OVERVIEW: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made a commitment to education. The foundation has the broad goal of supporting K-12 students' academic success and college readiness - especially for those from minority and low-income communities - and has poured education funding into the development of resources, research, and teacher training. Unsolicited applications and letters of inquiry are generally not accepted, but RFPs are announced on the foundation's website as they become available.
IP TAKE: Gates has offered a great deal of support by way of providing grants for research and resource development around academic standards, particularly the Common Core. K-12 grantseekers should focus on its College-Ready Education program, which emphasizes personalized learning, high academic standards, a close bond between teacher and student, and opportunities for teacher collaboration and information sharing.
PROFILE: Founded by technology icon Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, the Gates Foundation's massive scope is based on the simple premise "that all lives have equal value." The foundation therefore seeks "to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live." Internationally, the foundation focuses on less industrialized countries with the goal of "improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty." Its U.S. Program, meanwhile, is focused on education-related issues with the goal of providing all people (particularly those with limited means) "access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life."
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's primary interest in K-12 education is to help ensure that students graduate high school and enter college as academically prepared as possible. This goal is rooted in three fundamental beliefs: that at "the heart of learning is the connection between teachers and students," that "high college and career ready standards" allow more clarity for "teachers, students, and parents," and that fostering students' "joy of learning" depends heavily on "personalized learning experiences" that cater to their particular interests.
To that end, Gates offers K-12 grants out of its College-Ready Education program. The foundation aims to improve upon the current state of the U.S. education system through innovative strategies and standards in learning. Its three main areas of focus are:
- Teaching. The foundation supports efforts toward fair and thorough teacher feedback with the goal of identifying areas in need of improvement as well as areas of success.
- Learning. Gates takes aim at the Common Core becoming “part of the fabric of schools around the country.” The foundation supports classroom material development efforts that not only deepen the students learning and understanding of key Common Core concepts, but also those that help teachers and students work together to facilitate critical thinking skills rather “rote memorization.”
- Innovation. The foundation supports efforts that use technology and “new generation(s) of courseware that adapts in sophisticated ways to students’ learning needs.” Gates also supports “game-based learning that generates rich data about students’ progress and challenges them with exactly what they need to learn next.”
There is also Shared Learning, a section of the College Readiness site that features "reports, white papers, case studies, videos, podcasts, and other research-based materials that highlight the work of our grantees and partners, as well as trends throughout K-12 education."
In light of these focus areas Gates' recent K-12 grants have toggled between education reform policy advocacy and the development and expansion of high-quality education opportunities, especially in traditionally underserved communities. The College Ready Education program works hand-in-hand with the foundation's Post-Secondary Success program, and the foundation also offers significant support for efforts in Early Learning. In addition to highlighting a selected group of featured K-12 partners, the foundation also provides a searchable database of past College Ready grantees. It's also worth taking a look at the College Ready Education section of the foundation's Impatient Optimists blog.
Unsurprisingly, competition for Gates's College Ready Education grants is heavy, and many grantees are large, national organizations. The foundation is not currently accepting unsolicited LOIs for its College Ready Education program, however it does announce RFPs on its website as they become available.
- Vicki Phillips, Director of Education, U.S. Program (until December 2015)