The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a new initiative aimed at supporting professional learning services that advance the implementation of high-quality core instructional materials.
Part of a larger portfolio of investments announced by the foundation in October 2017, the Professional Learning Partnerships program seeks to demonstrate that professional learning services can have an impact on student outcomes greater than that generated by the adoption of a high-quality curriculum alone and can offer a diverse range of services that have the potential for scale and sustainability independent of philanthropic support.
According to a request for proposals issued by the foundation, six to ten grants of up to $1 million over approximately two and a half years will be awarded to partnerships that include curriculum authors, professional learning service providers, and/or districts, intermediate units, and schools in one of five disciplinary segments: middle school mathematics, high school mathematics, middle school English language arts (ELA), high school ELA, and middle school science. The foundation is particularly interested in supporting service development and improvements in middle and high schools serving student populations that are at least 50 percent African American, Latino, emerging multilingual or English Learner-designated, and/or low-income in California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and North Carolina.
"We want to identify the content-specific professional development services, products, and models that are working really well for young people, and also study the attributes of those solutions that make them effective so we can share that learning with the field," Bob Hughes, the foundation's director of K-12 education, told Education Week.
Grantees selected through the RFP, which builds on the Gates Foundation's earlier support for the Common Core State Standards, will have to orient their teacher training around a curriculum with a high rating from EdReports.org, a Gates grantee that has received more than $15 million from the foundation since 2015. Grant funds awarded through the RFP will not support the development of new curricula, but instead are intended to be used to improve how teachers are taught to use and modify existing content that is aligned with state learning standards.
Education Week notes that the RFP comes as recent reports — including a number funded by the Gates Foundation — have concluded that teacher training falls short when focused on general teaching strategies rather than on how to use a specific curriculum.
"No [education] school has a course on assembling your curriculum on the Internet," said David Steiner, executive director of the Institute of Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University. "We have got to change the mind-set around curriculum, because that is damaging to kids, there's just no question. It's very, very difficult to create a coherent curriculum over months and years."