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

Forging successful parent-teacher relationships: Springboard Collaborative

Image via Rose Wong for the NY Times

Forging a solid parent-teacher relationship is critical to a child’s academic success, writes Katherine Cusumano for the NYTimes. These relationships are most successful when rooted in routine exchanges rather than infrequent parent-teacher conferences.

Parents have an “ever-deepening well of information about their children,” which they can share with their child’s teachers, says Springboard Collaborative CEO Alejandro Gibes de Gac in the NYTimes article. Useful insights about a child’s likes and dislikes, personality traits, and relevant family circumstances can help a teacher inside the classroom (virtual or in-person). Typically, families and schools share milestones for students to reach, building their relationship atop a common goal. Now, it’s key to make explicit goals and for parents and teachers to work together on defining a roadmap to achieve them. Springboard Collaborative suggests setting goals in five-to-ten-week cycles, giving parents, teachers, and students time to correct course if something isn’t working.

With the new school year underway, read the other suggestions Cusumano highlights from Springboard Collaborative and other education experts and nonprofit organizations. You can also learn more about Springboard Collaborative in this interview on the ‘Built to Serve’ podcast, where Gibes de Gac shares his experience and how he “fell in love with the problem” to create a scalable solution.

Springboard Collaborative is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio.

Preparing 200 New Hampshire children for kindergarten: Waterford UPSTART

Waterford UPSTART launched a pilot program in the Nashua region to help area children prepare for kindergarten, reports the New Hampshire Union Leader. Two-hundred four-year-olds will be accepted into the new, at-home school readiness pilot program, which aims to develop school readiness for children most at-risk of school failure due to poverty, language barriers, and social inequities. 

“We are excited to expand whenever we have the opportunity because we know we are reaching families who might not have another option,” said UPSTART’s national spokesperson, Kim Fischer.

UPSTART will provide students with a personalized literacy curriculum designed to take only 15 minutes per day, five days a week, plus optional math and science activities. The program also provides parents weekly coaching to bolster the academic success of their pre-kindergarteners. Free computers will be provided to all participants and, for homes that need it, Internet access is available. 

First started in Utah to serve lower-income families in rural areas, UPSTART aims to serve every child in the state one day. In this interview on KUTV, Kim Fischer talks about the organization’s history, mission, and how the program can help more families and children for free, thanks to increasing state funding.

Waterford UPSTART is a grantee in the Early Impact portfolio.

How Station Rotation Could Improve Student Learning: American Institutes for Research (AIR) Study

Many believe that incorporating students’ specific needs, talents, and strengths into instruction—thereby creating a personalized approach—may be one strategy for improving student learning.

One common approach to learning personalization is through station rotation. In this approach, students rotate through different learning modalities, like computer-based instruction, group projects, one-on-one tutoring, or individual assignments. Because this approach does not require extensive changes to existing infrastructure or schedules, it may be more feasible for some schools to implement over other personalized learning approaches that require more extensive changes.

To learn more about station rotation, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) conducted a descriptive study, which included a literature review, an examination of existing station rotation models, and a survey of teachers in five schools.  

Key lessons from the study include: 

  • Teachers perceive that students were more motivated to learn and more engaged during station rotation
  • Teachers believed they were better able to meet the needs of students who were below or above grade level using station rotation
  • Teachers were able to develop stronger relationships with students because of station rotation

Given the potential of station rotation to personalize student learning using technology and small group breakouts in classrooms and in distance learning environments, the practice may be of particular interest to the field right now. You can download the whole report here

American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a grantee in the Innovative Schools portfolio.

Corps Members Prepare for a “Year Like No Other:” Teach for America

Image via EdSurge

A school year amid a global pandemic is anything but ordinary. Despite the litany of challenges, Teach for America corps members are rising to the occasion, reports EdSurge.

Ryan Bravin, a TFA corps member teaching English to 9th-and-10th-grade students in North Carolina, shows up to his classroom every day to lead conversations with his students on literature from behind his desk—as they log in from home. It’s not quite the experience Bravin had in mind when he joined Teach for America, but his resolve hardened after the pandemic started in March

“The more I saw people struggle with online learning, it convinced me this work is more important now than it ever was,” Bravin said. Anecdotally, Teach for America staff is hearing similar resolute sentiments from other corps members who are driven to the field to address inequities in education—inequities made clearer by the pandemic. While it’s too early to gauge corps member retention this year, the number of new members that showed up to summer training was above average. 

“I would put money on it, and I’d bet that we’re going to have higher retention through the first day of school and even through the end of the school year, because of just how much energy there is for equity work,” said TFA Senior VP of Teacher Leadership Development LaNiesha Cobb Sanders.

Read the full article in EdSurge to see how other corps members are responding to the new school year.

Teach for America is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.

Welcoming Two New Math Ambassadors: MoMath

As he pursues his Ph.D at MIT, Urschel has made it his mission to help promote more diversity within the field of mathematics. Image via John Urschel/ESPN

In August, the Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) named Rutgers Professor Alex Kontorovich distinguished visiting professor for the Public Dissemination of Mathematics, a one-year position he started on September 1st, reports the Daily Targum.

Professor Kontorovich is also MoMath’s dean of Academic Content and co-leads two programs at the museum, “Ask a Mathematician—Anything!,” where participants ask their most puzzling questions, and “Meet a Mathematician,” a spotlight on featured mathematicians’ stories and experiences. Kontorovich will build on his current involvement with the museum by teaching additional courses and creating new ways of doing math.

“The structure of music, the harmony, the rhythm, the pattern-seeking, all of that is very much using the same part of my brain, as far as I can tell, that helps me find creative things to do in math,” said Kontorovich.

MoMath has also recruited another popular math ambassador: former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman and MIT doctoral candidate John Urschel. Urschel, who retired from the NFL in 2017 to pursue a Ph.D. in applied math, wants to empower Black children to follow similar paths in STEM. In coordination with MoMath, Urschel hosted an online panel discussion, “Bending the Arc,” which brought together a group of five distinguished African American mathematicians to discuss their experiences and share their love of math to inspire a younger generation.

“Now more than ever, it’s really important that we highlight some of the diverse areas of mathematics that don’t typically get seen every day,” Urschel told ESPN. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today as a mathematician if it wasn’t for a lot of specific people, a lot of different mathematicians deciding that I was worth their time.”

MoMath is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

Best Practices and Overcoming e-Learning Challenges: Khan Academy

Khan Academy, an online learning pioneer long before COVID-19 forced schools to adopt a distance learning model, is a critical tool for both teachers and students. Now, as remote learning sweeps school districts across the country, Khan Academy has become even more valuable. In this CNBC Squawk Box interview, Khan Academy Founder and CEO Sal Khan discusses best practices that educators, students, and families can use to overcome e-learning challenges.

Khan Academy is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

ST Math Wins Tech Edvocate Award: ST Math / MIND Research Institute

ST Math, MIND Research Institute’s patented math instruction approach for PreK-8th grade, won a Tech Edvocate Award for Best Math App or Tool last month.

ST Math’s unique approach leverages the brain’s spatial-temporal reasoning to solve math problems. The visual instructional program engages students through challenging puzzles, non-routine problem solving, and informative feedback. The program has proven to be just as effective for remote learning as it is in the classroom.

“All of us at MIND are delighted to be recognized with a Tech Edvocate Award for ST Math,” said MIND Research Institute CEO Brett Woudenberg in the award announcement. “This marks our first award for the new version of ST Math launched for the 2020-2021 school year, and it is a great honor for our talented team.”

MIND Research Institute is a grantee in the Innovative Schools portfolio.

Helping Educators and Students Forge Connections: Teaching Lab

Teaching Lab CEO Sarah Johnson with her former high school science students in Oakland, California, in 2011. (Image via Sarah Johnson)

Teaching Lab runs professional development programs for educators across the country, serving more than 6,000 teachers with training that’s impacted 500,000 students to-date.

A recent grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) has helped Teaching Lab continue to move its operations online and expand its work. With the $100,000 infusion from CZI, Teaching Lab will reach an additional 1,000 teachers in 30 school districts over the coming months. 

In an interview with The 74, Teaching Lab CEO Sarah Johnson discussed the organization’s work building relationships with families and her advice for schools in keeping students engaged during the current crisis.

Teaching Lab is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.

The Math Behind Transitioning Back into Classrooms: Education Resource Strategies (ERS)

Image via Getty

For many students, the current school year started as the previous one ended: online. But as we have learned more about remote learning and preventing the spread of COVID-19, many schools have begun adopting and transitioning to at least some in-person instruction.

“Most districts now understand that a hybrid in-person/remote model can reduce group sizes by as much as half,” writes Education Resource Strategies (ERS)‘s Tiffany Zhou and Jonathan Travers in an op-ed published in The 74. “Instead of looking at a transition from remote to in-person school as an across-the-board decision, understanding the math of such a transition could help schools get a lot more students back into the classroom earlier.”

You can read more in The 74 about ERS’s insights on teacher staffing, educational models, and configurations that decision-makers should consider to best support a safe, successful transition to in-person learning.

Education Resource Strategies (ERS) is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.

Afterschool Programs Struggle Against Budget Shortfalls: Afterschool Alliance

With students learning from home last spring, many afterschool programs shifted their in-person programs to online activities to keep kids engaged. By early April, nearly 78% of afterschool programs were operating remotely. Some programs even provided lunches, groceries, or diapers for families hit hardest by the pandemic. 

Because afterschool programs provide a vital service to their communities, the Afterschool Alliance believes that these groups will play a vital role in an economic recovery. “If we meet the needs of the kids, that’s how we are going to keep our economy going. Many families need someone to watch their kids,” said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant to Education Dive. “These are all great things for people who can afford it, but it does nothing to help fill the equity gap.”

Despite their adaptability and key roles during the crisis, government budget cuts and other funding shortfalls mean that afterschool programs struggle to meet demand. This Education Dive article explores the opportunities and challenges for afterschool programs.

Afterschool Alliance is a grantee in the Inspired Minds portfolio.

Achievement Gap Widens as Some Students Push Ahead, While Others Fall Behind: Zearn and Opportunity Insights

Image via Opportunity Insights

New data suggests that the pandemic may be exacerbating the academic achievement gap by pushing some students farther behind while propelling more privileged students farther ahead. 

The anonymous student achievement data was collected by Zearn Math, which offers free online math lessons and curriculum to more than 2.5 million K-5 students. According to research using a national sample of 800,000 students, when schools shut down in March, participation and progress in Zearn’s programs dropped for students from low-to-middle-income communities but rose for students in high-income areas. 

The data is publicly available via a new tracker from Opportunity Insights, a Harvard-based research group studying economic inequality and how to improve upward mobility for American children. The team used both Zearn’s student achievement data and Census Bureau data on median household income in a particular area to study and analyze the trend.

“We could see certainly by early April that there was a pattern where high-income students were holding their participation rates and increasing their math progress, and low-income students, many of them had disappeared, and if they were around, they were doing far less math,” said Zearn co-founder and CEO Shalinee Sharma.

The 74 explores this issue in-depth using charts, graphics, and data from Opportunity Insights and interviews with Zearn staff.

Helping Parents Find Out If Their Child’s School Uses a Standards-Aligned Curricula: EdReports

Image via RAND Corporation

With another school year starting and, for many students, starting from home, research suggests that K-12 students will not receive or be exposed to the curriculum they need to master the academic standards that they are expected to meet. 

One way for parents to ensure that their child is being exposed to rigorous learning opportunities this year is to determine whether their school has adopted standards-aligned curricula. 

“Most textbooks claim alignment, so parents and educators need evidence that curricula are standards-aligned from a third party. Some states, including Louisiana, Tennessee, and Nebraska, provide reviews of which curricula are aligned with their academic standards,” writes Kaufman in The 74. For parents in states that do not provide curriculum review, EdReports is an invaluable resource. As an independent, nonprofit organization, EdReports reviews curricula alignment with evidence from reading, science, and college- and career-ready standards. Kaufman shares additional insights and tips for vetting school curricula in her article on The 74.

EdReports is a grantee in the Exceptional Educators portfolio.

Finding, Sharing, and Implementing Innovative Instructional Strategies: The Canopy Project 

Canopy is a unique solution for school leaders interested in finding, sharing, and implementing innovative instructional strategies, reports District Administration

Launched by Clayton Christensen Institute and Transcend, Canopy “is a way for school leaders and superintendents to access information they’re unlikely to find elsewhere,” said Chelsea Waite, an education research fellow heading the Canopy project at the Christensen Institute. “It’s a door into a community of other school leaders who are also innovating.”

Educators using the Canopy website can search by more than 80 tags and practices—such as social-emotional learning—to discover how other schools embed the approach into their curriculum. Users can also navigate the site by school type of schools (e.g., high school or charter), or filter by geography and demographics.

“School leaders can get access to others who are trying to do something really new in this moment,” Waite said. “They can learn from others who can provide a light forward to implement student-centered and innovative models during COVID-19.”

Clayton Christensen Institute and Transcend are grantees in the Innovative Schools portfolio.

Foundation News

Adjusting Our Grantmaking to Meet the Moment

Of the many things COVID-19 has taught the philanthropic sector, the lesson that feels most urgent is that philanthropy can be bigger, bolder, and more transformative in support of positive social change. 

Early on in the pandemic, and joined by almost 780 other philanthropies, Overdeck Family Foundation signed the Council on Foundations Pledge to loosen grant restrictions, reduce the burden on grantees, and be more responsive and proactive in our giving. Responding to COVID-19 in these ways made our work better, our grantee relationships stronger, and our team more energized, informed, and creative.

The changes we made in response to COVID-19 dovetail with changes we had planned in response to feedback we received from over 90 grantees in our October 2019 Grantee Perception Survey. This summer, we worked hard on many improvements to create a more transparent and streamlined process focused on better understanding and meeting community needs. While our processes are changing, our steadfast commitment to increasing impact for all children, families, and teachers is not. We believe the coming changes in how we operate, shared in this post by Anu Malipatil, our Vice President, will help us achieve our mission and commitments more fully and provide increased value and support to our grantee partners.

Announcing a New Home for Family Math

When introduced properly, math can—and should—be fun for children. This belief is at the heart of the “Family Math” initiative, which we at Overdeck Family Foundation have supported through grantmaking and advocacy efforts for the past four years. The Family Math initiative promotes play-based math learning early and often in non-formal learning settings to build critical early math skills before children begin kindergarten.

The movement was created in 2016 when a group of practitioners, researchers, and funders identified the opportunity of using family-based math play to build critical early developmental skills. These efforts were distributed across 30 organizations nationwide and supported by a team at Education First. The guiding principle of this work was that math can cultivate joy, engage curiosity, and unlock confidence for the youngest of learners—and that parents and early educators had important roles to play in introducing and exploring mathematical concepts with young children.

This past May, with even stronger conviction in the importance of this work given the COVID-19 pandemic, the Family Math Coordinating Committee invited select organizations to apply for a chance to become the long-term home of Family Math. Members of the Parent Advisory Council and Coordinating Committee spent the spring and summer months researching and conducting interviews with ten highly-qualified organizations. Last month, we were thrilled to announce that we have selected NAFSCE (National Association for Family, School and Community Engagement), in partnership with the Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative, as the official new home for Family Math!

Read the full announcement here.

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