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Microsoft Pledges $15 Million for 'Next-Generation Learning Models'

Microsoft and a number of other companies pledged financial support for initiatives supporting student achievement and education reform. The pledges were announced as part of a roundtable event held in Washington, DC Monday with President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and other leaders to promote business support for education initiatives.

"A world-class education is the single most important factor in determining not just whether our kids can compete for the best jobs but whether America can outcompete countries around the world. America's business leaders understand that when it comes to education, we need to up our game. That's why were working together to put an outstanding education within reach for every child," President Obama said in a statement released today by the White House.

Among the investments, Microsoft itself pledged $15 million to support initiatives for "increasing engagement, managing information, and supporting educators." The investments will focus heavily on gaming in education.

In a blog post today, Anthony Salcito, vice president of education for Microsoft, explained that the initiatives will aim to impact student engagement and performance, rather than simply implementing technology for the sake of technology--two aspects of learning that gaming is ideally suited for.

"Around the world, every day, students are engaged in playing games. These digital exercises provide us insight into their motivations and passions. And yet, our classrooms and content take little advantage of this information. With this new investment, Microsoft will support research and development in understanding and creating learning environments that integrate the characteristics of gaming that kids are passionate about. Just imagine ... every day a child will fail at a game, and yet keep coming back to try again. But in our classrooms, for most, once a child experiences failure, they shut down. We need to bring the same passion they bring to their digital lives into our classrooms. This investment will help our partners and educators do just that."

He added, however, that Microsoft does not see technology as a "silver bullet." Other aspects of the investment will include:

  • Training for more than 150,000 teachers over the next three years to help prepare them to use new technologies;
  • Teacher support through professional communities, best practices, and online training materials through the new Microsoft Partners in Learning Portal; and
  • Investment in a digital learning archive where students can collect and share their learning artifacts and achievements.

"We recognize that every day, teachers are challenged to bring the right tools and resources into their classrooms, and so we are not only investing in technology and the platform, but in the innovation of human capital as well," Salcito wrote.

Microsoft wasn't along today in pledging financial support for education initiatives, though its investments focused more heavily on education technology than others.

America's Promise Alliance Grad Nation Community Impact Fund, a nonprofit comprising banks and insurance companies, manufacturers, pharmaceuticals, and education developers, will raise $50 million to help curtail dropouts and improve college readiness, particularly in lower-performing schools.

"As a nation, we are falling behind in the global economy. Today's roundtable is just the beginning of what we hope will be a longstanding dialogue between the business, nonprofit and policy communities about better education outcomes in this country," said Alma J. Powell, chair of America's Promise Alliance, in a statement released to the press today. "As a driver of innovation and excellence in this country, the business community is uniquely positioned to support our schools. They can both help ensure our students are armed with the most essential skills and our nation has the workforce we need in the 21st century. They can also help ensure our elected officials make education a top priority."

The emphasis of America's Promise Alliance's investments will be in building partnerships between businesses and local school systems.

Similarly, Bank of America is launching a $50 million, three-year initiative to "support programs that bridge the achievement gap to post-secondary education completion and connect the underserved and unemployed, as well as returning veterans, and individuals with disabilities, to workforce success in high-growth sectors, in particular through community colleges." Bank of America's efforts kicked off with the launch of $4.5 million in grants to five different nonprofit organizations, including:

  • $500,000 to Achieving the Dream to develop a learning community;
  • $1 million to Boston College's Lynch School of Education to support "forgivable loans" for master's students who pledge to work in urban schools that serve economically disadvantaged students;
  • $1 million for Citizen Schools to help support low-income middle school students with "academic support, leadership development, and hands-on learning projects led by volunteer 'citizen teachers' and trained staff during the afternoon hours";
  • $1 million for City Year to help fund after school programs for middle schoolers; and
  • $1 million for GreenLight Fund to expand its youth development programs into Pennsylvania and California.

GlaxoSmithKline offered up $10 million in additional funds to support a five-year initiative targeting dropouts in low-performing schools and science education in the United States.

Nike also pledged $7 million as part of the roundtable event, funds that will go to support high school "education system redesign" initiatives in Oregon.

Additional details of the roundtable event can be found on the White House blog.

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