By Douglas Sams and Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, February 1, 2013
A new nonprofit organization backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that aims to transform American education is considering Atlanta for its headquarters.
The nonprofit, supported by the world’s largest philanthropic organization, would make Atlanta the center of a cohesive effort to accelerate student achievement in the United States by boosting personalized learning in schools.
The Gates Foundation is arguably the best-known philanthropic group in the world. It has a roughly $36 billion endowment and its leadership includes the high-profile founder of Microsoft Corp. and investor Warren Buffet. Based in Seattle, its mission includes helping people with the fewest resources gain access to a better education.
The newly formed nonprofit will use technology services designed to increase personalized learning in American classrooms and allow states, districts and schools to work more closely together.
The nonprofit has yet to be named. Its organizers have hired a commercial real estate brokerage to help it find office space in Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle has learned.
The new nonprofit emerged from an existing alliance of states, districts, nonprofits, foundations and companies known as the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) that believes personalized learning in the classroom accelerates student achievement. The Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York have been funding the SLC.
The SLC has a six-person advisory board, one of whose members is Michael Lomax, an Atlantan who is now president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund.
The SLC’s technology, already rolled out in various states, including New York, helps teachers access a vast array of educational materials more quickly and directs them to a particular student’s needs.
Last year, the SLC announced that a new nonprofit company would be formed to replace it, and technology veteran Iwan Streichenberger would lead it. Streichenberger lives in Atlanta.
Transforming American education is one of Bill Gates’ greatest passions.
On Jan. 8, results of a three-year study of education supported by the Gates Foundation were released. The study concluded there are observable and repeatable ways to measure teacher effectiveness and performance.
In a Jan. 26 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Gates wrote, “I think the most critical change we can make in U.S. K-12 education, with North America lagging countries in Asia and Northern Europe when it comes to turning out top students, is to create teacher-feedback systems that are properly funded, high-quality and trusted by teachers.”
The new nonprofit is expected to announce in the next month whether it has chosen Atlanta.
“It would be a great coup for Atlanta to get it,” said Penelope “Penny” McPhee, president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
One of the Blank Family Foundation’s key focus areas is education.
“I do think that technology equity is a big issue among schools and across school systems,” McPhee said. “There are real gaps in what different schools and school systems have in terms of technology.”
The Metro Atlanta Chamber is working on initiatives in both technology and education, McPhee said. Some of those efforts had aimed to bring more equality to school systems. Of the 562,000 students in metro Atlanta, 336,000 are growing up in poverty — that’s about 63 percent — according to a recent study, McPhee said.
“They don’t have their own computers at home, and they don’t have their own iPads,” she said.
Another advantage the nonprofit might bring is more national exposure for the region’s growing technology sector.
Recently, state lawmakers and technology industry insiders recommended creating a program that could generate venture capital activity. Georgia lags national leaders California and Massachusetts and struggles to compete with regional leaders Virginia and North Carolina.
“It would be great if it came to Atlanta,” McPhee said. “I think it would stimulate a deeper relationship with Gates in Atlanta.”
If anyone is considering a venture that creates synergy related to technology across school systems, “I would say ‘Bravo,’ ” said Ann Cramer, a civic leader who recently retired as an IBM executive.
Cramer has been involved in almost every business, education and technology initiative that’s been tried in Georgia and across the United States.
Atlanta is already home to many global nonprofits. “It would be another feather in our cap to have another renowned organization, especially one involved in education,” Cramer said.
Shared Learning Collaborative
What: The new nonprofit enterprise eyeing Atlanta as a headquarters will replace the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). The SLC is an alliance of states, districts, nonprofits, foundations and companies with the shared vision of accelerating student achievement through personalized learning.
How: The first step is to create shared technology services to provide teachers with deep insights about student performance.
Why: The SLC is building a set of shared technology services to allow states and districts to connect student data and instructional materials that currently exist in different formats and locations, in order to integrate them effectively for educators, parents and students.
Who: In November 2012, the SLC named Atlanta resident Iwan Streichenberger as its CEO. In his new role, Streichenberger will oversee the SLC’s transition from a project to an independent, sustainable nonprofit enterprise, with the goal of making personalized learning affordable and accessible to every state, district, school, teacher and student in the country.
Streichenberger’s immediate tasks will include securing a variety of vendor partners and helping the first group of pilot districts in New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Illinois and Colorado better integrate their technologies.