Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, parents, educators, and the media were concerned about the quality of education American students were receiving. The shift to at-home learning was rife with changes that threatened to create even more educational inequity than was already present.
While student-centered, non-traditional models were steadily increasing before the pandemic, hundreds of new education models have emerged. They range from micro-schools to private and public-school collaborations to resources for homeschooling in underserved communities and more. These expanded and elevated the quality of education for millions of students. Now, after most Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in schools, these new models of education continue to transform education for students today. They are setting different standards for learning, with excellence in education remaining the north star of their work.
The Yass Prize for Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding, and Permissionless (STOP) education was created to honor and support these innovative, excellent education models. Education providers who meet the criteria apply to participate “in a robust evaluation and pitch process” for a grand prize of $1 million. Administered by the Center for Education Reform in partnership with Forbes magazine, with funding from Jeff and Janine Yass, cash awards are given to other finalists, too. In 2022, sixty-four innovative education providers — chosen from 3000 applicants— competed for the $1 million prize and smaller prizes for finalists totaling $10 million. The money is meant to support the further expansion of these innovative education providers.
Looking at the Yass Prize awardees page, it’s hard not to be inspired by the collective impact these innovators have on students today.
The winner of the $1 million 2022 Yass Prize is Arizona Autism Charter Schools. Started by a mother with a son who has autism, “[t]he school’s primary tool is use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) principles to support students’ behavioral needs and help them achieve the state instructional standards using an individualized approach to teaching and learning,” according to Yass. With more than 700 students in four different schools and some families driving over an hour for their students to attend class, the Arizona Autism Charter Schools will use their prize money to expand in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, Florida, and Louisiana. One in forty students across the nation is diagnosed with autism and the ability to continue expanding this model serves those students so that they can discover, develop, and apply their unique gifts to the world.
Several other promising innovative models were honored and rewarded with cash to help expand their impact. These include several Stand Together Trust and VELA Education Fund grant recipients.
More than just funding, though, the semi-finalists in the Yass Prize cohort gain access to the “best of the best” in innovation, education, and entrepreneurship in a 4-week accelerator to help them refine their work and pitch. For many innovators, this may have been the most valuable part of the Yass Prize and STOP Awards.
By the end, we realized that the lessons we learned and the relationships we built will last far longer than the cash prizes.
And therein lies the clear insight of the Yass Prize team – being an education innovator is lonely work. You get into political hot water, it is easy to get discouraged, and your impact can feel like a tiny drop in a vast ocean. But being in the room with my cohort reminded me there is strength in numbers, my ideas matter, and our collective impact will shake the ground we stand on.
Learn more about the Yass Prize and STOP Awards Foundation at Yassprize.org.