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This essay describes the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's approach to evaluation in its Environment Program. This approach was grantee-centric, shaped by the varied needs of nonprofits in the environment field as well as the Foundation's decision to spend down all assets by 2020 – which limited the number of years available to conduct evaluations and put new lessons to use. The Environment Program funded grantees to evaluate work they deemed critical to their missions or to build organizational capacity to conduct ongoing learning and evaluation. Knowledge gained through grantee activities informed their internal improvement efforts as well as the Foundation's grantmaking decisions.Seven examples illustrate the range of nonprofit learning and evaluation efforts supported by the Foundation. These experiences surfaced challenges as well as recommendations, presented later in this essay, that might be instructive to other environment funders who value learning and evaluation as means to greater impact.
California's water system supports nearly 40 million people, the world's fifth largest economy, diverse natural ecosystems, and one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Yet this critical system is under significant stress: Californians face increased water scarcity, declining water quality, greater flood risk, and the deteriorating health of ecosystems.Promising solutions exist, and there are many examples of innovation and collaboration to address the state's water challenges. However, the speed and scale of change are often limited by a lack of cohesion in practices, fragmented institutions, complex technical challenges, under-resourced nonprofits, and the lack of political will. In this context, between 2009 and 2020, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation awarded more than $130 million in program funds to support California's transition to a more sustainable water future.Grants were orchestrated within three interconnected strategies: building knowledge to improve decisions, pursuing integrated solutions to complex challenges, and engaging more funders. These strategies spurred progress on interrelated goals involving groundwater management, flood protection, stormwater and urban resilience, drinking water quality, and open data. Foundation grants also helped bring forward billions of dollars in new public funding as well as more than $400 million in new philanthropic capital.Milestones achieved are transforming how California manages water. This impact was the product of difficult, dedicated effort by many individuals, organizations, and coalitions committed to change. Their progress was aided by public attention and desire for solutions emanating from an historic, extreme drought. Their work was supported by flexible risk capital and capacity-building outlays for the water field provided by philanthropy.This brief further describes the primary strategies, outcomes, and takeaways from the Foundation's water program. While drawn from one grantmaker's experience in California, this content can have broad relevance to practitioners, policymakers, and funders everywhere who seek a secure water future for people and nature.
The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's water program is rooted in the belief that California can manage its water to meet the needs of people and nature – but only if these needs are considered together and only if management strategies jointly address surface water, groundwater, water quality, and flood protection challenges.The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation envisions a California that manages, stewards, and conserves its water and land to support a resilient environment and healthy communities. This snapshot, prepared as the Foundation nears conclusion in 2020, documents essential aspects of the Environment Program's water portfolio.
The California Environmental Flows Framework (CEFF) provides an approach for determining ecological flow criteria and guidance for developing environmental flow recommendations that can accommodate a variety of stream types and biological communities, while supporting regulatory and management agency programs aimed at protecting beneficial uses for aquatic life. CEFF applies a Functional Flows approach and provides ecological flow criteria based on the natural variability of ecologically-relevant functional flow metrics. It provides a process for considering physical and biological constraints within a stream system and provides guidance on developing environmental flow recommendations that balance ecological and water management objectives.
A special program in The Commonwealth Club's series recognizing recipients of the Club's 2020 Distinguished Citizens Award. This program honors Lauren (Laurie) Dachs and her colleagues at the S. D. Bechtel Jr., Foundation.
What Education Leaders Can Learn About NGSS Implementation: Highlights From the Early Implementers InitiativeNovember 1, 2020
From 2014 through 2020, eight diverse school districts and two charter management organizations ran a substantial experiment with ways of implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in elementary and middle grades, called the California K - 8 NGSS Early Implementers Initiative. The Initiative certainly illustrated that a big financial investment can produce powerful change. However, even districts facing resource challenges may benefit from the lessons that were learned and the strategies that were developed by the Initiative.An external evaluation team has previously released a series of reports on what can be learned from the efforts of the Initiative districts. All reports are intended to be helpful to administrators at the school and district levels, education policymakers, and people charged with designing and/or delivering science professional learning. After briefly describing how the NGSS call for big shifts in science teaching and learning, this highlights report shares high-level, major learnings from the evaluation, distilled into only a couple dozen pages of main narrative. The report describes NGSS instruction as a powerful lever for equitable learning, explains how the Initiative made this kind of instruction happen, and describes the importance of the Initiative's ambitious professional learning for administrators.
Rosedale–Rio Bravo Water Accounting and Trading Platform: A pilot project advancing sustainable groundwater managementOctober 7, 2020
For the first time in California's history, local groundwater agencies are required to balance groundwater supply and demand by 2040 and 2042 to create a more resilient water system for generations to come.Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District (Rosedale) has co-developed the first open-source water accounting and trading platform in the Central Valley to address this challenge.As California transitions into a new era of groundwater management, this platform will help Rosedale's stakeholders — and others who would like to adopt the open-source tool — to sustainably manage their precious groundwater resources.
The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research.PPIC delivers actionable, fact-based research to help the state find practical responses to a range of policy challenges. Publications range from one-page fact sheets to comprehensive, in-depth reports. The PPIC Water Policy Center spurs innovative water management solutions that support a healthy economy, environment, and society.
The Residency Year Scholarship helps aspiring teachers preparing to serve students in high-need schools. It supports a year-long clinical experience working alongside an expert mentor. Scholarship recipients share their stories.
Five foundations from across the state, known as the Community Foundation Water Initiative, have been working since 2015 to advance sustainable water management solutions. The Initiative partnered with Local Government Commission to develop a report on the Equitable Integration of Water and Land Use which was released in 2019. Shortly following the report, each foundation selected one nonprofit in their region to advance the report's regional recommendations and statewide strategies while building local capacity for coordination. This cohort of five NGOs collaborated for an entire year, culminating their work in this guide.
Building Leadership Capacity to Improve Math Teaching and Learning: Lessons from the Math in Common InitiativeSeptember 1, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has required educators to make a seismic shift to distance learning, first on an emergency basis early in the crisis, and now with some amount of pre-planning in fall 2020. Many educators are concerned that distance learning exacerbates students' inability to access and engage in high-quality math learning. Educators are particularly concerned about learning for the groups of students that, prior to the pandemic, were already performing less well than average on the state math achievement test: Black students, English learner students, and students with disabilities.Before COVID-19, there was already a growing awareness that school site leaders' instructional leadership could be critical for raising student achievement. The pandemic further highlighted the potential for targeted leadership development to improve math teaching and learning in California schools at a moment when achievement gaps could be widening.Findings from WestEd's evaluation of a seven-year initiative called Math in Common may offer some useful insights at this time. Math in Common was organized to support 10 California districts in effectively implementing the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M) across grades K-8. A key part of the effort to improve math teaching and learning in these districts involved providing leadership development opportunities for many types of district and school leaders — from teacher leaders and instructional coaches to principals and district administrators — to help them understand and support the math content and instruction that teachers are expected to use.In this brief, we offer three recommendations for how educators in California and beyond should conceptualize new leadership development opportunities to support math improvement - during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. We offer these recommendations to a broad audience of educators, administrators, and policymakers concerned with building leaders' capacity for school improvement, including representatives from county offices of education, district central offices, the California Subject Matter Projects, the newly formed California Leadership academies, and leadership associations such as the Association for California School Administrators. To ground our recommendations, we begin with some brief background on the CCSS-M and the Math in Common initiative.
This 13th report in WestEd's evaluation of the K-8 Early Implementers Initiative for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) provides an extensive response to the following question: What does NGSS teaching look like in the classroom? The report also briefly describes specific ways that teachers have advanced in their NGSS teaching over the years of the Initiative and how the Initiative prepared them for such teaching.The report draws most strongly from more than 50 classroom observations of, and interviews with, 24 teachers across six districts. It is also informed by multiple interviews with each district Project Director as well as results of an annual survey with high response rates from more than 500 K-8 science teachers.