Request for Proposal: Professional Learning Partnerships

This RFP is now closed.

Professional Learning Partnerships to advance professional learning services supporting implementation of high-quality instructional materials: Request for Proposal

INTRODUCTION

This request seeks to support partnerships that advance high-quality professional learning (PL) services that support implementation of high-quality, core instructional materials (HQIM) in ways that are efficacious for student learning and efficient for providers to sustain beyond the grant term. Awards will be made to teams of organizations that can include curriculum authors, PL providers, and/or districts, intermediate units, and schools, represented by a point organization that will receive the grant and distribute funds across the partnership.

This initiative is a part of the larger portfolio of investments that comprise the K-12 Curriculum and Instructional Tools portfolio. This investment specifically relates to the following strategic goal for this portfolio:

  • Delivery Capacity: Validate the theory that professional learning service providers can a) demonstrate impact on student outcomes that exceeds that yielded by adoption and use of a high-quality curriculum alone, and b) offer diverse services that fit broader market demand and have the potential for scale.

This investment is part of the “Solutions” portfolio, which in part aims to increase availability of quality solutions for curriculum and instructional tools, awareness of those solutions, and support for efficacious curriculum implementation models that have the potential for scale, with the notion that those three goals will increase usage. However, it does not directly fund scaling usage of products or services. This RFP intends to provide flexible capital to support the development of curriculum-connected professional learning services with promise to yield meaningful student outcomes and offer significant value to districts, schools, and other stakeholders and satisfaction to educators, thus providing attractive solutions that can be sustained independent of philanthropic support. Successful partnerships will support high-quality implementation of core (tier one) instructional materials in one of the following five disciplinary segments: middle school mathematics; high school mathematics; middle school English language arts (ELA); high school ELA; or middle school science.

This RFP is particularly interested in supporting service development and refinement in middle and high schools serving student populations that are at least 50 percent Black, Latino, emerging multilingual or English Learner (EL)-designated, and/or low-income, in California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and North Carolina. Successful applicants proposing projects outside those geographies must submit proposals together with a local education agency serving at least 50,000 students (for more information, see Potential Partnerships and Eligibility, below). However, the Curriculum portfolio is not a place-based strategy and is interested in solutions that can be diffused more broadly.

We believe this investment and others that support this strategic goal will eventually help us significantly increase the number of Black, Latino, EL-designated, and low-income secondary students who earn a high school diploma, enroll in a postsecondary institution, and are on track in their first year to obtain a high-quality credential.

 

BACKGROUND 

The K-12 Curriculum & Instructional Tools portfolio of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s United States Program focuses on developing the evidence base to inform best practice design of curriculum and curriculum-specific, coherent instructional systems, in order to support improving the availability and awareness of high-quality curriculum and instructional tools and improving field capacity to implement those tools well to benefit Black, Latino, EL-designated, and low-income students in middle and high school mathematics, English language arts, and middle school science.

A standards-aligned, high-quality curriculum is an essential feature of a coherent instructional system that can maximize its potential benefit. We hypothesize that such a system may consist of the following elements, as well as others:

  • A clear, aligned vision for academic improvement, and a process for monitoring progress based on evidence of student learning over time;
  • Interim assessments connected to the curriculum’s scope and sequence that provide timely, actionable data about students’ academic strengths and opportunities for growth;
  • Curriculum-connected cycles of PL; and
  • Discipline-specific coaching and feedback based on tools connected to academic content covered in the curriculum.

This request focuses on curriculum-connected cycles of PL, though PL providers may also offer other elements of the system. Currently, evidence suggests that districts and schools invest significantly in PL with uneven results and satisfaction with service value. Nascent research suggests that PL aligned to curriculum – focused on teaching and learning specific content, and with explicit explanations of curriculum and the rationale behind it – may have more promise for boosting student achievement. However, it can be costly to develop such PL content and secure required licensing and support from curriculum authors or build internal expertise on curriculum to deliver quality implementation services. Moreover, providers must attract partners who may not make procurement decisions based primarily on curriculum alignment or clear, shared definitions of service quality.

A growing number of PL providers are beginning to address these issues by offering services aligned to high-quality curricula such as those identified by EdReports and other providers of third-party quality information. Such PL providers have differentiated themselves in the market based on their substantive expertise as well as their approach to partnering with districts, intermediate units, schools, and other important stakeholders. Some are primarily curriculum authors and provide PL to a handful of large districts willing to go deep with large, intensive investments to fully align their instructional systems with curriculum. Others are providers seeking to offer a mix of higher- and lower-touch services to as broad a customer base as possible. While curriculum-aligned PL providers across these distinct approaches are growing, several key questions about gaps in the market remain:

  • What efficient but meaningfully efficacious offerings can help ease persuadable but resource-constrained districts, schools, and stakeholders into curriculum-aligned PL services while maintaining base quality and opening the door to scaling up PL over time?
  • Beyond standards- and curriculum-alignment, what additional dimensions of quality are needed for professional learning content and services to meet both practical and pedagogical customer and user needs for educators serving Black, Latino, EL-designated, and low-income students?
  • How can high-quality, curriculum-aligned PL providers design and market their services effectively to compete against lower quality offerings?
  • How can content authors, PL providers, and distributors establish sustainable business models for diversified service lines considering the demand and margins for PL services?

Partnerships pose one opportunity for providers to work together to address market needs. They help providers avoid expansion beyond their core expertise and interests in ways that may degrade quality and stretch their business models. They encourage providers to look beyond their immediate circles and work with others who specialize in high-demand but underserved segments of the market. They can also encourage providers to create packages of service offerings that meet the needs of the most districts, schools, and stakeholders as possible, helping them earn shared revenue so services can be sustained independent of philanthropy.

Examples of potential partnership approaches could include:

  • Provider collaboration to expand joint offerings: Curriculum authors and PL providers collaborate to modify existing, adult-facing curriculum-aligned PL content to calibrate dosage; to enhance teacher educative features; and/or to provide training that addresses unmet needs of particular student beneficiaries, and curriculum authors certify partner providers to deliver those services
  • Provider collaboration to strengthen relationships among independent offerings: PL providers collaborate to refer districts, schools, and other stakeholders to the best providers given the articulated needs of districts, intermediate units, schools, and other stakeholders; geographic distribution; and respective areas of expertise
  • Provider and larger LEA collaboration to design solutions: Providers partner with LEA(s) serving at least 50,000 students to develop or tailor PL services within local secondary schools whose student populations are at least 50 percent Black, Latino, EL-designated, and/or low-income to meet stakeholder and student needs without placing undue demand on provider efficiency, while demonstrating that the service model could be scaled to settings of similar size and student demographics

The program seeks to capitalize partnerships that have committed or near-committed customer prospects to support sustained, effective partnerships that deliver on stakeholder needs beyond the term of a grant. Grant awards will be made to a point organization chosen by participating partners, who will then distribute funds among others in the partnership group. We are requesting concept proposals from teams of organizations in response to the request below to inform the selection of partnerships to receive support. Final partnership design would be refined with foundation staff during development of formal proposal documents.

 

ANTICIPATED OUTCOMES

We anticipate that these grants will enable PL providers to establish partnerships that fill gaps in the market for curriculum-aligned PL and meet diverse stakeholder and community needs. Primary outcomes will include:

  • Evidence of impact on student learning within a grant term of approximately 2.5 years, beyond the impact of adopting high-quality, standards-aligned curriculum alone
  • Active and thriving curriculum-aligned PL partnerships that last beyond the grant period and demonstrate sustainable business models for customer acquisition, revenue-sharing, and IP licensing
  • New, openly licensed curriculum-aligned PL materials and services that meet the needs of educators serving Black, Latino, EL-designated, and/or low-income students
  • Contracts with districts, schools, and other stakeholders to allocate school/district funding to purchase services developed and/or offered through partnerships

Collection of data on the needs of districts and schools, provider offerings, and implementation successes and challenges that can inform growth of high-quality, curriculum-aligned PL 

 

SCOPE AND APPROACH 

The foundation seeks to help adoption of high-quality, curriculum-aligned PL move beyond early adopters to reach “fast followers” who are mission-driven, value evidence of impact, see curriculum as core school infrastructure that all schools and educators deserve, and believe or can easily come to recognize that a high-quality curriculum and the supports required to use it well are important levers to promote equitable student outcomes.

To help achieve this shift, the foundation seeks to validate the theory that service providers can a) demonstrate impact on student outcomes that exceeds that yielded by adoption and use of a high-quality curriculum alone, and b) offer diverse services that fit broader market demand and have the potential for scale. It believes that three key levers can contribute to this strategic goal:

  • Build capacity in district- and school-support organizations to scale curriculum-connected, coherent instructional systems
  • Support quality assurance organizations to create ecosystem-level shared expectations around the quality of the features of such systems
  • Create opportunities for new partners and partnerships to demonstrate demand for curriculum implementation services

Expected awards and timing:

We expect to make grants in support of six to ten partnerships. No award to an individual partnership will exceed a total of $1 million over approximately 2.5 years. We anticipate that service delivery would begin in School Year 2019-2020, with activities launching in the preceding summer, and conclude in School Year 2020-2021, followed by additional data collection.

Primary learning questions:

The primary goal of this request is to support new partnerships that demonstrate demand for curriculum implementation services, particularly in California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and North Carolina. Successful applicants proposing projects outside those geographies must submit proposals together with a local education agency serving at least 50,000 students. As a result, the foundation encourages teams to bring forward creative proposals that 1) seek to address the needs of middle and high schools serving at least 50 percent Black, Latino, EL-designated, and/or low-income students; 2) seek to address gaps in the PL market, especially with respect to efficacy, affordability, and adoptability, and 3) help participating providers solve business challenges in mutually beneficial ways. To that end, teams should be comprised of partners with aligned visions and differentiated services, who are eager to work together voluntarily. When possible, districts, schools, and other stakeholders may be included in teams to illuminate natural demand for a wider variety of service offerings and to support sustainable stakeholder contracts. Each team must have a designated point organization that will receive the grant and then allocate funding across partners.

At the same time, lessons from the partnerships about what districts, schools, and other stakeholders need and are willing to purchase, and what providers can feasibly offer, will help answer learning questions such as:

  • Are there sufficient effective implementation service providers that meet characteristics of quality?
  • What are the criteria that drive selection of professional learning services by districts and schools?
  • How can high-quality, curriculum-connected professional learning services become more competitive in the market for externally contracted professional learning services?
  • What are the characteristics of effective curriculum implementation services, especially for schools serving Black, Latino, low-income, and EL-designated students?
  • What are the differences between student- and school-level outcomes when 1) high-quality curricula are adopted and used, and 2) when high quality curricula are adopted and used together with high quality implementation services?
  • How can PL providers ensure that PL services are available and accessible at an affordable price for Black, Latino, EL-designated, and/or low-income students?

Defining outcomes and impact:

Partners will be asked to report on the following outcomes and dimensions of impact, some of which may be more or less relevant depending on the nature of the proposed partnership. The specific measures of these outcomes, especially the Levers of Change and Student Impact outcomes, will be co-created in collaboration with a research and technical assistance partner (see below) to ensure that individual partners can learn about their own impact and the field can gain a broader set of learnings around how effective curriculum implementation services drive changes for educators and students.

  • Sustainability
    • Partnership sustainability: Stability of the partnership beyond the grant period, including agreed-upon business terms and mutual interest in continuing the partnership
    • Market share: Growth in contracts, including expansions of existing contracts and new contracts, ideally compared to growth among competitors offering services that are not curriculum aligned
    • Provider capacity: Added marketing expertise, delivery capacity, and business planning expertise for individual providers within the partnership and across the partnership as a whole
    • Stakeholder leads: Identified interest from new districts, schools, and other stakeholders who have previously not purchased PL aligned to high-quality curriculum, and satisfaction of existing districts, schools, and other stakeholders
  • Levers of Change
    • PL content: New curriculum-aligned PL content (built/modified from existing content) to support PL implementation
    • Implementation: Lessons learned through implementation challenges and successes with districts, schools, and individual educators
    • Educator Development: Changes in the knowledge, attitudes, and behavior of educators as a result of services received
    • Stakeholder Satisfaction: Stakeholders report value in services rendered
  • Student Impact
    • Behavior Change: Impact of PL services on student behavior in classrooms (e.g., engagement, quality of student work)
    • Learning Outcomes: Impact of PL services on student learning, ideally beyond the impact of adopting high-quality, standards-aligned curriculum alone
    • Target Population: Disaggregated data showing adoption by and learning outcomes for districts, schools, and other stakeholders who serve at least 50 percent Black, Latino, EL-designated, and/or low-income students

As part of this work, partnerships will be asked to work with a research and technical assistance partner to design data collection and analysis on leading and lagging indicators of successful service design, implementation, and impact on educators and students. Partnerships will also receive technical assistance in the use of efficacy data and analysis generated by the research to refine service design and delivery. Award recipients would be asked to engage with the research partner before the work with schools begins in SY 2019-2020, so that the design of the services can be informed by the measurement plan, and vice versa.

Digital networks capacity building

This RFP includes the opportunity for winning partnerships to receive support to develop and manage a digital, peer-to-peer community of teachers. The community provides teachers with opportunities to collaborate, exchange best practices and receive support from peers, in service of improving classroom implementation. Additionally, the peer community will provide partnership with real-time insights on teacher needs that can improve delivery. Specifically, partnership will leverage expertise and insights from Teacher2Teacher, a community of 1.5 million teachers that has developed best practices in content creation, community management, and insight generation.

 

ACTIVITIES AND TIMELINE

  • January 7, 2019: Open RFP
  • March 8, 2019: Deadline for submitting applications
  • April 15 – 16, 2019: Interviews via video conference
  • May 2019: Award(s) announced

All dates are estimates and are subject to change in the sole discretion of the foundation.

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