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Partnering with New Profit [Part 3 of 4]

2015-January 11
by Nick Randell, Program Officer

[Part 3 of a 4-part blog series on our introduction to the LD field]

In LD funding, Tower trustees have chosen to diversify our grantmaking portfolio with a pretty bold investment in field building and aligned action. We continue to make grants in our traditional funding regions, inviting proposals through annual cycles in the LD category. But we have also pushed our geographic boundaries, most notably through our partnership with New Profit. New Profit is a Boston-based agency that invests in innovative non-profits that have demonstrated particular promise and an entrepreneurial spirit. New Profit provides an infusion of capital and technical assistance that can help these agencies dramatically expand the reach of their programs and services.

Beginning in 2012, New Profit began to explore the development of a broad coalition of non-profits, academics, policy experts, and funders that would address the widespread failure to educate the 20% or so of young people that face significant learning challenges, be they diagnosed or not, neurologically determined, or exacerbated by poverty and trauma. The coalition represented an exciting opportunity to raise the profile of LD work, and Tower joined several of the private foundations working in the field (as well as a growing pool of individual donors) to support a long-term initiative. To date, about $30 million has been raised to support the work.  The collaborative is expected to remain a force for change for 5-7 years and possibly longer.

New Profit maintains a strong network of its own that positions it well to make an impact. It works closely with consultants from Monitor Deloitte that have expertise in knitting together and managing dynamic coalitions. It also has a DC public policy arm called America Forward, and even a relationship with a leading talent agency in Los Angeles. The latter will come in handy when it comes time to get celebrities with learning disabilities to tell their personal stories as part the culture change and public awareness dimension of the initiative.

Three times a year, the emerging network (the "domain" in New Profit's parlance) gets together for two days to deliver updates on the coalition work, bring new voices to the table, brainstorm new ideas, and solidify a platform and action plan. I've had the pleasure of joining Tracy Sawicki at these events for the last two years. They can be messy and draining, but there is no denying that the collective brainpower is formidable and the energy high.

In 2014, the coalition got a name:  Reimagine Learning. Incremental gains are fine, but there was a growing realization by the network that fairly revolutionary reimagining of the education landscape is in order. Classrooms need to be physically redesigned.  School districts should not be defined by how well most of their students do, but by how well the chronically underperforming kids do. Reimagine Learning created ad hoc work groups focusing on three key areas:  practice, policy, and cultural change. Three core beliefs emerged from the earliest convenings:

  • There is no such thing as the "average learner." Instructional approaches in optimal learning environments should be personalized to identify and meet the differing talents and needs - or variability - of every child.

  • The development of both cognitive and social-emotional skills is important. The best learning environments recognize that they are inextricably linked and together drive academic performance, well-being, and life success.

  • Student should be engaged and in control of their own learning, harnessing and strengthening their own self agency and voice.

I'll wrap up this blog entry here. Partnering with New Profit (Cont.) [Part 4 of our 4-part blog series on LD] will pick up the conversation with a discussion of what has been accomplished to date and more on the Tower Foundation's perspective on the work.

Photo by Julie Wilson

Flickr:  Author Self-Promo: Common Sense and Secret Handshakes | 5169504538
Creative Commons 2.0 Licensed

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