K-12 Education Session Recaps

The Philanthropy Roundtable's Education Program is the leading producer of events, strategy sessions, and informational resources for a national network of donors who are dedicated to boosting underserved student outcomes and strengthening America’s education system. Below is the full recap of education sessions from the 2020 Annual Meeting.

K-12 Education: Deciphering the True Challenges of Teaching Literacy

For too many schools, teaching literacy has proven to be more of a stumbling block than a building block for all other forms of learning, reflected in stagnant NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores and other year-to-year growth measures.

British Robinson of the Barbara Bush Foundation offered a statistic that provided context for the state of literacy in America, pointing out that “54 percent of Americans aged 16 to 74 struggle with literacy today... If the child is a struggling reader, then the parent is most likely a struggling reader. We need to approach the problem from a multigenerational perspective.”

Tom Dillon, co-founder and co-CEO at The Literacy Lab, discussed how donors can effectively identify and scale high-quality teaching strategies and curricular resources to reach more kids at a systemic level. He explained, “The good news is that we know how to teach kids how to read through evidence-based practices... The challenge in literacy is not what to do, but a question of implementation and execution.”

Cancel Culture: How to Protect Charter and Autonomous Schools

The prevalence of “cancel culture” is perhaps most harmful and consequential in classrooms where students are deterred from freely exchanging ideas and perspectives with their peers. Now, the Trojan horse of cancel culture and “wokeness” is at the door of the education-reform movement, threatening the charter and choice-based schools that donors have tirelessly supported to give students opportunities they would not have otherwise.

In this panel discussion, Steven Wilson, senior fellow at Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, and Max Eden, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, examined the ways donors can ensure that students are still able to think for themselves and have honest conversations.

As a precautionary measure and a way to ensure diversity of thought, Wilson encouraged parents and donors to engage with charter school founders and board members and learn more about the school curriculum. Wilson said, “If curriculum reflects only one perspective, that not okay."

K-12 Education: Reopening Schools: Adapting and Advancing in a Time of Uncertainty

Amid school closures, transitions to distance learning, and disruption of student and family services during COVID-19, many educators have risen to the occasion to maintain academic rigor while preventing learning loss and planning for reopening schools.

Jon Rybka, CEO of RePublic Schools, explained that COVID-19 has impacted the ways parents are engaging in education. “Parents, whether they want to or not, are more involved and more savvy than ever before in terms of knowing what their schools are doing—good and bad—for the education of their child,” he said, adding that there is an opportunity for more education innovations in the future and that philanthropy can fuel that potential by monitoring the larger political trends.

Microschools—one example of a disruptive educational model—are not new, but they have gained more media attention since COVID-19 hit the world. “We do background checks, vetting, operation and training, and then send new teachers the supplies,” Kelly Smith, CEO of Prenda, explained. “We train them how to do it, we give them software and equip them, so they are able to step in and deliver a state-of-the-art learning environment.”

Rybka finished the session by saying parents are looking for highly customized education for their children, like learning pods and microschools. “I think the key to the next frontier of macrolevel education reform is understanding supply and demand and creating organizations to fulfill more customization and modulation that personalizes learning to that family and to their child.”

More event recaps by topic:

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Philanthropic Best Practices


Veterans & Foreign Policy