Koret’s K–12 Education Innovation Initiative: Exploring new ideas to help students succeed

Koret’s K–12 Education Innovation Initiative: Exploring new ideas to help students succeed

Jul 2019 | K-12 Education

In early 2019, the Koret Foundation launched a new initiative, totaling more than $11 million in grants over the next three years to 35 organizations for innovative programs in the Bay Area. The goal of the K–12 Education Innovation Initiative is to improve opportunity, preparation, and support for students to grow into successful adults. Building on the innovative spirit that guides the Bay Area, our education initiative enables grantees to pilot new ideas locally that can have a broader impact.

The initiative covers five focus areas: college access and success, STEM learning, teacher training, skills- and opportunity-building for students in underserved communities, and education reform policy. Collectively, grantees in these five areas will explore ideas and refine solutions from multiple perspectives, ranging from individual student needs to school administration, and education policy.

To assess the initiative’s impact over the three-year grant period, Koret is partnering with the strategic learning firm Informing Change to evaluate the degree to which the grantees were able to execute the pilot project and begin to see student outcomes as a result. A full list of grantees can be found here.

College access and success: Beyond 12

For low-income, first-generation, and historically under-represented college freshmen, college acceptance is a profoundly life-changing opportunity. Sadly, many students find themselves academically, socially, or emotionally unprepared for the rigors of higher education. Their hurdles to college graduation include financial challenges, the need to juggle work and study, low confidence about their academic capability, and a lack of peer support.

Koret grantee Beyond 12 has developed a unique blend of student tracking and personalized coaching that has quickly proven effective. College graduation rates for Beyond 12 students are nearly double the national average for their first-generation and low-income peers. Central to Beyond 12’s effectiveness is their “MyCoach” mobile app, designed to guide and support students through their college journey, to connect them with fellow students, and to facilitate taking advantage of campus resources.

Koret has awarded Beyond 12 $1.5M over three years to exponentially expand the reach of their mobile app, from the current 55,000 students per year to one million students annually. Beyond 12 founder and CEO Alexandra Bernadotte elaborates, “The Koret Foundation’s generous gift gives us the flexibility to design and test a new variant of our proven high-tech, high-touch college success coaching model.” The grant will fund testing and evaluating the new model, including extensive research and development, technical upgrades, and, implementation at scale.

Taking the long view, Bernadotte says, “Through this work, we can support our students in their efforts to earn meaningful degrees that pave the way to a successful future.” This will lead to a key shift in Beyond 12’s reach, business model, and long-term impact.

STEM learning: YMCA of San Francisco

People of color are vastly under-represented in the national STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce. Several factors contribute to this imbalance: internal and external bias or stereotypes, lack of exposure to STEM career paths, and a shortage of racial and ethnic role models in the field. K–12 programs that provide students of color with exposure, learning, and experience in STEM subjects will begin to address this inequity.

Koret grantee YMCA of San Francisco has honed a successful model of STEM learning for elementary and middle schoolers. Koret’s recent grant will help the YMCA extend this to the high-school level, piloting a 16-week afterschool program for a total of 60 high schoolers at six sites across the City. The academic curriculum is paired with a strong workforce development component, including meeting experts in the field, sampling career opportunities through summer internships, and experiential learning.

As part of the pilot, the YMCA’s afterschool staff will receive specialized training to become qualified to deliver high-school level STEM education aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. By recruiting staff directly from the low-income and diverse neighborhoods served, the training program represents a significant investment in the local community—building skills, increasing salary potential, and supporting career growth.

“The YMCA of San Francisco firmly believes that providing quality youth programs means having a strong workforce that not only understands the ‘what’ that is being taught, but also embodies the ‘how’ it is being taught,” says Maybelle Miranda, Senior Director of STEM Initiatives. “The thought processes of asking questions, defining problems, communicating ideas, or arguing through discourse are the bedrock of skills the high school program instills in its young people, preparing youth to take on and solve bigger problems.”

Teacher training: Teach For America-Bay Area

Improving K–12 education starts with providing teachers the skills and training needed for new and emerging pedagogy. Teach For America (TFA), founded in 1990, plays a key role in fueling the pipeline of K-12 educators, providing a diverse corps of emerging teachers with two years of transformative training and experience in underserved communities. TFA embraces a dual mission of preparing teachers both to advance individual student achievement and to improve the education system overall.

As the landscape of K–12 education continues to evolve, TFA has found that corps members and alumni must orient toward collective leadership, putting into practice the idea that coalitions of leaders can accelerate change.

TFA-Bay Area has created a capstone project for second-year teachers to develop the leadership and collaboration skills needed to address classroom, school-wide, and system-wide challenges. They will pilot “Innovation Collaboratives” to foster higher-order leadership skills, bringing second-year corps members together for design boot camps to apply human-centered design to address complex challenges. Participants will design and prototype new approaches to student success, which helps teachers hone 21st century skills, including problem solving, collective action, collaboration, and critical thinking—skills the teachers must master themselves in order to teach them to their students.

“We believe our corps members come to us with an incredible ability to be creative and think outside the box,” says Samir Bolar, Chief Impact Officer at Teach For America. “The Innovation Collaborative provides an outlet to apply their creativity to teaching and learning, and we hope this experience makes a significant impact in their classroom, and also ignites a desire to stay in education and apply their creativity toward solving complex challenges in this work over the long term.”

Skills and opportunity building: Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco

Many of the academic obstacles for youth from marginalized communities stem from external factors that make learning more difficult—food insecurity, housing instability, violence, and trauma. The Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco’s (BGCSF) academic programming provides guidance and encouragement that young people need to succeed academically and graduate from high school with a plan for the future.

The Club has begun working in schools to provide support directly where students spend their days. A pilot program with Gateway High School, a charter school in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood, allows BGCSF to meet youth where they are, addressing students’ various social, emotional, and mental health needs in context so they can stay on track academically.

When students feel connected to school, they are more likely to stay in school and to feel like a part of their community. The program provides wrap-around support, offering students supportive and pro-social experiences during class time, free periods, and after school.

Unique to the model is the year-round support BGCSF provides even when Gateway isn’t open. The nearby Don Fisher Clubhouse is open during the summer and on holidays when Gateway and most schools are closed. The Clubhouse provides a positive space for students to stay engaged with their community and access resources such as sports leagues, college tours, academic enrichment, summer camps, SAT prep, and behavioral health services. This pilot will be used as a model for other school partnerships in San Francisco as well as for the Boys & Girls Clubs network nationwide.

Education reform policy: The Hoover Institution

Research shows that the US continues to fall behind the rest of the world in basic proficiency in mathematics and reading. The need for systemic education reform is clear, and over the past two decades, a vast amount of research into K–12 education reform has been conducted. Many experts feel the research findings have not yet found their appropriate audience.

The Hoover Institution has developed a pilot project to elevate the visibility and influence of scientific evidence in state education decisions. The Hoover Educational Success Initiative is designed to bring evidence-based research to the forefront of policy decision-making, tailored to today’s policy and political environment.

To accomplish this, Hoover will bring together a diverse group of scholars and K–12 experts from around the country to consolidate existing and emerging evidence, and then strategically disseminate it to state and local policy makers. Through research symposia and seminars, scholars will meet to present white papers; discuss current research and policy alternatives; and cultivate relationships with state policy leaders to encourage reform.

“Education policy is largely made at the state level, so influencing policy requires new approaches,” said Eric Hanushek, Hoover’s Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow in Education. “The Hoover Educational Success Initiative is seeking to develop new paths by which the best education research can be featured in the state policy debates. Through regular interactions between national scholars and state policy leaders, we hope to ignite a policy revolution that leaves our students (and our nation) better off.”