Salesforce Invests in STEM Education for SF, Oakland Schools

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Salesforce.org, the philanthropic foundation of cloud computing/customer relationship management company Salesforce.com, has announced it will donate $8.5 million to public schools in San Francisco and Oakland to enhance STEM curriculum. As the software company continues its four-year collaboration with the San Francisco Unified School District, $6 million will go to it and the rest — $2.5 million — will go to Oakland.

In addition to the funding, during the upcoming academic year, Salesforce employees will volunteer 20,000 hours in schools in San Francisco and Oakland, writes Antoinette Siu of EdSurge. Furthermore, the software giant is planning to adopt 26 schools in Bay area and 19 others around the globe during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Part of the funding will go into the Principals Innovation Fund, awarding $100,000 to 21 middle schools in Bay Area ad six principals in Oakland to meet school needs. As the official press release reads, both school districts will use the fresh capital to hire math and computer science middle school teachers, to purchase assistive technology for special education students, and to support college and career orientation programs. As a part of the multi-year agreement, Salesforce spent $22.5 million in total on accelerating computer training in middle schools.

Ebony Frelix, senior vice president of philanthropy at Salesforce.org, commented:

“We like to go beyond just writing the check. It is really about wrapping all our services — grants, people, and technology — around the institutions. Since our partnership with San Francisco Unified, we can take that playbook to other districts.”

According to Jill Tucker of the San Francisco Gate, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf commented that unlike many other tech sponsors, Salesforce.com executive Marc Benioff is not trying to blow up the system:

“He is investing in ideas and leaders that are here now, as a partner in scaling successful strategies, but also inviting innovation. We are fully aware that these types of philanthropic investments (don’t) last forever, but they can fuel innovation and prove the case for changing how we invest the taxpayers’ money.”

In the San Francisco area, the positive influence of Salesforce on education is growing. Earlier in 2015, the city school board passed a resolution to require computer science curriculum from pupils from kindergarten to students in high schools. Salesforce secured the funds for the newly-established STEM classes. The school district managed to hire 19 full-time math and technology teachers and reduced the class sizes for eighth-grade math from 33 to 24 per class on average. As a result, the grade point average of these students increased from 2.85 in the 2014-2015 academic year to 3.05 in the following year.

However, the benefits of the program for the tech workforce are still unclear. It will take several years before the middle school students who enrolled in the first Salesforce-funded classes graduate and enter the labor market. Furthermore, it will take even longer before a significant number of students graduate from these classes that the impact on employment can be measured.

Salesforce has been trying to broaden that pipeline as well by establishing a new part of its education program called Future Centers, notes Kate Conger of the TechCrunch. The aim of the Future Center is to connect students with businesses via college tours, career events, and on-the-job training that will give students an idea how it is like to work in tech.