The Problem We Are Trying to Solve

NGLC in Oakland seeks to address the key challenge in 21st-century American public education: how to dramatically improve student outcomes, particularly in schools with persistent achievement gaps for students from low-income families or for students of color. One reason that our schools struggle to meet the needs of our society is a design problem. The prevailing model of schooling in the United States largely reflects a century-old factory/efficiency model that was not designed to meet the needs of today’s global society or diverse student population. Its challenges are rooted in a flawed assumption—that groups of similarly aged students all start grades and courses having mastered the previous year’s standards and then acquire new knowledge and skills at the same pace and in the same way over the course of a year. In reality, students start at different places and progress at different rates, which makes it exceedingly challenging to adequately meet each student’s needs.

Our current system also suffers from a scaling problem. While a number of schools have produced outstanding results even for our most underserved students, those schools have not achieved massive scale. One key cause of the scaling problem is that many of these outlier schools rely heavily on limited sources of capital, such as nonrecurring public grants and private philanthropy, to fund ongoing operations and growth. Furthermore, success in many of our most effective schools is predicated on a “superstar” human capital model that does not easily scale beyond a limited number of schools. Finally, some leaders of successful schools simply do not have an appetite for scale. Taken together, these challenges create very real impediments to replication and scale.

We are encouraged by the growing number of whole-school models that are simultaneously tackling the design and scale problems by employing the design principles presented below. This innovative group includes, but is not limited to, the new school models that have launched in part because of national NGLC Breakthrough Model grants. While still in the early stages of development and implementation, these schools are demonstrating the potential of personalized learning, incorporating blended approaches and competency-based student progression, to accelerate the academic outcomes of all students in a financially sustainable way. We call these models “breakthrough schools,” and we use the term “breakthrough school developers” to refer to the entrepreneurial charter operators, districts, third-party provider organizations, design teams of teacher/educator leaders, and other partners that are behind these pioneering schools.

Over the past two years, through the generosity of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NGLC has made more than $23 million in direct grants to organizations and school districts in an effort to enrich the national landscape of “breakthrough” next generation K-12 models. By the fall of 2014, there will be 43 such schools, district and charter schools alike, serving students with NGLC launch grants, including one in Oakland. Each funded new or redesigned school is working to combine the best aspects of place-based and online learning with more personalized, mastery-based approaches to result in substantially improved outcomes for students.

This national strategy now moves, with the Regional Funds, into a second stage: connecting the emerging national landscape of new and redesigned breakthrough K-12 schools to seven regional incubating partners that will pursue similar investment and support strategies more intensively in local areas. Regional incubators -- including Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland -- will not only recruit, develop and support a concentration of locally-grown breakthrough schools; we will also develop the capacity of educators, leaders and entrepreneurs in and around these schools to help create favorable operating conditions for, and interest in, the personalized learning approaches of these schools. Together we will also forge pathways and scale-up approaches for other regions and municipalities to study and adapt as they consider making a commitment to next generation learning strategies in the years to come.

Organizing Partners

The organizing partners have come together to create this grant opportunity because they fundamentally believe schools can and have the willpower to change. Given that, the organizers’ role is to support schools with resources, learning opportunities, and guidance -- and to listen. The partners cannot create or redesign schools themselves top-down.

The Rogers Family Foundation (RFF) is a private family foundation that was established by T. Gary and Kathleen Rogers in 2003. The primary focus of the RFF is to support dramatic improvement in educational outcomes for the students of Oakland, California. In 2012, in partnership with school operators and with the support of other foundations, the RFF helped launch the first four blended pilot school transformations in Oakland USD, later growing the pilot to eight schools, including two local charter public schools. In 2014, RFF was awarded a Regional Fund for Breakthrough Schools from EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association with the mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology, to support the accelerated transformation and growth of high-quality Next Generation School Models in the city of Oakland, CA.

In 2010, EDUCAUSE, in conjunction with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and the League for Innovation in the Community Colleges, launched the Next Generation Learning Challenges. NGLC seeks to dramatically improve college readiness and completion in the United States, maximizing student learning and closing achievement gaps, in part through the applied use of technology, particularly among low-income individuals at both the secondary and postsecondary levels.

The Oakland Public Education Fund acts as the fiscal sponsor of this grant program. The Ed Fund is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit founded in 2003 by a group of Oakland principals and community leaders. To better reflect their evolving, city-wide focus, in 2014 they changed their name from the Oakland Schools Foundation to the Oakland Public Education Fund. The Ed Fund’s mission is to lead the development and investment of community resources in Oakland public schools so that all students can learn, grow, and thrive. They have helped schools raise more than $25 million for essential programs since 2003, supporting schools and OUSD to build new partnerships along the way. Through their communications work, they have consistently championed Oakland schools to shift the narrative about public education in Oakland.

The Regional Funds initiative is supported nationally by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust) provides additional program support.