Policy & Funding

Gates Foundation Funds 19 Networks for School Improvement

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made what it's calling a "down payment" on an ambitious effort "to help tens of thousands of students get the education they deserve." But no explicit reference is made to "scaling up," and "local" is definitely in. In August, the philanthropic organization committed $90 million in grants to 19 initiatives around the country, involving schools and districts and education organizations as part of its Networks for School Improvement work.

The investments are intended to help the organizations learn how to use continuous improvement strategies to improve overall school performance and identify effective strategies that help Black, Latinx and low-income students succeed. Continuous improvement uses data and research to test incremental steps in solving "chronic problems," as the Gates Foundation explained in an FAQ.

In Georgia, a two-year, $532,000 grant will enable Achieve Atlanta to collaborate with Atlanta Public Schools in developing a tool to help match students to "good-fit colleges" and use continuous improvement to build capacity in the schools for supporting their students in selecting, applying to and enrolling in the postsecondary institutions where they'll best succeed.

The Center for Leadership and Educational Equity will act as an intermediary for a 10-high school network in Rhode Island that wants to increase the number of under-represented students who complete a 9th grade college-prep math course. The $560,000, 20-month project will include collaborating with teams of students, teachers and education leaders to identify the equity gaps in ninth grade course completion, explore the causes and test interventions.

Educate Texas will use its $503,000, 15-month grant to work with a network of schools that will use continuous improvement to focus on increasing math proficiency of eight graders.

High Tech High's Graduate School of Education will lead a network of up to 30 schools in Southern California to increase the number of under-represented students who apply, enroll and head to four-year colleges. The areas of focus for this five-year, $10.3 million initiative, will encompass financial access, the college application process, fostering a sense of belonging and reducing students' failure to enroll even after they've been admitted.

In Oregon the Northwest Regional Education Service District will lead a network of 32 regional high schools through a continuous improvement process targeting deeper learning and culturally sustaining pedagogies. The goal of the two-year, $586,000 effort is to increase the number of students who are on track by the end of grade 9 to graduate.

In a video about the program, Allan Golston, president of the foundation's U.S. Program, expressed the philosophy behind the education work, which consists primarily of recognition of the importance of local context and the use of data to identify what's working. "We see it across the country in classrooms, that teachers are making a difference every single day for kids. But there is no single point solution. Context matters. Any solution that lasts has to connect to this local context."

Also, Golston added, teaching isn't the only critical aspect for student learning. "Things like school culture, building leadership, personalized professional development for teachers, great curriculum materials — these things come together and are important for making lasting change for our schools."

Finally, he noted, the information collected in these programs is important. "When schools focus on key predictors for student success like attendance or grade point average, the principals and teachers can use this data to improve their own performance and move student outcomes."

The current crop of projects was picked from an open and competitive request-for-proposal process that started in January 2018. More are expected to be announced this fall.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.