Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NEA Foundation Awards $1.12 M to Close Gaps

Ground-breaking Work in Two Districts, Two States Continues; More to be Funded in 2010

WASHINGTON, DCThe NEA Foundation announced today that it is funding $1.12 million for projects in Milwaukee, Wis., Seattle, Wash., Connecticut, and rural Ohio.  These projects are all part of the Foundation’s signature Closing the  Achievement Gaps Initiative, a set of ground breaking union-district partnerships collaborating to develop and implement comprehensive, sustainable approaches to close the achievement gaps and advance academic achievement.

“We believe these projects show great promise,” said Harriet Sanford, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “Although each project is dealing with different challenges, the approach is the same: collaboration that is grounded in research on best practices, driven by educators, supported by the community, and focused on improving student performance and creating sustainable systemic reform.”

The Foundation awarded $591,000 to a partnership of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and the Milwaukee Public Schools to develop deep professional learning communities, align professional development, and implement university-school partnerships to conduct action research on critical issues at individual schools. The district’s 20 lowest performing schools, which were selected to participate in the Foundation’s initiative, are predominantly African American and low-income, with an exceptionally high enrollment of Special Education students. 

“Despite many challenges, including continuing budget shortfalls, and an uncertain political situation, Milwaukee is making steady process.  This is due largely to the productive collaboration among the association and district leadership working together to build an infrastructure to ensure deep and sustainable reform that will improve educational outcomes for its neediest children,” Sanford said. “And we are seeing positive results. As of September, eight of the schools are no longer designated as Schools Identified for Improvement: an important step."

The Foundation awarded a $250,000 grant to the Seattle Education Association and the Seattle Public Schools to support their continued work on the Flight Schools Initiative. This effort developed out of the collective bargaining agreement between the Seattle Education Association and the Seattle Public Schools.  Working through a structure of feeder patterns of elementary, middle and high schools, the purpose is to re-energize ownership and achievement for neighborhood schools. 

“There has been some progress in improving achievement in Seattle, with a narrowing of the gaps in both reading and math,” Sanford said. “The home visits conducted by educators in our funded schools have become a powerful way to better understand the home culture of students in this ethnically-diverse community, so that instruction can be more relevant to their needs.  The visits also strengthen the relationship between home and school.” 

Similar to all of the Foundation’s Gaps sites, the Seattle partnership works to improve alignment of curriculum and assessments and to build professional learning communities across schools.

The Foundation awarded a second year, $250,000 research grant to the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education to support the ongoing evaluation of the CommPACT Schools Initiative.  “Our funding allows the Foundation to leverage its impact in additional Gaps sites and across a state,” Sanford said.  “It also enables the Foundation to collaborate on a common research agenda, which increases our access and contribution to new knowledge related to closing the achievement gaps.”

In its second year, the Connecticut research initiative will focus on: academic achievement, union relationships, organizational behavior, and school culture.

In Appalachian Ohio, the Foundation awarded a $25,000 sustainability grant to support organizational capacity to build deeper partnerships with statewide policy and advocacy as well as potential funding partners to support two of the state’s poorest and lowest rural districts.

“We believe that this is an important opportunity to maintain a knowledge portal into rural teaching and learning,” Sanford said.  “In addition, this work is getting results. Over the past three years, Foundation funded districts have developed professional learning communities to promote student learning and to set clear academic goals based on student achievement data. At least 75 percent of students are now meeting Ohio standards in reading and math and they have established a system of data collection and analysis to help them monitor their progress.”

Based on the success of this work, the NEA Foundation will fund three new sites in 2010.

About The NEA Foundation
The NEA Foundation is a public charity supported by contributions from educators' dues, corporate sponsors, and others who support public education initiatives.We partner with education unions, districts, and communities to create powerful, sustainable improvements in teaching and learning. Visit www.neafoundation.org for more information. Find us on Facebook and Twitter, and visit our blog.

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