Gaulden: The 100G Evergreen National Education Prize Supports the People Who Support the Students. Application Deadline Is July 12


If we’re honest about the scale and scope of innovation in education, we have to admit that there is lots of talk and not enough action. Where there is significant risk-taking and success — like schools delivering outsize results to close the achievement gap or career training programs that propel students into high-quality jobs — educators tend to be protective of their secret sauce.

For those trying to modernize the way we deliver education in America, there seems to always be a fierce fight for limited resources. Is the solution in providing more money to support education innovators, or incentivizing innovators to share their expertise and experience more freely among others?

The answer is both. With the right balance of competition and collaboration, education entrepreneurs can earn the investment capital they need to turn student-focused ideas into reality while encouraging replication and innovation.

That is the belief of a new education funder — the Greenwald Family Foundation — that stepped onto the scene last year with the Evergreen National Education Prize. “Our hope is to highlight and reward the work of innovative and agile organizations changing the trajectory for low-income students,” said Jerry Greenwald, the founder and benefactor.

As a starting point, the foundation launched a competition to identify and grow exciting new programs that significantly boost lower-income 18-to-25-year-olds toward college and vocational school success. This includes a $100,000 prize for the program that best accomplishes this goal, as long as it is willing to share the strategies and tactics that led to its success.

The inaugural winner, Minneapolis-based College Possible, was selected for its intensive, research-backed curriculum, coaching and academic support to help students achieve postsecondary success.

College Possible’s flagship program includes 320 hours of afterschool programming for high school students in a supportive group of college-bound peers. Upon transitioning to college, students receive in-person or technology-based coaching. This intensive connection helps students access on-campus resources, tackle barriers, identify future opportunities and remain inspired and supported through graduation.

A three-year study found that students who complete the College Possible program are 20 percent more likely to enroll in college and four times as likely to complete a degree, compared with their peers.

Among the more than 70 applicants in 2018, College Possible stood out because of its proven track record of student success, plus its commitment to rigorous independent evaluation.

Now, applications are being taken for the 2019 prize through July 12 at www.EvergreenPrize.org. Applicants must be U.S.-based nonprofit or government organizations with a plan for scaling in the future, plus a willingness to share their model with others. Organizations must have an annual operating budget under $8 million, which reflects the foundation’s focus on helping new organizations grow.

In addition to the Greenwald Family Foundation, the Evergreen National Education Prize is supported by a steering committee and panel of judges, including representatives from the Kresge Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Facebook Education and the Aspen Institute.

“Our hope is that the Evergreen Prize will inspire and incentivize continuous improvement in the pathways we provide to students. We want each one to realize their full potential as agile, lifelong learners capable of succeeding in anything they decide to do,” said Tim Taylor, president of America Succeeds and a steering committee member. “We always encourage students to dream big. This competition is about supporting the people who support the students — because we need them to dream big too.”

Jason Gaulden is vice president of partnerships at America Succeeds, a national network of business leaders working to improve education policy and practice. He also leads the organization’s Age of Agility initiative, a campaign to modernize education-to-employment pathways for all students.

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