Request for Proposals
Organizations and public schools from across the New England region are invited to request support for
student-centered learning work that tests or expands any one of the Foundation’s Theory of Change
components (model development, policy change, and public understanding and demand). These will be
short-term grants (one to three years) of up to $75,000 per year.
The Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s (NMEF) mission is to stimulate transformative change of public
education systems across New England by growing a variety of high quality educational opportunities
that enable all learners, especially and essentially underserved learners, to obtain the skills, knowledge
and support they need to become civically engaged, economically self sufficient lifelong learners.
This mission informs the Foundation’s strategic plan goal of achieving a decrease in race and class
achievement gaps; an increase in students’ 21st century skills and knowledge; and an increase in access
to post-secondary education by 2017. The hoped for result will be that all New England learners,
particularly underserved learners, succeed in earning a postsecondary degree or certificate by the age of
To fulfill its mission, NMEF seeks to change public education at the middle and high school levels in
order to enable more students to attain a high quality of life in the 21st century. Nellie Mae will work to
transform the current New England education system from a one size fits all model based on a 19th
century agrarian economy to a student-centered model capable of teaching students 21st century skills
and providing them with the experiences necessary for today’s global knowledge-based economy.
Under the current system of education, learning is the variable and where students learn, who teaches
them, and when they are taught are the constants. The Foundation wants to turn this around, making
learning the constant and when, where and with whom students learn the variables. “Student-centered
learning” encompasses this approach. Multifaceted, it exposes students to a range of learning
opportunities that meet their individual needs and interests in both group and individual settings, and
allows them to progress at their own pace in their own way.
NMEF’s mission is to serve underserved learners, particularly those who because of race and class are
marginalized by the current education system. It is the Foundation’s intent that the student-centered
models developed will benefit underserved learners. NMEF believes that the promotion of student-
centered practices will have a positive impact for all learners.
Student-centered learning is based on research that shows students learn in a variety of environments
and from a variety of sources that allow them to go beyond acquiring information through
memorization, and present opportunities to analyze and think critically, write and speak effectively, and
solve complex problems. This deep learning provides the knowledge and skills needed today. It gives
students opportunities to engage in complex, meaningful projects that require sustained engagement,
time for reflection, research and collaboration, and to develop performances or products. Student-
centered learning allows students to use time flexibly. It provides them with varied learning
opportunities that take place inside as well as outside of schools and year-round, e.g. project-based
learning, internships, experiential learning, career technical education, peer learning, and
apprenticeships. It rethinks where and when students learn, expands education beyond the school’s
physical boundaries and traditional times, and makes the community and its resources an important
part of the learning process.
Integration of curriculum, instruction, and assessment is a hallmark of effective student-centered
learning. Educators embrace rigor in the form of a focused curriculum that is clear about what students
should know and be able to do as a result of their learning, and schools tie curriculum to rigorous
standards-linked assessments. Such assessments include measures that show a student has mastered
skills and content through use of demonstrations as well as traditional tests, thus providing an accurate
gauge of how well students are learning and when advancement to the next stage is appropriate.
Schools that use a student-centered approach foster personal relationships with students. They connect
students with community members, parents, nontraditional teachers, and peers to expand educational
opportunities for all students. These schools set aside time for teacher professional development to
impart learning about curriculum, teaching and assessment. Finally, the school culture fosters strong
respectful relationships among students and adults, and empowers students to take responsibility for
their own learning.
Nellie Mae’s Strategy
The integration of the core principles of student-centered learning with policy, practice, and public
demand and understanding form the Foundation’s Theory of Change (TOC). The basis of this TOC is the
simultaneous development of practices that create a model for student-centered learning, increase
public demand and understanding to build capacity for education change and encourage a supportive
policy climate through changes in legislation, regulations and collective bargaining practices. To see the
Foundation’s TOC go to: http://www.nmefdn.org/Grantmaking/Initiatives/RFP_FAQ.aspx
NMEF knows from past experience that innovative programs require policy change at the local and state
levels, and political will in order to scale up and sustain change. The Foundation is committed to
provoking and sustaining education reform by working in concert across three dimensions 1) education
practice, 2) policy, and 3) public demand and understanding.
Model development: Increasingly, innovative models are one way to understand what works before
going to scale. The Foundation will work with districts, school, community based organizations, and/or
communities to enhance existing or develop new student-centered approaches that make quality
rigorous student-centered learning a constant, while rethinking time, location, and who teaches in
addition to educators. NMEF is interested in models based on the learning sciences that study teaching
and learning in a variety of settings including out of school (e.g. the workplace), using summer time
creatively, using technology in rich ways, and expanding the role and definition of educator to include
adults, who are not teachers by profession, as part-time partners in teaching hands on learning. To see
the Foundation’s Principles of Student Centered Learning and Examples go to:
Policy Change: Sustained school reform is not possible without changes in the policies that govern
schooling, collective bargaining agreements, and judgments of school performance inside of state
accountability systems, etc. that too often impede student-centered learning at scale in our current
education system. The Foundation is interested in supporting efforts to remove or waive local or state
policy barriers and to support local models going to scale. Additionally, we will support local efforts to
create new policies, (e.g., use of technology in learning and assessment, reallocation of existing
resources, etc.) that support student-centered learning models and make these models prevalent and
available to all high school students. To see the Foundation’s Policy Principles and Examples go to:
Public Understanding and Demand: Students, parents, and civic and community leaders deeply involved
with educators are essential for effective, sustained change. Without the benefit of deep partnerships
with community leaders, it is unfair and ineffective to expect well intentioned district officials to lead
significant change efforts. The successful partnership builds a new culture and climate for improved
relations and communication and a sense of shared vision among parents, teachers and administrators.
It increases district and school accountability to community constituencies and ensures that
underserved schools are part of the change process. An effective partnership also creates opportunities
for new political leadership in schools and communities to support ongoing reform efforts.
To see the Foundation’s Principles of Public Understanding & Demand and Examples go to:
NMEF is not proposing a pre-fabricated approach to implementing student-centered learning. Rather,
we are sharing principles of student-centered learning, policy change, and public understanding and
demand with illustrations of some practices. Our nation’s education system is like an orchestra in that it
has many groups of players with specialized jobs, i.e. school boards, tax payers, families, teachers, and
administrators. In a changing world, the orchestra has new music to play. The Foundation seeks to
work with districts and communities to realign the instruments so they again work in concert to provide
quality education experiences for all of today’s young people.
The Foundation believes that achieving change at scale requires a systems approach at the district level
and that collaboration between school and community plays a critical role in this approach. However,
our experience tells us that there are many organizations and schools that are already using or
promoting student-centered strategies with positive results -- but not with a system-wide focus. There
are also organizations and schools that have a vision and the infrastructure for testing innovative ideas
around student-centered learning but, they lack the resources to implement their ideas. Still others are
concerned that problems of access, quality, and attainment related to race and class continue to
befuddle education reformers and provide a murky context for identifying and implementing equitable
and sustainable solutions at scale. The Opportunity Fund has been established to support this important
The Foundation seeks proposals that would do one of the following:
Build the capacity of, test or evaluate innovative and scaleable student-centered learning
approaches in such areas as model, tool and curriculum development.
Focus on bold strategies to achieve systemic change by removing significant, entrenched and
persistent barriers at the policy level (state accountability systems for district schools, Carnegie
unit requirements, etc.). These strategies do not necessarily need to be dependent on a single
community’s consensus or vision, but must be supported by a demonstrated rationale.
Galvanize a wide variety of community members, including parents and students, to demand an
active and authentic role in reforming the education system to meet the 21st century needs of
Model Development programs/projects should be systemically connected with a school or
district. Afterschool, summer, mentoring, and tutoring programs must have a clearly
articulated, deeply integrated and comprehensive relationship with a school or district.
All programs/projects should benefit at least one specific New England school, district or
community and have the potential to be scaled/institutionalized in the long term.
Applicants must be:
Experienced working with or supporting middle and/or high school students in New England
501 (c)(3), 509 (a)(1) or (2)1 or a public entity (public school, etc.)
Education focused, as evidenced in their articles of incorporation
Criteria for Selection
The following criteria will be used as a guide in the review and assessment of the proposals:
A thorough, well articulated description and rationale for the proposed work
Potential for contributing to or moving forward the field of student-centered learning
A clear and cohesive relationship between goals, objectives, and activities
Evidence that work is creating or has the potential to create significant positive change in
student outcomes, particularly for underserved students
Demonstrates the potential for being replicated and/or scaled-up
A clear and realistic assessment of what the work will cost provided in the budget and budget
Please limit responses to eight pages, single spaced with 12-point fonts and one inch margins. The page
limit does not include attachments.
1. What is the focus of your project? What are you producing, growing, enhancing, or testing?
What are your goals and objectives?
2. Why are you proposing this work? What issue does it address? Why is your approach a
3. Describe the “community” (where the work will take place) and the learners that would be
impacted by your work? Give particular focus to the underserved learners in your response.
4. What principles of student-centered learning, either the Foundation’s or your own, drive this
5. How is the community involved or not involved in your work? If multiple partners are involved,
please fill out the attached partnership form.
6. What research have you used to affirm your proposal? Who else is doing this or similar work?
7. How will you evaluate your work? What are your interim and long-term benchmarks?
8. If this work is successful, what would you envision as the next stage of work?
Please Note: Due to the Foundation's tax status, private foundations (described in section 509(a) of the Internal Revenue Code)
and supporting organizations (described in section 509(a)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code) are NOT eligible.
Nellie Mae Education Foundation Cover Page
Work plan and timeline
Budget and budget narrative. Overhead expenses may NOT exceed 15%. Please use the NMEF
budget template. To download the template go to:
501 (C) (3) tax letter or a letter indicating applicant is a public entity
Submission Information and Selection Process
An on-line bidders conference to answer your questions regarding the RFP will be held on April 22nd,
2:00-3:30 PM. To register for the bidders conference go to:
http://www.nmefdn.org/NewsandEvents/Events.aspx Additionally, questions can be sent to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Frequently asked questions (FAQ) and responses will be posted here:
Proposals are due by Tuesday, June 8th by 5:00pm and should be sent to email@example.com. Receipt of
submissions will be confirmed by email. Grant decisions will be made and notification sent by the end of
STUDENT CENTERED LEARNING
Organization Name (per 501 (c) (3) letter):
City: State: Zip:
Telephone: Fax: Email:
EIN (Employer Identification Number):
501 (c) (3)? Yes: 509 (a)(1)? Yes: 509 (a)(2)? Yes:
Is your organization a public entity (public school, etc)? Yes :
Total Organization Budget: $
Organization’s Mission Statement:
Brief Description of Organization Describe (200 words or less) the organization’s history, programs and services
Model Policy Public
The PRIMARY focus of the proposal is Development Change Demand
Program/project Total Budget: $ Year 1 Request Amount: $
Amount Raised: $ Requests Pending: $
Number of Years of Requested Funding (1-3):
Year 2 Request Amount: $ Year 3 Request Amount: $
Brief Request Summary (2-3 sentences):
How did you hear about this grant opportunity?
Please Note: Due to the Foundation's tax status, private foundations (described in section 509(a) of the Internal Revenue
Code) and supporting organizations (described in section 509(a)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code) are NOT eligible.
If yes, please attach a signed letter that confirms that your organization is a state agency.
Nellie Mae Education Foundation
Provide information on the key partners participating in your work:
Partner Short description of the Short description of what role the
Organization partner will play
partner will play