Giving Compass' Take:

• Carolyn Phenicie shares early learnings from the Gates Foundations' efforts to use data to identify the root causes of educational inequity. 

• How can funders learn from this effort and other attempts? What does educational inequity look like in your community? 

• Learn about comprehensive strategies for promoting educational equity

A$93 million investment by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in networks aiming to help struggling schools is running up against early challenges involving the use of data and identifying the root causes of school inequity.

In addition to those challenges, a report outlines how the philanthropic juggernaut will continue to evaluate the results of its investment in the nonprofits, universities, charter schools and other third-party organizations working to improve networks of middle and high schools. The report’s publication coincides with a day-long event in the Washington, D.C., area Tuesday in which grant recipients will meet to further discuss the first-year results.

On data, schools in networks served by the Gates grantees need help both in looking beyond sources like traditional outcome and accountability measures, and in weeding through the vast amount of information they already have, according to the foundation.

Other helpful data include student information like attendance changes, course taking or college applications, or information gleaned from focus groups with students and families. But, the report cautions, “schools can find the amount of available data overwhelming. This can result in not knowing how to draw meaning from the data or have it inform their strategies.”

One unnamed grant recipient, for instance, is addressing these concerns by pairing student administrative data with information gleaned from surveys. One way it is doing that is by examining the rates at which students apply for financial aid alongside data on students’ knowledge of the topic.

Other early lessons and trends from the first year of grant implementation include:

  • Networks are starting to incorporate student voice in their models.
  • Alignment with school district goals is crucial, and grant recipients should hold routine check-ins with district leaders who are not directly involved with the projects.
  • Schools where the principal or another senior school leader “has strong buy-in and foundational knowledge” of continuous improvement and “regularly engages in the work” are more likely to use the model.

Read the full article about early learnings by Carolyn Phenicie at The 74.