Education Week - May 16, 2018 - 6
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS > TRACKING NEWS AND IDEAS IN EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY
Gates, Zuckerberg Team Up to Craft New Ideas for Schools
Better teaching, tech
are high priorities
By Benjamin Herold
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg
Initiative are teaming up on a new
research and development initiative aimed at identifying "state of
the art" educational strategies and
bringing them to the classroom.
The focus is on spurring development of new measures, new
ways of teaching, and new technologies for tracking and supporting students' writing ability, math
skills, and "executive functions,"
such as self-control and attention.
In a Request for Information released last week, the groups write
that researchers from fields as diverse as education, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and technology are
generating exciting new ideas about
how people actually learn-but that
information "has not yet been translated effectively into methods and
tools for teachers and students to use
in the classroom every day."
Such "research insights must inform ongoing development of tools
and instructional approaches that
will enable students to overcome
math, literacy, and other learning
challenges and at scale, in order
to reach millions, if not billions, of
students," the document says.
Reactions about the new partnership ranged from cautious enthusiasm to critical skepticism.
"In general, I think the growing
attention to the potential value
of ensuring that educators both
know, and can apply, principles
of learning science in practice
is something to celebrate," said
Benjamin Riley, the executive director of the nonprofit Deans for
Impact, which seeks to improve
teacher preparation, in part through
grounding such work in rigorous research and scientific evidence.
"The key," Riley said, "is making
sure that 'learning science' doesn't
get co-opted to mean 'misinterpreting research to support preconceived
notions about what the education
system ought to look like.' "
and sources, identifying support for
a key idea or process, clear and evocative argument-making-are frequently cited as 21st-century skills
in high demand by employers," the
RFI says. "Yet, the majority of high
school graduates are not prepared
for the demands of postsecondary
and workplace writing."
Among the areas where the groups
hope to generate improvements:
related mindsets. Here, the language of the personalized-learning
movement, which both Gates and
CZI support, is clear: Promising approaches already exist that "help
teachers to address individual students' needs by mirroring the same
personalized approaches used by the
best 1:1 tutors," the document says.
"Highly personalized-learning experiences and tools have the potential
The key is making sure 'learning science'
doesn't get co-opted to mean 'misinterpreting
research to support preconceived notions about
what the education system ought to look like.' "
Executive Director, Deans for Impact
Writing, Math, 'Executive Function'
The focus of the new efforts is on
identifying promising new developments and ideas in three main areas:
* Improving students' writing, especially nonfiction. "The skills connected to writing-evaluation of arguments and evidence, critical and
creative thinking about solutions
comprehensive writing solutions,
new metrics for measuring student
progress and proficiency in writing,
and new tools to promote more collaboration and better feedback.
* Improving students' mathematical understanding, application, and
FroM Educ Ation W EEk Pr Ess
Author Gary Marx
6 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 16, 2018 | www.edweek.org
to analyze student responses to understand barriers to student learning, provide immediate feedback,
and apply immediate and effective remediation to students when
Among other things, the groups
are specifically looking for tools that
can further personalize math instruction via a focus on the "whole
student"-including children's mindsets, beliefs, attention, and "affective" or emotional states.
* Measuring and improving students' executive function. "Student
success in academics and in future
careers is associated with their ability to wrestle with multiple ideas at
once, think flexibly, and regulate their
action and thoughts," the RFI says.
"There is much to be done to track
and improve students' progress on
[executive function] development and
connect it to real-world benefits, especially for those who are most at risk."
Areas of focus here include advances in techniques for tracking
children's development of these
skills and abilities, interventions
programs in or outside of school")
designed to improve desired behaviors, and supports for teachers.
The Gates Foundation is a traditional charitable foundation,
chaired by Microsoft founder Bill
Gates. Over the past decade-plus,
the group has dedicated hundreds
of millions of dollars a year to such
education-related causes as promoting small high schools, changing the way teachers are evaluated,
and supporting development of the
Common Core State Standards. In
October, the Gates Foundation announced a strategic shift in focus,
including a new emphasis on "locally-driven solutions" and "innovative research." (Education Week
receives financial support from the
Gates Foundation for coverage of
in education and has received grant
funding in the past for coverage of
college- and career-ready-standards
implementation. Education Week retains sole editorial control.)
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative,
meanwhile, is a newer entity, founded
and led by Facebook CEO Mark
Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician
Priscilla Chan. Structured as a limited-liability corporation, CZI is free
to make charitable donations, invest
in for-profit companies, and engage in
political lobbying and advocacy, with
minimal disclosure requirements.
The venture-philanthropy group has
announced that it will give hundreds
of millions of dollars annually to support a vision of "whole-child personalized learning" that aims to customize
each child's educational experience
based on academic, social, emotional,
and physical strengths, needs, and
Last June, the two groups announced their first substantive collaboration: a $12 million joint award
to an intermediary organization
known as New Profit, which supports organizations working to promote personalized learning.
In their new Request for Information, the Gates Foundation and CZI
said that technology is not the focus
of what they hope to spur, but it is
expected to play a role.
The groups also emphasized that
their new plan is currently in draft
stage. Individuals, nonprofit groups,
universities, private companies, and
government-sponsored labs are invited to respond, with the expectation that those groups' input will in
turn shape the foundations' funding
plans moving forward.
No decision has yet been made as to
how much money the groups will ultimately invest in the new R&D effort.
In an op-ed published in the
magazine Fast Company, CZI president of education Jim Shelton and
Gates Foundation director of K-12
education Bob Hughes described the
reason their groups joined forces on
this effort: "We believe the scope and
importance of this work exceeds
what any single organization can or
should undertake alone."
But the new collaboration between two of the most powerful
groups in education philanthropy
and venture funding also prompted
concerns from critics.
"I continue to be astounded that
these two multibillionaires are intent on 'reinventing' or 'redesigning'
American education, which is not
their area of expertise," education
scholar, blogger, and activist Diane
Ravitch wrote in an email to Education Week, "Other than being extremely wealthy, they have nothing
in their history that suggests they
know anything about teaching and