What We Do

K-12 Education

Strategy Overview


Students, like this 8th grade social studies class in Chicago, need safe, nurturing learning environments where they are equipped to meet high standards.

our goal:

Significantly increase the number of black, Latino, and low-income students who earn a diploma, enroll in a postsecondary institution, and are on track in their first year to obtain a credential with labor-market value.

The Challenge

At A Glance

A great K-12 education is a proven path to social mobility and economic prosperity, and a bridge to opportunity.

Over the past decade, tremendous gains have been made in U.S. education, but more must be done. Progress hasn’t come fast enough for many students, especially for black, Latino, and low-income students.

The foundation works alongside grantees and other partners, teachers, and education leaders to ensure all students have access to a high-quality public education, and to help more students graduate from high school with the skills they need to enroll, succeed in, and complete college.

Our K-12 strategy is led by Bob Hughes, director, and is part of the foundation’s United States Division.

To learn more about our approach and strategy:

Thanks to the leadership of educators, policymakers, and others who also recognize the value of a quality K-12 education, tremendous gains have been made in U.S. education over the past decade. High school graduation rates have gone up and achievement is also on the rise: In the past ten years, fourth-grade reading and math scores in large city schools increased at almost double the rate of public schools nationally, and 8th grade scores are even better.

Despite this progress, graduation rates for black, Latino, and low-income students lag behind the national average and are lower than the rates for white students. The percentage of high school graduates who have enrolled in postsecondary institutions has remained flat.

The Opportunity

We have learned a lot over the years – both from the field and from our own investments – about the challenges of improving student outcomes.

Based on our learnings from the field, we know that students stand the greatest chance of meeting higher standards and crossing the bridge to opportunity when two things come together in their school: 1) Teachers have standards-aligned instructional materials, real-time assessments for gauging student progress, and in-school learning and leadership opportunities; 2) Principals have support to create an environment that empowers leadership in all areas of the school to regularly use data to continuously improve the supports, instruction, and learning students experience. Our work in K-12 seeks to build on these lessons and the school-based practices that support students, teachers, and principals.

We envision a public education system that expands opportunity for all students – but particularly for students in low-income communities and students of color – and allows them to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the workplace. The goal remains to ensure all students receive a K-12 education that equips them to succeed in college or career training program since a high-quality education is a proven path to prosperity and participation in the American Dream.

Our Strategy

We know we can accomplish so much more for our students. In the United States, a high-quality public education is a bridge to opportunity—particularly when it comes to good jobs and career paths, social mobility, and personal growth and fulfilment. Our K-12 strategy is driven by a direct focus on schools because that’s where the action of teaching and learning happens. Excellent schools—led by leaders who focus on continuous improvement grounded in data and evidence—are what help students succeed most.

Our grantmaking supports schools in their work to improve student outcomes, particularly for black, Latino, and low-income students, by partnering with middle and high schools and identifying new, effective approaches that can be replicated in other schools.

We do this by investing in networks of schools to solve common problems using evidence-based interventions and data-driven approaches to support continuous learning. We invest in ensuring that teachers and leaders have what they need to be successful—high-quality preparation, standards-aligned curriculum and tools, and professional learning opportunities. Throughout this, we keep our eyes on the horizon, advancing research and development in support of new innovations that will help our education system keep pace with our rapidly changing world.


To ensure that schools are set up for success and that teachers and leaders have what they need to help their students excel, we focus on seven priorities:

Networks for School Improvement
We invest in partnerships between networks of schools and school support organizations that work together to solve common problems by using evidence-based interventions that best fit their needs. These networks also use continuous learning approaches that are driven by data—where schools use data to identify a problem, select a strategy to address the problem, set a target for improvement, and iterate to make the approach more effective and improve student achievement.

Educator Preparation
The need to train new, effective teachers and leaders is particularly pronounced in communities and schools that serve black, Latino, and low-income students. We support organizations and programs that prepare teachers and school leaders to better serve low-income students and students of color.

High-Quality Charter Schools
We want to expand the number of high-quality public charter schools, with a specific focus on improving outcomes for students with disabilities, including special needs students. We identify the most effective approaches to help greater numbers of students with disabilities achieve their educational goals, and we hope to see these approaches shared with other charter schools and beyond.

Aligned-Instructional Materials
We work with partners in the field so that middle and high school teachers have access to high-quality, aligned curriculum choices in English, math, and science. Our investments focus on improving students’ high school to postsecondary math readiness through the development of new high school math curriculum and the development and implementation of a middle school science curriculum.

Social Emotional Learning
We invest in building the evidence base for social and emotional learning and in expanding the field’s knowledge of adolescent development. We translate these research findings into tools and best practices, and help spread that knowledge and those practices.

Stronger Pathways
We support efforts to help more students make a successful transition from high school to postsecondary education and career-training programs. Our goal is to expand the evidence base and validate exemplars of interventions that support students to access, enroll in, and transition to postsecondary programs.

Big Bets in Innovation
We advance research and development in education technology and learning science to accelerate progress for underserved students. We are also interested in solutions that dramatically increase the number of black, Latino, and low-income high school students who have access to technology and engineering coursework, as well as credential-based pathways that give them access to good jobs.


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