For K-12 education funders across the country, blended learning continues to be a favorite project. The integration of technology into classroom instruction, coupled with a more personalized approach to education, makes blended learning irresistable to many innovation-minded funders, such as those in the tech industry. In that context, the recent $2 million gift from Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings to charter school operator Rocketship Education makes perfect sense.
Rocketship is a nonprofit chain of elementary charter schools that began in San Jose in 2007 before expanding into other areas. Rocketship now operates nearly a dozen charter schools in the Bay Area, Nashville and Milwaukee. Blended learning and personalized instruction for its students—sometimes referred to as "Rocketeers"—are at the heart of Rocketship's approach to education. Rocketship strives to serve mainly low-income areas with limited access to quality schools.
The gift from Hastings will anchor a $17 million fundraising effort to enhance its existing network of schools, as well as continue its expansion into other areas through the 2017-2018 school year. Rocketship's targeting of urban areas with histories of public school problems, such as Nashville and Milwaukee, suggest that the chain will identify similarly troubled areas for future schools. The charter operator's website states that Rocketship is scheduled to open a new school in Washington, D.C., in 2016.
For Hastings, the gift to Rocketship is consistent with his approach to education philanthropy. The Netflix CEO was an early supporter of Rocketship and has been a past supporter of charter schools. He provided start-up funding for the Aspire charter network and is a director of the KIPP Foundation. Hastings also spearheaded efforts to liberalize California's charter school law to allow more schools and he is a former president of the California State Board of Education. He's part of a growing cabal of tech funders who see technology as a key to improving schools, especially when deployed by charters.
Educational technology and personalized instruction make perfect sense for a man whose company has seemingly mastered the art of personalized recommendations of movies and television shows based on customers' tastes and previous selections. In addition to his support of Rocketship Education and its use of blended learning, Hastings has also supported nonprofit educational video producer Khan Academy.
It must be noted that there's still plenty of research needed on how effective blended learning really is, and we recently reported on a major grant by the Arnold Foundation to evaluate digital approaches to education. Clearly, though, the unanswered questions haven't stopped big funders from moving into this space.
In 2012, Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillen, signed the Giving Pledge. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this funder's education giving.
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