K-12 Teaching and Learning

A first-grade student helps a classmate work through a math assignment. Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

Overview

The promise of public education is that every student should have a meaningful opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are or where they come from. A rigorous education should encourage learners, prepare them to fulfill their own aspirations, and become engaged members of their communities and contributors to our democracy.

But, in the United States, our K-12 public education system — with more than 100,000 schools in 14,000 districts — is not designed for this purpose. Rooted in the industrial age, school has historically been a place where students are sorted into specific roles in society. The teacher covers a broad set of facts and subjects, and learners are encouraged to memorize these, follow instructions, and compete to give the correct answers. That’s why, in today’s polarized political environment, the public education system is struggling to provide solutions that work for everyone: whether it’s teachers, families, future employers, or higher education. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school shutdowns only highlighted the deep inequities and shortages that public education has been dealing with for decades.

Since 2010, Hewlett’s Education Program has been working to change this system. We make grants that promote the adoption of high-quality educational experiences in public schools and seek to realign the nation’s K-12 system around what we call “deeper learning” — learning that combines content mastery with skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, communications, and collaboration. We invest in approaches that center student success and collective experiences in schools because we know that when systems of learning center student identity and shared achievements, all of society benefits from the outcomes. Our goal is to transform what educational success looks like and how to measure it in American K-12 schools.

Strategy Components

1. School District Networks and Deep Dives

We make grants to transform what educational success looks like, and how to measure it, thereby incentivizing deeper learning at scale. We seek out and support educators and systems who are boldly leading the way, so that we can learn from them and spread more of what works.

We address this by supporting a cohort of districts around the country to learn from each other’s efforts and experiences with deeper learning as well as funding other networks of districts working on professional development for educators. Participants in the “deep dive” cohort are Akron and Cleveland in Ohio, Jackson in Mississippi, and Baltimore in Maryland. In addition, we provide funding for district networks that are aligned with our goals for transforming public education. In all our work with districts, we seek to build enduring relationships between and among educators, administrators, communities, and students. These groups work together to change their vision for local public education.

2. Educator Capacity

Learning is a shared experience in which all of us have a part to play and something to gain. If we are going to contribute to improving what and how students learn in school, it’s essential to create new examples of, and strategies for, high-quality educator preparation and development. But we can’t transform how we think about teaching without tackling the shortage of classroom teachers, the diversity of the workforce, and the requirements for teacher preparation. That’s why we support various efforts to address these labor dynamics in an increasingly fraught environment. We make grants to support research and policy recommendations on teacher preparation, the use of paraprofessionals in schools, and strengthening teacher professional development.

3. Student and Community Voice

Public education is about building the communities we all want to live in. And while education is deeply personal to every student and family, local contexts are crucial. That’s why Hewlett invests in a larger ecosystem that supports students, including educators, communities, advocacy groups, and young people, in addition to school districts themselves. We make grants that increase the influence of students, parents, and communities in decisions about teaching and learning. Our investments in student agency have transformed how civics and other subjects are taught, for and by learners, increased students’ sense of responsibility for their learning, amplified students’ voice and leadership in classroom instruction, and raised several opportunities to redefine what student success looks like in the 21st century.

Our Grantmaking

New Venture Fund
for support of the Campaign for Our Shared Future
United Way of Summit and Medina
for Summit Education Initiative’s student engagement efforts
Harvard University
for support of and learning from a community of practice focused on system transformation
George Mason University Foundation
for support of EdPolicyForward and CAHMP

Our Team

Kent McGuire 
Program Director
Dara Bevington
Dara Bevington 
Program Associate
Anna Knotek 
Program Associate
Melissa Lee
Melissa Lee 
Counsel
Natalie Mitchell-Bay 
Program Officer
Peter Rivera
Peter Rivera 
Program Officer
Nathan Warner 
Program Officer
Neha Singh Gohil
Neha Singh Gohil 
Communications Officer
 @nehasgohil

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