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Blended Learning Models Win Gates Funding

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A new wave of school models have been awarded a total of $5.4 million in grants from Next Generation Learning Challenges, a competition funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote college readiness and completion, and education technology.

This is the final set of winners for the third wave of the competition, which began in 2010 as the Gates Foundation's first foray into funding education technology in several years. Previous waves of funding focused on innovative K-12 and higher education school models and companies, and the latest wave focuses on blended learning. Wednesday's announcement of 13 new grants brings the total of "Wave III" winners to 30, 20 of which are from grades 6-12 (a full list can be found here). Overall, NGLC has awarded $30 million in grants to 78 entities.

Secondary education winners receive $150,000 in planning grants and are eligible for up to $300,000 each in additional grants that must be matched.

"They are designing schools and college-level learning pathways that would be unrecognizable to students (and faculty) of thirty, or sixty, or ninety years ago," wrote Andy Calkins, the deputy director of the Next Generation Learning Challenges, which are run by Educause, the technology advocacy group.

The newest secondary winners are (you can read more about them here):

Aspire Public Schools, Memphis, Tenn. — The grant will help the network of charter schools open a K-8 blended learning school that focuses on science and math curriculum, as well as computer programming, one of two schools Aspire will open as part of Tennessee's Achievement School District. The district aims to turn around the state's poorest performing schools and is run by Chris Barbic, the former founder of YES Prep, the Houston-based charter school organization.

Fayette County Public Schools, Lexington, Ky. — In partnership with the University of Kentucky, Fayette plans to open a STEAM Academy that will provide personalized learning and award credits based on mastery of content and production of an e-portfolio. The university will train teachers on approaches for using education technology and project-based learning.

Foundations College Prep, Chicago — This is a new charter school management organization looking to open a 6-12 school focused on university-style academic environments and skills. Instruction will be differentiated and led by a varied mix of resident and master teachers.

Generation Schools Network, Denver — This fall, Generation Schools Network opened West Generation Academy, under the nonprofit organization's school turnaround model. Through a partnership with Denver Public Schools, school days and school years are longer, class sizes are smaller, and students have 75-minute classes that incorporate digital learning and small group work.

Horry County Public Schools, Myrtle Beach, S.C. — The funding will help the district turn around Whittemore Park Middle School by using a competency-based approach to learning where students take classes based on skill level. Courses will have an online component students can access from home.

Intrinsic Schools, Chicago — Funding will help open a charter school that will split students' days between humanities and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math instruction, with classes held in large, open spaces conducive to both group and individual work with electronic devices.

Matchbook Learning, Tennessee — Matchbook is a national school turnaround management organization looking next year to turn around an unspecified low-performing middle school in Tennessee's Achievement district. Partnering with Education Elements, a blended learning consulting company, Matchbook's model includes online curriculum and professional development on academic data analysis.

As you can see, the winners are heavy on charter schools, with 13 of 20 overall grants in Wave III going toward charters. Despite those numbers, Gates' charter school funding dropped significantly in recent years, according to an analysis of its tax filings by Ken Libby, a doctorate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, though the foundation is still seen as a major proponent of the model. One K-12 grant in the first two waves of winners went to a public agency, the Louisiana Department of Education; the rest were awarded to companies, organizations, and programs.

Geographically, multiple grants went to Chicago and Tennessee, two places where school turnarounds, charter schools, and virtual education are popular and controversial. One of the NGLC's goals, however, is to create what amounts to a network of varied school models that can learn from one another, regardless of operators' tax status.

Many of the people leading those models will be getting together this weekend in New Orleans at iNACOL's Virtual School Symposium.

There are also 20-25 minute videos with a slideshow outline of each winners' plans. Here's one for Fayette County schools:

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that one public agency was awarded a grant in the first two waves of the Next Generation Learning Challenges.

(The Gates Foundation also provides funding for Editorial Projects in Education, the publisher of Education Week.)

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