Below is a roundup highlighting our grantees’ and Foundation staff’s impactful work in November 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.

Accelerating Students Back to Grade-Level: TNTP

In April, TNTP published the Learning Acceleration Guide, a resource designed to help schools respond to the challenges of COVID-19 and mitigate the potential learning loss from school closures. At the time of its initial publication, TNTP had hoped that schools would fully reopen. However, as the pandemic continued to spread, it became clear that school systems needed to prioritize learning acceleration, regardless of whether the instruction is in-person, virtual, or a hybrid of both.

Last month, TNTP released an updated version of their Learning Acceleration Guide to help school systems adapt. In addition to more specific advice on implementing learning acceleration in a virtual setting, TNTP provides specific, measurable goals to assess academic progress this school year, with a particular emphasis on the two most important things schools should prioritize right now: grade-appropriate assignments and strong instruction. 

TNTP’s advice is grounded in a set of four values they believe school systems should prioritize:

  • Grade-level content as the academic priority
  • Directly addressing inequities
  • Support and train all stakeholders
  • Collaborate, then communicate clearly

By providing students with a challenging, engaging learning experience—even during a pandemic—TNTP believes that educators can accelerate students back to grade-level and help them prepare for their futures. You can download the updated Learning Acceleration Guide here.

TNTP is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.

Bridging the Digital Divide in Newark: New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund

Image via TAPinto Newark

When Newark’s schools closed in-person learning last March, students who lacked computer or Internet access at home were at a significant disadvantage. Tap Into Newark reports that in a new partnership with Prudential, the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fun (NJPRF) has announced a $1 million investment to help close Newark’s digital divide, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In today’s world, having access to a computer and internet access is not a luxury, but a necessity,” said NJPRF Founding Chair and New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy. “We are hopeful that our commitment—alongside that of others—will address this pressing need so students can continue learning through the pandemic.” 

The funding, distributed by the New Jersey Children’s Foundation, will support New Public Schools and charter schools with acquiring laptops and WiFi hotspots, plus IT helpdesk and cybersecurity support for Newark’s students and families participating in eLearning programs during the pandemic.

The New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund is a grantee of the foundation.

Parents & Teachers Working Together to Keep Math Learning on Track: Zearn & Opportunity Insights

Since the start of the pandemic, overall usage of  Zearn—a site with free online math lessons and curriculum for K-5 students—has risen sharply, reports Bloomberg Businessweek. However, the number of students from low-income households accessing the site has been dropping off compared to high-income families.

The Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker has been using anonymized data collected from Zearn to track the pandemic’s impact on student math skills and participation. “Getting good at math can be a good way to escape poverty, so it’s disappointing that low-income students are falling behind,” writes Bloomberg’s Peter Coy. 

But even at the gap’s widest point during the pandemic, some schools were bucking the trend, according to EdWeek. Shalinee Sharma, Zearn’s founder and CEO, believes one factor was that some districts in low-income areas communicated to parents that they should focus on getting their children on the Zearn platform regularly, underlying the importance of family engagement to student success.

“We can’t make people become math teachers,” said Sharma. “That’s what technology enables. A parent can monitor progress, but not get into, ‘is the math right or wrong?’ That’s what we can let a computer do.”

Zearn is a grantee in the Innovative Schools portfolio. Opportunity Insights is a grantee in the Data for Action portfolio.

Launching a STEM-Based High School in Jersey City: Liberty Science High School

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A state-of-the-art, elite science-based high school will be built at Jersey City’s SciTech Scity, reports The city has donated 12.5 acres to the 30-acre SciTech Scity campus and is collaborating with the Hudson County Schools of Technology, the Liberty Science Center, and the Hudson County Improvement Authority to execute the project.

Phase 1 of the project includes the high school and the Edge Works incubator, which will provide nearly 100,000 square feet of research labs, private studios, open workspaces, and a conference center. The STEM school is expected to house 400 science-talented students from across the county. The school will include work education programs around the more than 200 technology startup companies and entrepreneurs expected to call the planned 30-acre innovation campus home.

So far, $27 million has been raised for SciTech Scity, including $2.5 million from Overdeck Family Foundation for the school.

Three Threats That Could Change Public Schooling Forever: Instruction Partners

For many students and their families, public schools have always been the only option because private schools are expensive, and homeschooling is infeasible for working parents. Last year, 85% of students in America went to public schools; this year, the data tells us the percentage has dropped. 

“A growing number of states have opened virtual public schools and have seen enrollment skyrocket; thousands of parents have withdrawn their children and formed private learning pods, and the universal test drive of homeschooling this spring made it feel like a possible and favored option for many families,” writes Instruction Partners Co-Founder and CEO Emily Freitag in an op-ed published in Chalkbeat.

Freitag believes that the events of 2020 could either significantly hobble public schools or lead to a chapter of profound progress. From declining enrollment, unprecedented budget crunches, and intensifying polarization, Freitag explores each of these critical issues and what our communities can do to address them.

Instruction Partners is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.

A Blueprint for Ensuring a Safe, Engaging Learning Environment for All Students: Afterschool Alliance

Image via Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Learning pods—parent-organized, private tutor-led groups for kids to learn—have become an increasingly popular solution for well-to-do families in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on public schools. However, these same pods risk leaving more students from families who cannot afford private tutors behind. 

This summer, Afterschool Alliance released “A Blueprint for How Afterschool Programs & Community Partners Can Help,” arguing that community organizations, after school and summer camp programs, and school districts have a role to play in keeping all kids safe, healthy, and engaged during COVID-19. The report provides a framework for building community learning centers and developing reopening plans that ensure children are safely learning, engaged, and building academic, social, and emotional skills while their parents are at work. But these community learning centers are in dire need of additional investment, writes Afterschool Alliance’s Jodi Grant and Jen Rinehart

Afterschool Alliance is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

Bringing Group Care to More Communities: Centering Healthcare Institute (CHI)

With a mission to improve healthcare and disrupt inequitable systems through its Centering model of group care, Centering Healthcare Institute (CHI) seeks to improve the health and well-being of pregnant women, young children, and their families. Last month, CHI announced that it received $13 million in grant funding from Overdeck Family Foundation, Bezos Family Foundation, MacKenzie Scott, Valhalla Charitable Foundation, and Imaginable Futures to support scaling access to their Centering model throughout the US. 

CHI’s evidence-based model has demonstrated its ability to reduce racial disparities, improve health outcomes, lower the risk of preterm birth, support healthy parent-child interactions, and increase parental behaviors that lead to children’s positive life outcomes. This $13 million in funding will allow CHI to continue its multi-year growth strategy, make technology and design improvements, and offer the Centering model of group care in virtual formats—bringing access to relationship-based care to the most vulnerable populations. Read their press release to learn more.

Centering Healthcare Institute (CHI) is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio.

A Toolkit for Advocates: STEM Ecosystems & STEM Education Coalition

STEM Learning Ecosystems provide students the opportunity to access a rich array of STEM learning resources in their communities. To help more leaders and educators learn about and use these resources, the STEM Ecosystems and STEM Education Coalition worked with Overdeck Family Foundation to create the STEM Learning Ecosystems Advocacy Toolkit.

The STEM Learning Ecosystems Advocacy Toolkit collects materials and resources to help advocates tell their stories to community leaders and stakeholders and reach parents, students, educators, and potential business or media partners. The Toolkit includes fact sheets and sample policy documents for policymakers and journalists, research and reports on best practices and approaches, and event planning materials to convene stakeholders’ meetings. Download the STEM Learning Ecosystems Advocacy Toolkit here.

STEM Ecosystems is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

A Look at Teacher Diversity & Equity across the Country: The Education Trust

Graphic via the Education Trust

A racially and culturally diverse teacher workforce is beneficial for all students, particularly students of color, who often thrive in classrooms where teachers share similar backgrounds. The national public school teacher workforce, however, fails to reflect the diversity of the student population. For many states, that lack of diversity means that most of their students attend schools without a single teacher of color on staff.

Using data from each state, the Education Trust created an interactive map visualization, providing data analyses and policy landscapes for advocates, educators, and policymakers advancing diversity at the state level. The tool allows users to review educator diversity policy practices across the United States, see educator diversity data, and compare how states perform against each other.

Education Trust is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.

Bringing a Piece of Chicago History Home: Adler Planetarium

When the Adler Planetarium opened in 1930, one of its main attractions was a star projector: the Zeiss Mark II. But in 1970, the planetarium sold its prized projector, which was then displayed in other planetariums across the country before being sold to an Ohioan in the late 1980s. This November, the Adler Planetarium announced that it had found and reacquired its long-lost projector, as reported by ABC7 Chicago.

“A piece of Adler history has come home to Chicago,” said Michelle Nichols, the Adler’s director of public observing. Watch the full story on ABC7 Chicago.

The Adler Planetarium is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

Cultivating Continuous Improvement: BellXCel

Though brief, summer is a terrific opportunity to work with students and families to close persistent achievement gaps between families at varying income levels. For nearly three decades, BellXCel has been working with partners over summer vacation to build students’ academic, social, and emotional skills. 

The Sperling Center for Research and Innovation (SCRI) recently analyzed this approach and documented their findings in Quality Can’t Wait: Cultivating Continuous Improvement.

The report highlights BellXcel’s quality assessment process that:

  • Reflects the needs and input of BellXcel practitioners to enable practical, useful monitoring across many BellXcel sites;
  • Provides practical quality assessment tools that were created with a “backward design model,” identifying what ought to be in place and then selecting research-based indicators that would assess the extent to which those elements were being practiced;
  • Uses research-based domains to inform program quality that applies to both in-person and remote learning experiences

You can download the brief here.

BellXcel is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

Reducing Toxic Stress for Ohio Moms: Nurse-Family Partnership

For more than fifty years, Ohio’s Cuyahoga County has had one of the nation’s highest infant death premature birth rates, especially for Black babies. To help reduce these dire statistics, health leaders and hospitals launched a coalition in 2015—First Year Cleveland—to recruit partners and mobilize the community. 

Mothers without access to prenatal care and suffering from “toxic stress”—stress associated with food, housing, economic, or other social insecurities—are at risk for not carrying their babies to term. Nurse-Family Partnership is working directly with first-time moms in Cuyahoga County to help reduce toxic stress, reports WKYC. While there is still much more work to be done, First Year Cleveland has noted a decline in the Black infant mortality rate from 18.7 in 2015 to 14.7 so far this year. Watch the full story on WKYC.

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

Online Tutoring To Combat COVID Learning Loss: Khan Academy

COVID-19’s impact on learning has already started to surface, with one study from the Netherlands showing significant learning losses sustained from March through May, compared with learning gains during the same period the previous year. For families and teachers, combating this COVID learning loss—especially for low-income families—is daunting. But online tutoring may be one solution.     

“My colleagues and I recently analyzed 96 randomized evaluations of different tutoring models and found that 80 percent of the studies led to markedly improved outcomes, with more than half of the studies reporting large gains as a result of these programs,” writes Philip Oreopoulos in Scientific American. “In education research, such consensus is a rarity, and the consistency and magnitude of the results are both remarkable and encouraging.”

Khan Academy’s Sal Khan launched Schoolhouse.World to create an online marketplace for students looking for virtual tutoring.

With more education taking place online, Khan Academy’s Sal Khan launched Schoolhouse.World, a new initiative that aims to create an online marketplace for students looking for virtual tutoring on specific topics. Teachers can already incorporate Khan Academy’s free programming into their lessons. Now schools can also invest in high-quality, lower-cost virtual programs that mimic more expensive in-person tutoring programs. Read more at Scientific American.

Khan Academy is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio. Our Foundation also supports math tutoring interventions through Saga Education and Cignition, grantees in the Innovative Schools portfolio.

STEM Gaming Microgrants To Support Student Engagement: Tyto Online

EdTech startup Immersed Games launched STEM Gaming Microgrants to support teachers engaging their students under the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic. These microgrants, funded by our Foundation, will make 5,000 student licenses of the STEM educational game Tyto Online available for free and include training and support for teachers. 

“As we talked with teachers around the country who are teaching in unprecedented circumstances during COVID19, we heard many of the same challenges: getting students hands-on experiences if they are at-home or socially distant, and keeping science fun and active,” said Lindsey Tropf, Founder & CEO of Immersed Games in the press release. “That’s why we’re thrilled to make these STEM Gaming Microgrants available as a resource to support teachers providing students active learning where they’re solving authentic problems, whether they are remote or in-person at school but being socially distant.”

The program is expected to reach up to 200 U.S. classrooms. As part of the grant, Immersed Games will also be working with after- and summer school programs to explore extending Tyto Online to those informal learning contexts.

“School and afterschool program shutdowns due to COVID-19 have made STEM skills particularly challenging to teach and learn,” said Overdeck Family Foundation Associate Program Officer Gemma Lenowitz. “Tyto Online cultivates students’ curiosity while teaching them to base reasoning on evidence and solve problems through virtual experimentation, making it uniquely impactful at this moment.”

Tyto Online is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

Foundation News

In the Face of COVID, Nonprofits Are Stepping Up with Tech-Based Video Instruction, Teacher Support, Parent Training & Tutoring

Image via the74

In a June survey, nearly 73% of responding nonprofit organizations reported a drop in revenue, particularly those in education. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted almost every aspect of life, yet despite the challenges—or perhaps because of them—we’ve seen incredible education innovation occurring. Much of this innovation incorporates technology, something that was previously a nice-to-have and is now a necessity.

While technology and access to the Internet remain persistent challenges in the U.S., there is still reason to believe that tech-enabled solutions have potential. In this op-ed for the74, Foundation Vice President Anu Malipatil shares how some of our grantees have used technology and ingenuity to support parents, teachers, and students throughout the crisis. 

Invention Opportunity In Early Learning And Development

The COVID-19 pandemic has meaningfully impacted the U.S. education and child care systems—with parents of young children struggling the most. This provides both a challenge and an opportunity for reinvention in how we support families and young children. 

In this Forbes piece, Tom Vander Ark cites research compiled by Overdeck Family Foundation to support the belief that early language development is one of the most important predictors of school readiness and later academic success. Vander Ark also highlights several Foundation grantees and programs working to improve the early childhood field, including Bright by Text, Centering Healthcare Institute, Khan Academy Kids, LENA, Springboard Collaborative, Waterford UPSTART, and Wildflower Montessori.