The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation led a recent set of grants, totaling $9.1 million, to expand the reach of a teacher prep center housed at Texas Tech University. The University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation National Center (US PREP) works with education schools at other universities to design and support effective programs.
The gift, of which the Gates Foundation contributed $7.2 million, was a continuation of a program that the funder launched in 2015 to support teacher prep centers. Back then, the foundation committed nearly $35 million to five new teacher preparation centers, including this one, over the course of three years. In that round of grants, the foundation invested in a diverse range of approaches to teacher preparation and training, framing the effort partly as a learning expedition. "We know that having an excellent teacher is critical to a student’s success, but there is still much to learn about how to best prepare teacher candidates to be successful in the classroom," said a Gates executive at the time, adding that a goal of the grants is "to better understand which practices are the most effective in preparing new teachers.”
Clearly, the Gates Foundation has been impressed with US PREP. Other funders also like this outfit. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation, Raise Your Hand Texas, and the Silver Giving Foundation joined Gates on the grant, which will allow US PREP to double the number of schools it partners with.
At the moment, the teaching center’s partners are concentrated in the South and Midwest, specifically Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. The grants will add two schools in California, three in New York and three more in Texas, extending the center’s reach from coast to coast.
US PREP picked schools in those states in part because they hold some of the country’s largest school districts.
Schools that partner with US PREP share several objectives, including preparing teachers to meet the needs of all students, especially historically underserved students, and using data to support continuous improvement. Partner schools must also have strong relationships with local pre-K-12 schools.
Previously, Gates highlighted the student teaching experience offered by US PREP, which significantly tops that of other teacher prep programs.
The center also places a big emphasis on preparing teachers for diverse classrooms and on bringing more diversity to the profession’s talent pipeline. There’s a large body of evidence that speaks to the need for more racial diversity among teachers. Research shows that education outcomes improve when kids are taught by teachers who look like them and share their experiences. In short, schools need more teachers of color.
Fixing this disparity isn’t a totally new area for foundations. Several are already involved in this kind of work. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in particular, is well regarded for its work in this area, while diversifying the ranks of educators has lately been a big focus of the NewSchools Venture Fund.
The Gates Foundation has frequently made news—and drawn criticism—for funding work to make teachers more effective, particularly its push on teacher evaluation. Between 2009 and 2016, Gates poured more than $212 million into its Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative, which aimed to improve student achievement through greater access to effective teachers. Yet according to a 500-plus page study released in late June by the RAND Corporation, the initiative failed to improve student graduation rates, the effectiveness of teachers, or retention of the most effective teachers.
The results weren’t a surprise to Bill Gates, who told the Council of the Great City Schools last fall that the funder would no longer invest directly in teacher evaluation, but would continue to gather data on such systems and encourage the use of these tools to help teachers improve. The foundation’s sizable investment in teacher prep shows that it also sees other pathways to creating and nurturing great teachers.
It will be interesting to see how this work evolves over time, what other groups get big funding, and how Gates’ teacher prep grantmaking syncs up with other elements of its K-12 work—especially its support of local networks of schools, which is now a cornerstone of the foundation’s education strategy.