Since 2017, the Charles Schwab Foundation has contributed more than $1.2 million toward classroom financial literacy projects on the educational crowdfunding site DonorsChoose.org. To date, the donations have gone primarily toward matching funds, but now the organization is pioneering a new way to super-maximize its philanthropic bang per buck. Schwab is funding the Innovation Challenge, a competition that will both channel more funding toward ideas for financial literacy education in classrooms and eventually turn the best into open-sourced lesson plans that other teachers can freely adopt. Basic principles cover concepts like budgeting, managing a bank account, operating a small business, investing, or even paying for college.
From now until the end of May, teachers can submit their own concepts for financial literacy lessons t0 DonorsChoose for funding. Schwab has committed $325,000 to match public contributions toward those submissions (requests cap at $600). Early requests include things like a snow-cone maker for hands-on entrepreneurship lessons, financially focused board games, and computers to assist in larger research projects. In June, a portion of that will go toward choosing the 10 best concepts. (The details of how exactly that selection process will work are still vague, but the public will be involved.) Winners will each receive $1,000 in DonorsChoose credit to spend on funding projects on the site, plus another $1,000 in credit if they agree to turn their concept into an actual lesson plan for other teachers to use.
By the fall of 2019, Schwab and DonorsChoose expect to make the new lesson plans available for any educator that wants to try them. An unspecified number of early adopters will also receive $500 in platform credit once they’ve implemented them in their own classrooms. For project winners, the credits could go toward backing the next installment of their idea or another person’s riff on it. Alternatively, those who received funding and credit might want to just pay that forward to teachers with projects in other areas. The point is to keep the brainstorm pipeline flowing.
DonorsChoose reached its millionth project funded in January 2018. Since then, a cryptocurrency company gave $29 million to fund every project on the site (more quickly popped up), and attracted other major backers like Craig Newmark, who recently channeled matching funds toward STEM projects in low-income school districts. Schwab’s competition marks a new way of supporting teachers beyond that project-by-project basis. “This is the first time that we have used our Innovation Challenge to create lesson plans that other teachers can implement, and we’re excited to see the results,” says DonorsChoose founder and CEO Charles Best in an email to Fast Company. “By offering funding support to both the teachers creating lessons as well as the teachers who replicate those lessons, we’re aiming to help our community of educators exchange innovative ideas in a scalable way.”
The timing may also be especially valuable: The majority of teachers believe in the necessity of teaching financial education in schools but don’t feel confident teaching that themselves, according to survey data from the Council for Economic Education. In part, that may be because they don’t have the right lesson plans available. “This Innovation Challenge is a creative way to get more teachers involved and enables them to develop lesson plans that will meet the needs of their classroom and students,” adds Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, the president of the Charles Schwab Foundation in an email to Fast Company. “Rather than telling them how to teach financial education, we honor teacher’s expertise by giving them flexibility to develop their own plans.” Sharing that knowledge in a more structured way could help more students prosper.