The Ballmer Group, created by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie, has quietly committed more than a quarter-billion dollars to K-12-related organizations and projects over the last two years. The flow of money includes more than $100 million granted to organizations working to improve opportunities for children and families in poverty, as well as a $59 million investment in a for-profit software company seeking to ease the flow of student data between K-12 school districts and nonprofits. The Ballmer Group’s known activity to date primarily reflects a “wraparound approach” to education, said Sarah Reckhow, an assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University. It emphasizes the community context in which children grow up, and it relies heavily on people with extensive experience in the social-services field and deep roots in the communities where grants are being awarded.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday pitched a $5 billion federal tax credit that would fund scholarships to private schools and other educational programs, throwing her weight behind what will be a difficult legislative undertaking to fund the Trump administration’s signature education initiative. Ms. DeVos will join Republican lawmakers in championing legislation that would allow states to opt into a program that provides individual and corporate donors dollar-for-dollar tax credits for contributing to scholarship programs that help families pay private-school tuition and other educational expenses. The program would also allow states the flexibility to fund other programs, like apprenticeship, dual enrollment, after-school and remedial programs.
A new case study by Entangled Solutions at Arcadia Unified School District highlights the following five takeaways which show that keeping people front, center and involved is key to scaling personalized learning effectively across any school community. 1. Build a culture of agency and risk-taking: “To get to a point where a teacher is vulnerable in a classroom in front of kids, we had to highlight ways you can fail and talk about it in a positive way,” said Greg Gazanian, Arcadia’s chief strategy and innovation officer. 2. Engage the community early and often: Arcadia has engaged its community in a multi-year effort to not just explain what it is doing, but also give community members a seat at the table to help define its goals. 3. Seek a partnership rather than a product: How teachers and students interact with each other and with the curriculum often is more important than the actual software they use. 4. Plan big, but start small: Arcadia has been intentional about who pilots the AltSchool platform first and the sequence of teachers with which it will grow its innovation efforts over time. 5. Set clear goals you can measure.
In the past, a school day was mandated by Illinois to be five hours of direct supervision by a teacher, and how the state funded schools was based on student attendance during those days. In August 2017, the evidence-based funding formula was signed in to law, shifting the way state money is allocated to school enrollment figures and the number of students in need of extra supports. Because funding was no longer tied to attendance, the law also opened the door to more flexibility in terms of where and how students received instruction. Naperville District 203 has already taken great steps at the high school level toward making e-Learning days a reality by offering more blended classes, which combines direct-teaching days with days for independent online instruction.
In this essay, Travis Pillow and Paul Hill explore what it would take to ensure that personalized and weighted funding follows students across multiple learning experiences, and could meet the needs of all students. Information through online portals and navigators who help families select the best options for their children are critical, the authors argue, as are addressing oversight and helping manage the transition from traditional funding models. “Low-income students or students with special needs who receive larger funding allotments under the weighted student funding system would be more likely to have money left over after covering the cost of school enrollment…Parents would have a more versatile mechanism to respond to needs that arise during the course of their children’s education,” write Pillow and Hill.
One Chicago-based organization, LEAP Innovations, is changing the education narrative and bringing forth innovation for every child. LEAP Innovations has worked with more than 120 schools across the Chicago area to implement personalized learning, and have supported over 2,400 current and pre-service educators. Through their work, they’ve reached 30,000 students since their launch date and nearly 90% of the students they impact are children of color. This interview with Phyllis Lockett, the Founder and CEO, highlights how she’s bringing innovation and personalized learning to the classroom.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to invest in professional development providers who will train teachers on “high quality” curricula. The investment, at around $10 million, is a tiny portion of the approximately $1.7 billion the philanthropy expects to put into K-12 education by 2022. Nevertheless, it’s likely to attract attention for inching closer to the perennially touchy issue of what students learn every day at school. Gates officials emphasized that the new grants won’t support the development of curricula from scratch. Instead, grantees will work to improve how teachers are taught to use and modify existing series that are well aligned to state learning standards. The funding announcement also comes as a number of recent reports conclude that teacher training suffers by focusing on general teaching strategies rather than on how to use a specific curriculum.
The field of education, just like other industries, has been fascinated by innovation in recent years, but this wave, as a federal report demonstrates, doesn’t guarantee positive change among the students it’s oftentimes supposed to help. Since 2008, the U.S. Department of Education has spent more than $1.5 billion in grants on nearly 200 educational innovations, but out of 67 evaluations of these innovations — which make up $700 million of the total — only 12, or 18%, found positive effects on student achievement, this report finds.
A new paper estimates the fiscal impact of private school choice programs. The bottom line: school vouchers save money for state and local taxpayers. When all of the numbers are crunched and all of the beans are counted, most voucher programs provide a fiscal benefit for state and local taxpayers. Even taking into account the short-run fixed costs that schools face that do not vary with enrollment, the average cost of school vouchers is usually less than the average variable cost savings for districts. State and local taxpayers incur a benefit, to the tune of $3,000 per student per year. Cumulatively, that means that the vouchers that were studied saved taxpayers north of $400 million in FY 2015 alone.
Barbara Dalio, who is married to…billionaire hedge fund founder Ray Dalio, has spent the past decade leading the Dalio Foundation’s efforts to strengthen public education by investing millions in it. During that time, Dalio’s focus has shifted away from giving to charter schools and reform efforts such as Teach for America and toward troubled public school districts. “A few years ago, there was a feeling among some wealthy donors that giving to local neighborhood schools might be a waste of money, said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies with the American Enterprise Institute. “Now the zeitgeist has changed,” said Hess. In 2016, Dalio provided $3.25 million to Achievement First and $2.25 million to Teach for America. But by fiscal year 2018, those figures were down to zero. Meanwhile, the funding Dalio gave to public school districts increased from $4.2 million to $4.8 million.