Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Awards Post-Secondary Grants

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced $9 million worth of grants to support innovators in postsecondary education. $3.3 million of this money went to Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) to fund four distinct breakthrough postsecondary models. Michael Horn, writing in Forbes, reports that the Foundation has also granted an additional $1.2 million (not included in the $9 million postsecondary awards) to NGLC for its Wave III program to find secondary schools use of blended learning.

Horn is a reviewer for the NGLC secondary school models and is impressed by the student centric ground breaking designs that he has been seeing:

As Andy Calkins, deputy director of NGLC said in an email to me, “These attributes [of blended learning] are starting to be commonly understood to be the hallmarks of next generation learning, at least among those keeping their eye on trends in the unfolding future of K-12 education.”

Horn does however note that implementation matters and how well schools’ plans are executed has still to be some. Some of the school models open in the coming fall and some are scheduled to launch in 2013. Until then it won’t be known how successful the plans actually are, or how well they scale.

Calkins suggests that more thought and creativity is still needed here. The applicants are, in his words, creating great working models of blended learning 2.0 schools, but NGLC is more than just about creating a series of proof points, as it is focused on helping the models it funds scale aggressively.

Grant winners include: Academy 21 in Vermont which focuses on a rural community; Cornerstone Charter Schools in Michigan; Da Vinci Schools in California; Education Achievement Authority in Michigan; Match Education in Massachusetts, which is using the grant for technology to increase the quality of its one on one tutoring; Schools for the Future in Michigan, which will rescue students who are significantly below grade level; and Venture Academies in Minnesota, a new charter with an emphasis on accelerated college credit attainment.

Grants in the postsecondary area include: MyCollege Foundation, which establishes a non-profit low-cost college taking advantage of adaptive online learning solutions; University of the People, a tuition free online academic institution; New Charter University; Southern New Hampshire University; and MIT, where the grant will be used to create a free online computer science course prototype for edX.

As with the secondary-school models, the proof in many of these cases is yet to come, but it is exciting to see a foundation step up and take some risks to reinvent learning to create dramatically better and lower-cost learning experiences for all students.