Below is a roundup highlighting some of the impactful work our grantees and Foundation staff accomplished in June 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.

Preparing for Fall 2020: Khan Academy, ParentsTogether, and Springboard Collaborative

LA Johnson/NPR

Image via LA Johnson for NPR

There’s no one answer for how schools will handle the upcoming school year or whether future outbreaks could force a new wave of unexpected closures. Amidst the pandemic, new innovations and approaches proved their mettle, and NPR compiled a list of five ideas that will continue to be relevant in the years ahead.

First, the debate over equity in emergency remote learning during the pandemic has often failed to consider home support access. A national survey by ParentsTogether found significant gaps by income in the ability to access emergency learning. When asked about barriers to children’s participation, lower-income respondents were more likely to name issues like “school resources are too complicated” or “it’s hard to get my child to focus” rather than citing a lack of equipment.

“Never in the modern history of our education system has the importance of family engagement been more apparent,” said Springboard Collaborative Founder Alejandro Gibes de Gac, who considers families the “single greatest resource” for helping struggling readers. With parent-assisted learning now the default, Springboard created an app for the 10,000 families using its services. It offered professional development webinars for teachers through unions and other organizations on engaging families. They’ve also launched a partnership with Teach For America to provide a remote version of Springboard’s reading strategies workshop for up to 9,000 pre-K through fourth-graders nationwide.

Next, NPR suggests that online systems will be critical to “assess, remediate, and individualize learning.” Studies estimating where children will be this Fall compared to where they should be had schools not shut down vary, but most suggest that students will be behind. This has spurred Khan Academy to prepare what founder Sal Khan calls “getting ready for grade-level” courses to debut later this year. For students beginning sixth-grade math, for example, the course moves quickly from basic arithmetic onward to a combination of review and assessment. 

To read the full list of “radical schooling ideas for an uncertain Fall and beyond,” visit NPR.

Springboard Collaborative and ParentsTogether are grantees in the Early Impact portfolio. Khan Academy is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

Preparing Teachers and Schools for Reopening: TNTP

When schools closed this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many teachers scrambled to develop online teaching skills in just days or weeks. As one school year ends and another is just weeks away, it’s unclear what effect this rapid upskilling will have on K-12 education this Fall or in the coming years. However, teachers say that these skills and tech tools picked up during this period can be adapted for the classroom when schools reopen. 

Dan Weisberg, the CEO of TNTP, an organization that focuses on teacher quality, noted that the past few months have been stressful for both students and educators. “That’s going to lead to the understandable tendency to say, ‘Oh my gosh, let’s just put down the past as quickly as we can.’ The problem is we can’t forget about it, and we probably shouldn’t forget about it,” said Weisberg in Education Week.

The Richland Parish Schools, who also worked with TNTP to enhance their distance learning capabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, have partnered with TNTP to engage the Richland community about distance learning, summer programming, and potential plans for returning to school in Fall 2020. This effort will inform the Richland Parish School Board’s “Strong Start” model for the 2020-2021 school year, writes Richland Today.

Another tool to help schools prepare for reopening is the “Back to School Instructional Program Scheduling Map,” launched by Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools and created in partnership with TNTP and others. The tool is designed to help schools nationwide integrate new health and safety requirements and embed equity at the core of school reopening plans. 

TNTP is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.


Supporting Remote Math Learning: Zearn

Danielle Gandy with her daughters Madison, 15, and Cadynce, 6. Assessing their remote education, Ms. Gandy said “it’s maybe a fraction of what they would be learning if they were in an actual school setting.”Credit...Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Danielle Gandy with her daughters Madison, 15, and Cadynce, 6. Assessing their remote education, Ms. Gandy said “it’s maybe a fraction of what they would be learning if they were in an actual school setting.” Photo via Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

The abrupt switch to remote learning wiped out academic gains for many students in America. Racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps will most likely widen because of disparities in computer and high-speed Internet access, as well as direct instruction from teachers. With continued remote learning and significant budget cuts, the extent to which students fall behind is to be determined. Still, research is starting to show us the impact this is having on different populations. 

The New York Times reports that researchers from Brown and Harvard analyzed 800,000 students using Zearn‘s online math program before and after schools closed in March. They found that through late April, student progress in math decreased by about 50% in classrooms located in low-income ZIP codes, by a third in classrooms in middle-income ZIP codes, and not at all in classrooms in high-income ZIP codes.

When all factors are considered, the average student could fall seven months behind academically, while Hispanic and Black students could experience learning losses of 9 and 10 months, respectively, according to McKinsey & Company.

Zearn is a grantee in the Innovative Schools portfolio.

Engaging Parents to Improve Grade-Level Literacy: Springboard Collaborative

In Detroit, local business and philanthropic leaders are chipping in towards an effort to help up to 2,000 pre-K through third-grade students read this summer, writes DBusiness Magazine.

The partnership is led by the Greenlight Fund, which contributed a $600,000 multi-year social investment, and brings Springboard Collaborative‘s family-based literacy program to Detroit.

“Springboard’s track record of literacy gains and a core focus on family engagement resonated deeply in our community-driven selection process,” said Rishi Moudgil, the founding ED of GreenLight Fund Detroit. “Their pivot to remote programming in partnership with existing Detroit schools and providers allows us to collectively build an effective model that will persist, regardless of COVID-19 conditions.”

The program’s workshops create personalized reading plans designed to increase the quality and quantity of time students spend reading at home. Detroit families will also be able to participate in live weekly workshops led by teachers and paid staff either online or by phone. 

“With many parents juggling both work and home-schooling, now is the perfect time to equip them with the right tools for their children to achieve reading success,” commented Springboard Founder & CEO Alejandro Gibes de Gac. “Our learning accelerator allows parents to get hands-on involvement in their children’s education in Detroit. The importance of family engagement has never been more apparent, and we need to urgently utilize them as a critical resource.”

The students’ parents and caregivers will be matched virtually with a teacher to provide instruction, set goals, receive reading tips and coaching, access reading-level-appropriate books, track progress, and earn rewards for reaching goals. The program intends to reach and improve grade-level literacy for 10,000 Detroit students over four years.

Springboard Collaborative is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio.


Studying the Impact of Early Childhood on Lifelong Health: Harvard Center on the Developing Child

Photo via Pexels

There’s an increasing amount of evidence underscoring the importance of the prenatal period and the first few years after birth in building the foundation of a person’s health. 

A recent working paper from the Center on the Developing Child examines how the body’s developing biological systems interact with each other and adapt to the contexts in which a child is developing. The paper explores how policymakers, program leaders, and practitioners can reduce disparities in preventable diseases and premature deaths and reduce the costs of health care for chronic illnesses that have their origins in early childhood adversity. Download “Connecting the Brain to the Rest of the Body: Early Childhood Development and Lifelong Health Are Deeply Intertwined” here

Harvard Center on the Developing Child is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio.

Spreading the Word on College Financial Aid: Chiefs for Change

This year,  data from the National College Attainment Network shows financial aid form completion rates are lower than this time last year, especially among students from lower-income backgrounds. While some states are beginning to require students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), only a handful include such data on state report cards. Such data can help schools know who to target for extra support.   

To encourage high school seniors to complete their financial aid forms, Chiefs for Change and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) took to social media using the hashtag #FAFSAFastBreak

Chiefs for Change is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.


Keeping Students Learning During the Pandemic: Khan Academy

Students work in MAP Accelerator inside the library at B. Mahlon Brown Academy of International Studies in Henderson, Nevada, on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2019. The Clark County School District is one of five districts that launched a pilot program with Khan Academy for the 2019-20 school year. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Students work in MAP Accelerator inside the library at B. Mahlon Brown Academy of International Studies in Henderson, Nevada, on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2019. The Clark County School District is one of five districts that launched a pilot program with Khan Academy for the 2019-20 school year. Photo via Daniel Clark for The Nevada Independent

Khan Academy was one of the first online learning platforms to help kids learn at home at their own pace. Last summer, Khan Academy launched a new tool designed for classroom use and piloted it in five school districts—including 320,000 students from Nevada’s Clark County School District, which serves Las Vegas and its suburbs—for the 2019-20 school year. Studies of those efforts found that students who spent just 30 minutes per week on Khan Academy under teachers’ supervision significantly improved their performance on statewide standardized tests.

In January, Clark County Superintendent Jesús Jara said he saw the tool as a potential game-changer for the school district, which struggles with large class sizes, a chronic teacher shortage, student transiency, and a 70% poverty rate. But in March, students abruptly transitioned to distance learning from homes with marked disparities in resources. While using the Khan Academy tool could help some students keep up, computer and internet access, as well as whether students and teachers were using the tools in the classroom before the pandemic struck, pose challenges to sustained achievement. The Nevada Independent follows the full story.

Khan Academy is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

Influencing the National Conversation: Education Trust (EdTrust)

“The toll of this pandemic is, in a word, devastating,” said President and CEO of the Education Trust John King Jr., who served as a former U.S. secretary of education during the Obama administration. “It’s eroding students’ academic success, their emotional well-being, and their personal finances.”

During a House Education Committee hearing focused on racial equity and COVID-19 last month, King proposed canceling some student debt as coronavirus relief. He said that Congress should build on the student loan relief provided under the CARES Act by suspending student loan payments through next year, and called on Congress to extend “equitable, targeted debt forgiveness to millions of borrowers who were already struggling and are facing a near-insurmountable repayment burden in the wake of the recession.”

King also sees a role for Congress to play in reducing segregation in school districts across the country. Boosting stimulus funding for schools that have suffered significant budget cuts or who are unable to recoup their losses through property taxes could go a long way toward addressing inequity. 

In many cases, “resource inequity translates into opportunity gaps that produce achievement gaps,” King told US News & World Report. “If we change how we organize the funding of schools, we could tackle this resource equity problem.”  

Education Trust is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.


Improving Child Outcomes by Supporting First-Time Mothers: Nurse-Family Partnership

Photo via Melissa Golden for The New York Times

When it comes to pregnancy, individual choices matter, but public policies are critical. For example, one study showed that women living in states that expanded Medicaid have enjoyed better health outcomes throughout and following their pregnancies. 

In a New York Times piece last month, increased funding for programs like Nurse-Family Partnership, an organization that sets up nurse home visits for low-income first-time mothers, was cited as a policy that has significant benefits for children and families.

Nurse-Family Partnership is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio.

Adding Evaluation for Remote Learning Curricula: EdReports

Known for its curriculum reviews that evaluate materials against the Common Core State Standards, EdReports will now rate curricula’ capabilities for remote learning, whether, for example, lessons are available online or designed for independent work. According to Education Week, EdReports plans to update every set of materials that it has rated as standards-aligned with new information about how students and teachers can use them for distance learning. 

In an interview with Bart Epstein on unconventional home learning strategies in the74, Epstein also recommended EdReports as a go-to resource for parents and teachers assessing the quality of the learning resources they are considering.

EdReports is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio. You can read our interview with EdReports on how they helped 11 million students gain access to high-quality curricula here.


Guiding School Reentry: ERS (Education Resource Strategies)

Empty school desks

Photo via Pexels

As schools grapple with whether or how to reopen this Fall, a litany of guides has flooded the Internet. To help schools navigate which guides are worth reviewing, EdWeek curated a list of their picks, including ERS‘s, “Decision Points for COVID Comeback Models.”

EdWeek says that ERS’s guide focuses on the kind of instructional delivery approach districts must weigh for the 2020-21 school year (e.g., traditional in-person, remote learning, or a blended approach) and includes a calculator tool to help districts consider the costs of each method. Separately, ERS also has a brief on the fiscal implications for the school year, including cost comparisons from four large urban districts.

ERS is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.

Foundation News

An article in Inside Philanthropy on philanthropy’s response to the impact of COVID-19 on early childhood education includes details on several of the Foundation’s grants, including UPSTART, Bright By Three, Family Connects, and NIEER. The reporter notes that the foundation has given $2.6 million in rapid response grants to existing grantees and is particularly mindful of the summer slide.

The funding to UPSTART “will help four-year-olds develop cognitive and social-emotional skills and guide them through literacy fundamentals with personalized instruction of 15 minutes per day.”

Download: Scaling Out-of-School Time STEM Programming

As a national funder, we support a wide swath of STEM programs across the country, whether after school, at museums, or during free time with family. Some of the organizations we fund are early-stage, while others are nationally established institutions. But all share the goal of positively impacting students’ STEM knowledge, skills, and mindset.

Last June, the Inspired Minds portfolio, which focuses on supporting out-of-school time STEM learning, selected Education Northwest to conduct the landscape analysis. The ensuing research report, Scaling Out-of-School Time STEM Programming, focuses on findings from youth-serving programs (ages 5-14) that meet the minimum dosage or duration needed to create a significant difference on STEM mindsets and skills. You can read more about the report on our blog.

We’re Hiring

Interested in joining our team? We are looking for a Program Director and Program Analyst, Inspired Minds.