Supporting student-centered learning environments.Learn More
Our goal: Expand access to tech-enabled, student-centered K-9 learning environments, intentionally designed for any student to thrive.
The traditional classroom model too often fails to provide students with meaningful and engaging learning opportunities that can accelerate their skills in the classroom. This results in too few students performing at grade level, and fewer still engaged and empowered for lifelong success.
The disruptions to learning over the past several years make now a critical time to reimagine the traditional schooling model, transforming how students learn and enabling each individual student to reach their full potential. Our Innovative Schools portfolio supports direct impact and ecosystem grantees that leverage technology to create student-centered, evidence-based K-9 learning environments that engage, challenge, and improve academic and social-emotional skills for all students.
There is an increased urgency to support students to reach and exceed grade level expectations for math and literacy skills.
Ongoing challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have widened learning gaps. According to a 2021 McKinsey analysis, students ended the 2020-21 school year five months behind in math and four months behind in reading. Historically disadvantaged students were most impacted, widening pre-existing disparities, with students in majority Black schools six months behind, and students in low-income schools seven months behind. Most recently, NAEP results indicate that two decades of growth for American fourth-grade students in reading and math were wiped away by just two years of pandemic-disrupted learning.
The array of student needs have widened, leaving educators in search of more personalized ways to engage, support, and empower students.
Pre-pandemic, a classroom likely contained students who achieved at seven different grade levels; post-pandemic, the range was predicted to span up to nine grade levels. In a June 2020 survey conducted by YouthTruth, teachers in schools with at least 75 percent of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch were most likely to say their students work on different content at different paces and need additional support.
Embracing student variability can accelerate academic mastery and lead to more engaged, lifelong learners.
Unlike the traditional classroom model, which is often a teacher lecturing at the front of a classroom, a student-centered learning model shifts the focus onto students and how to best meet their needs through coaching, small group facilitation, and the use of educational technology. Studies show students attending student-centered learning environments outperform their peers, especially Black, Latino, economically disadvantaged, and English learner students.
The learning environment plays a crucial role in student success.
Learning is most effective when content is meaningful and relevant, when adults build caring relationships with their students, and when students are in classrooms that foster a sense of belonging and a growth mindset (Duke et al., 2017; Dweck, 2006; The Science of Learning; Quay, 2017). Overdeck Family Foundation-supported studies by researchers in the Mindset Scholars Network showed that ninth grade students with stronger reports of growth mindset earned higher core course GPAs than students reporting a more fixed mindset. A second study found that math teacher messaging that supported growth mindset, belonging, purpose, and affirmation explained roughly 29 percent of the variance in student test score growth, exceeding the predictive power of established classroom practice inventories.
High-impact tutoring, when done correctly, can meaningfully accelerate learning, but evidence is still emerging on wide-scale impact and replicability.
Tutoring, whether in person or virtual, has continued to show evidence of being an effective student-centered intervention at accelerating student outcomes. Saga Education, an Overdeck Family Foundation grantee providing small group math tutoring, was able to help students gain an average of one to two and a half extra years of learning a year—and lead to higher grades across subjects. Another grantee, OnYourMark, found that 72 percent of students using their virtual literacy tutoring services made above-average to well-above-average growth in literacy skills. Additionally, the nonprofit Accelerate, co-funded by Overdeck Family Foundation, is leading a national effort to scale high-impact tutoring programs in U.S. public schools, while shaping the evidence base for tutoring to ensure the widespread adoption of proven strategies.
Emerging evidence suggests that an accelerated learning approach can help close the achievement gap.
Research on the efficacy of accelerated versus remediational learning suggests that it could be an effective strategy to help students who’ve experienced learning loss. One study found that when teachers took an accelerated-learning approach in math, students completed 27 percent more grade-level lessons, and struggled less with content than students in classrooms where teachers used remediation. Research conducted by Overdeck Family Foundation grantees Zearn and TNTP found similar findings in math and literacy, respectively. TNTP’s study revealed that too few students—especially students from historically marginalized communities—had consistent access to grade-level work and students were just as successful on grade-level work as they were on below grade-level work. Zearn found that when a student was consistently accelerated by their teacher, they completed twice the amount of grade-level lessons and struggled 17 percent less in their math learning.
A proliferation of edtech tools and a fragmented K-9 market makes it difficult for schools to know which solutions would work best for them.
Educators overwhelmingly see technology as a key resource to solve the above problems and meet students’ expanding needs. However, there are over 8,600 ed-tech tools available for schools to purchase and little evidence to help them decide which purchase is best. The lack of information has resulted in an estimated 65 percent of unused ed-tech licenses, causing students to miss out on the opportunity for a technology-enhanced learning experience. The $190 billion infusion of federal funds to schools, and $5 billion in private investment to ed-tech products (more than double the 2020 levels), means the supply of ed-tech products will only increase, making it even more challenging to sort through the market to find the best products. This increases the risk that ineffective edtech is purchased and implemented, continuing to increase gaps in student learning versus closing them.
Learn more about some of the work funded by the Innovative Schools portfolio.
Supporting teachers to enhance students’ reading and writing skills.
Using a digital platform to increase access to engaging middle school science content.
Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund
Investing in blended literacy and computational thinking models for low-income students in New York City.
Making math tutoring both impactful and cost-effective.
Bringing a new way of looking at math from the classroom to the home.
Scaling an evidence-based math program to elementary schools across the country.
Scale Personalized Interventions
Develop and scale technology-enabled interventions, including tutoring and curricula (both core and supplemental), that accelerate students’ mastery of math and literacy knowledge, as well as foundational socioemotional skills.
Increase Active Learning Experiences
Invest in developing tech-enabled active learning experiences that enhance student engagement, and allow students to apply their learning to improve mastery of academic and socioemotional outcomes.
Improve Evidence-Based Decision Making
Increase evidence-based decision making in edtech purchasing and innovation through ongoing validation, field building, and knowledge generation.
What information do district and state decision makers need when purchasing edtech and curriculum, and what drives them to adopt certain tools?
What conditions must exist in school communities for tech-enabled, personalized learning interventions and tutoring programs to be most effective, and what do schools and districts need to create those conditions?
How can technologies, tools, and practices best support students with learning differences?