher parent satisfaction rates. Nationally, 80% of parents surveyed said that they are able to remain employed or work longer hours thanks to afterschool programs. Read more on The74.
Afterschool Alliance is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.
Bringing High-Quality Math Education to All Texas Students: ST Math
Last month, Texas Governor Greb Abott and the Texas Education Agency announced that ST Math will be available to all Texas schools and families at no cost to them through the state’s Texas Home Learning 3.0 (THL 3.0) initiative. According to the press release, ST Math’s materials are aligned with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the state’s measurement standards for grade-level achievement. The program’s conceptual nature also limits written language and focuses on building strong conceptual understanding of math, which can particularly benefit English-learning students.
“ST Math’s unique approach provides students with equitable access to learning through challenging puzzles, non-routine problem solving, and informative feedback,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “Each curricular offering through THL 3.0 is dynamic and innovative; these new instructional materials for math will not only be fun for kids, but will also help the lessons to really stick.”
“MIND is proud to partner with the Texas Education Agency to bring the patented ST Math approach to all Texas educators, students, and families,” said Brett Woudenberg, CEO of MIND Research Institute, the nonprofit organization behind ST Math. “ST Math is an effective, high-quality blended learning experience that will help to ensure Texas students deeply understand and truly love math—whether they are learning remotely at home or engaged in the classroom.”
Educators and families in Texas can now register their new ST Math account at stmath.com/texas.
ST Math is a grantee in the Innovative Schools portfolio.
Expanding Access to K-12 Computer Science Education: Teach for America
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of low-income students and families lacked equitable access to educational resources and classes, like high-quality computer science courses. This means that only a fraction of students have the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to compete in an increasingly digital world. While the pandemic has made online learning ubiquitous, 17 million students still lack access to broadband or the devices necessary to access the Internet.
“According to some estimates, 65 percent of students in grade school today will be tasked with finding jobs that don’t yet exist,” said Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach For America (TFA), in an interview published in Forbes. “Key to [creating career pathways and supports for students and educators] will be investing in expanding access to K-12 computer science education—which begins by building a pipeline of diverse teachers who inspire kids with the possibilities of computer science and support them to learn, lead, and thrive in our society, our economy, and our workforce.”
Read more from this conversation about the complexities of the digital divide and how TFA is working to address this issue.
Teach for America is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.
School Budget-Friendly Ways to Improve Teacher Pay: Education Resource Strategies (ERS)
Teacher quality is the number one school-related factor in student achievement. Yet, the profession is in turmoil: teachers make approximately 20% less than other professionals with similar education and experience, and, in many parts of the country, teachers live below the family living wage. While salary increases aren’t currently an option for cash-strapped schools, there are other solutions available to help teachers make ends meet.
One solution, says Karen Hawley Miles, president and CEO of Education Resource Strategies (ERS), is to restructure available money and create leadership roles where better teachers with more responsibilities can earn more, and those underperforming or choosing part-time work can earn less. “Experience matters, but it only matters if it leads to good teaching,” Hawley Miles told CNBC.
Education Resource Strategies is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.
Uncovering Innovation and Trends in Student-Centered Learning: The Canopy Project
The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined the ways in which K-12 schools operate—and sped up student-centered innovation across the country. The Canopy project, which is a collaborative initiative led by the Christensen Institute and Transcend, is making available new data from 144 schools across 41 states that are prioritizing student-centered learning, reports The74. These schools, which were nominated for exceptionally innovative strategies by education organizations around the country, shared their practices with Canopy to spread awareness of innovative educators’ approaches and student experiences during the unique constraints imposed by COVID-19.
Some key findings from the Canopy data include:
- 90% of schools reported offering some form of remote learning, as either part of a hybrid model or fully remote, while only 22% were open for in-person instruction at least part-time.
- Schools with higher proportions of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch were about twice as likely to report offering a fully in-person option when controlling for other factors (e.g., school type, level and size, geography).
- Schools with mostly Hispanic students were about 10 times more likely than others to practice synchronous online learning, in which students log on to their lessons at the same time. Schools with mostly Black students were almost twice as likely as others to do so (while controlling for other factors).
The Canopy project has published its data and will continue to investigate trends and patterns among the full set of 91 practices identified in the schools.
Transcend and the Clayton Christensen Institute’s Canopy project are grantees in the Innovative Schools portfolio.
Data Shows Dramatic Spike in Mid-Year School Moves: Chiefs for Change
School funding is based on enrollment, so an unexpected loss of students one year could result in teacher layoffs the next. However, because funding is typically based on the prior year’s enrollment, a sudden spike in enrollment for the next school year may leave schools scrambling with fewer staff to deal with more students, reports The74.
Whether families are moving for access to in-person instruction or for larger homes to accommodate learning from home, or are facing eviction on top of remote learning, the pandemic continues to raise new obstacles in students’ paths. These shifts can have “huge ramifications for student learning and for funding equity,” told Chiefs for Change CEO Mike Magee to The74’s Linda Jacobson.
Magee also noted a concerning trend for districts that have largely re-opened, where Black and Hispanic families are more likely to choose remote learning. “Virtual does not equal safe. People need to get that out of their minds,” he said. “Children are safer when they are in school, including in the middle of the pandemic.”
Chiefs for Change is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.
Helping Families Draw Math Connections in Everyday Life: The Family Math Initiative
Effective and high-quality STEM programs should include families in the co-design process, allowing them to draw connections between their personal histories and lived experiences, writes Tarana Khan and Susana Beltran Grimm for the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA). That’s why PBS SoCal Family Math, launched to support at-home math education, integrates caregivers into their children’s learning community to focus on increasing child and family math positivity through fun learning opportunities and family workshops.
This type of programming is called “family math” and is part of the Family Math initiative, which is a collective of organizations, led by NAFSCE, that support children and families to strengthen math awareness and skills in the context of family relationships, the community, and everyday life. The PBS SoCal Family Math program, which is funded by Overdeck Family Foundation, uses a broad range of content, resources, and services to engage families. These include introductory Family Math workshops, a Family Math Parent Academy, Family Math Learning Community Workshops, and digital bilingual content featuring math activities, recipes, and more.
Additionally, Jessica Young, the research lead from the Overdeck Family Foundation-funded Family Math project led by Education Development Center in Worcester, MA, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to lead a new five-year initiative called Supporting Science Inquiry, Interest, and STEM Thinking for Young Dual Language Learners. The project will build on previously funded work in Hartford, Connecticut and aim to foster young Hispanic children’s science inquiry, language and literacy development, and positive attitudes toward STEM.
PBS SoCal Family Math and Education Development Center are both grantees in the Inspired Minds portfolio.
Helping Patients & Families Stay Connected: FIRST
One of the biggest challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is how families stay connected with COVID-infected family members admitted to hospitals. In many cases, visitors to hospitals and long-term care facilities are restricted or entirely prohibited to prevent further viral spread.
To help patients and loved ones stay connected and help preserve the limited supply of PPE, the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center (HACTC) FIRST Robotics Team #95 designed a novel solution: a robot. The triangular-shaped robot is easy to maneuver around tight spaces and patient rooms, so it can deliver iPads-on-stands to patients on its own, significantly reducing the risk for exposure and preserving PPE. The robot’s design, bill of materials, and code are all open source so that others could benefit from this team’s work.
“This was an extremely fast product development cycle, just like the FIRST Robotics Competitions we participate in every year,” said James Cole-Henry, coach of the HACTC FIRST Robotics Team, to Seacoastonline. “The students, alumni, and coaches involved put in extra hours to get things done on time. The local companies that generously donated their time, equipment, and materials did so at great speed and with exceptional quality. Leading this group of determined and capable people was both fun and rewarding. I am proud to have been a part of it.”
FIRST is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.
Expanding Access to STEM Experiences: STEM Learning Ecosystems
The Utah STEM Ecosystem has been invited to join the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice, a global movement of leaders devoted to ensuring that STEM education is priority for all in their communities with an emphasis on the equity envisioned to support a world-class STEM education. The Utah STEM Ecosystem is a partnership between Salt Lake City School District (SLCSD) and the Salt Lake Education Foundation (SLEF).
The Salt Lake Education Foundation collaborated with SLCSD to bring SLECoP to Salt Lake City. “We are thrilled to be a part of the Utah STEM Ecosystem,” said James Yapias, SLEF Director, in a press release accompanying the announcement. “Our Salt Lake Education Foundation is uniquely positioned to provide resources through community and business partnerships to ensure that all students in Salt Lake City School District have access and opportunities related to exemplary STEM education.”
The Utah STEM Ecosystem plans to focus on equitable STEM access and opportunities for all K-12 students and has lined up a series of partners to collaborate, including the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
A Look Back on 2020
Foundation Vice President Anu Malipatil shared her reflections on lessons learned in 2020, with a particular emphasis on the work our grantees have done to ensure that children, families, and educators had as much support as possible given the barriers to learning due to COVID-19.
As a Foundation, we provided $6.2 million in rapid response funding in the wake of COVID-19. Of that amount, $1.8 million was to help organizations scale to meet new demand due to the pandemic and $825,000 was to help grantees innovate by digitizing formerly in-person solutions. We also contributed a total of $3 million to Robin Hood’s Relief Fund to support vulnerable New Yorkers and to the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund, which is supporting COVID-19 relief efforts throughout the state.
In 2020, our funding reached over 13.7 million children and 117,000 educators. Anu’s letter reflects on the incredible innovation and progress we saw our grantee partners accomplish in the midst of so much need, devastation, and constraint.