Mountain View Voice

News - June 15, 2012

Google donates $1 million to local schools

by Nick Veronin

Even as California's primary and secondary schools are facing a best-case scenario of no funding increase next year, and a worst-case possibility of $2.4 billion in spending reductions, officials with the Mountain View Whisman School District found cause for celebration Thursday, June 14, as Google announced it would once again give $1 million to local elementary and middle schools.

The grant — earmarked to support the implementation of a program known as "Explicit Direct Instruction," or EDI, and the introduction of high-tech teaching methods to help socioeconomically challenged students — is the second $1 million donation the locally based search giant has awarded the district in as many years, and comes in response to the success of last year's grant, a Google official said.

"I was really blown away by the engagement of the teachers and the students," said Heather Spain, Google's manager of community affairs, referring to the time she spent touring MVWSD classes implementing the EDI method. "It seemed like a really successful program that we want to continue to support."

"We feel extremely fortunate," MVWSD Superintendent Craig Goldman said, referring to the grant — the largest single contribution in district history. "As a district we're extremely fortunate to be at the hub of Silicon Valley."

Goldman said that when viewed in the context of his district's entire 2012-13 budget — which he projected will be somewhere around $45 million — Google's $1 million contribution may seem like a drop in the bucket. "But if not for that $1 million we would not be able to do what we're doing in terms of professional development, and we would not be able to make the changes that we are attempting to make in terms of instructional technology."

Last June, the Internet and mobile technology giant awarded its first $1 million grant money to the district. A Google representative said the grant was the largest monetary contribution the company had ever given to a single school district.

The bulk of that money was used to set up the Explicit Direct Instruction program. The district paid DataWORKS, a Fowler, Calif.-based company, to teach MVWSD teachers the instructional system, which is designed to keep students engaged through a variety of methods — including the use of individual white boards and peer-to-peer quick-study sessions — while simultaneously allowing teachers to quickly identify those students who are having trouble with the material as well as those who have a grasp on concepts, so that they can spend time with those children who need extra help and let the faster kids move ahead. Efficiency is the name of the game with EDI.

Instructors from DataWORKS came to district schools and ran clinics for a small group of teachers over the summer before the 2011-12 school year. DataWORKS instructors were able to give the teachers immediate feedback as they learned the ins and outs of EDI while simultaneously teaching summer school classes. When the school year began, those teachers who had practiced the method over the summer showed what they had learned to their colleagues, and DataWORKS checked in periodically to critique teachers' technique.

This year, Goldman said, the district plans to use the money to establish a group of four dedicated EDI teachers by paying some faculty to work full time going from class to class to help improve the EDI skills of every teacher in the district — making sure the system is being implemented properly and efficiently by providing real-time observation and feedback to colleagues and collborating to help teachers develop their EDI lessons and troubleshoot issues that arise in EDI lessons.

According to Google spokesman Jordan Newman, his company is especially appreciative of the EDI program's goal of teaching in the most efficient manner possible and the methodical nature through which the method achieves that goal.

"That kind of attention to detail is something that you see in Google's culture," Newman said. "I think the way that they (DataWORKS and MVWSD) have approached all of this is very very Google-y."

The grant will also be used to continue to explore ways in which the district can incorporate technology into the classroom, Goldman said. There is no word yet on exactly how that will pan out, but Spain said officials with her company were pleased to see the work some teachers at MVWSD schools were doing with the Mountain View-based producer of education software and YouTube tutorials, Kahn Academy.

Asked whether Google expected anything in return for its heavy investment in the district, Spain said her company is hoping to hire talented individuals from its own backyard in years to come, and that investing in local education is a surefire way of ensuring the company can do just that.

She also pointed out that while Google specified that the district use the money to bolster science, technology, engineering and math studies, the EDI program ultimately has proven useful in history, literature and language studies as well — an assertion Goldman backs up and which the Voice observed in a tour of classrooms implementing EDI in March.

"We want to continue supporting our hometown schools," Spain said, "and ensure all students in Mountain View are getting a strong education."

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