Gates Foundation Announces $92 Million Going to School Networks Working to Boost High School Graduation, College Enrollment

Bill and Melinda Gates attend the Stanford commencement ceremony in 2014. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will give $92 million to 19 school districts, charter schools, and nonprofits to develop networks of middle and high schools across the country, with specific projects aimed at increasing the number of black, Latino, and low-income students graduating from high school and going onto college.

“We know that no school is an island, and we’ll be working with groups of schools rather than individual schools to solve problems collaboratively,” Bob Hughes, the foundation’s director of K-12 education, told reporters on a call Monday.

The projects take aim at issues such as completion of key English and math courses in eighth and ninth grades and matching high-needs students with the correct college, including efforts to avoid students “under-matching” to colleges less competitive than those they could attend. Individual grants range from $499,000 to $16 million.

The foundation, much-watched in education circles because of the scale of its philanthropy, announced last fall it would spend $1.7 billion on education over five years and shift its work from strengthening teacher evaluations and promoting the Common Core State Standards. Beyond supporting the school networks, the foundation also plans to focus on professional development, curriculum development, and charter schools serving special education students.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also provides financial support to The 74.

The smaller grants are shorter in duration, as little as 15 months, and are aimed at more discrete problems, Hughes said. Partners in School Innovation, for instance, will get $499,000 over 15 months to help students at 10 Philadelphia middle schools catch up in math.

The KIPP Foundation also will receive $499,000 to aid its college counseling program.

“This grant will enable so many of our regions to learn from one another and from educators outside of KIPP as they work to improve academic and college counseling practices and will ensure more young people are graduating from high school prepared for success in college and careers,” CEO Richard Barth said in a release.

The higher-dollar grants, which cover five years in some cases, were awarded to organizations looking at more facets of a problem, he said.

The High Tech High Graduate School of Education, which is embedded in 13 High Tech High K-12 schools, will get $10.3 million over five years to partner with up to 30 high schools to work on four key drivers of college matriculation: financial access, the college application process, fostering a sense of belonging, and reducing students’ failure to enroll after they are accepted (which is known as “summer melt”).

The Institute for Learning will get $7.4 million over five years to work on improving writing instruction at six middle schools and six high schools in the Dallas Independent School District.

That’s needed not only for the district’s English language learners but its African-American students as well, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said on the call with reporters Monday.

“It’s going to really help our students get engaged, and not only will they learn from the curriculum and the support, but also there’s the power of the cohort [to share information among schools],” Hinojosa said.

The foundation received more than 500 applications in this first-round request for proposals. The winners were selected through a rigorous process that included an initial blind review, phone interviews, and site visits, Hughes said.

Gates Foundation officials pointed to a review of existing research on school networks, released by Columbia University’s Center for Public Research and Leadership, that found improvements in collaboration and the use of data, though few of the studies measured improvements in student performance. The Gates Foundation funded the Columbia research.

The foundation is still working through the details of how it will judge the success of the grants, but it is “deeply committed to third-party evaluation of all our work and transparency about the results,” Hughes said.

The foundation funded multi-year research by the RAND Corporation released in June that found that its $575 million effort to improve teacher evaluation and effectiveness fell short.

The foundation plans to award up to three more rounds of school network grants, Hughes said.

“This is our first cohort, under our first RFP [request for proposals]. We really intend to have additional RFPs and open the gate for more people to apply and potentially receive funding for the foundation,” Hughes said.

The foundation expects to announce more grant recipients this fall and to invest $460 million total in the school network projects, Hughes said.

“We know it will take some time before we see the impact of this work, and we’re committed to seeing this through,” he said.

The full list of grant winners is:

Achieve Atlanta: $532,000 over 24 months to develop a tool to help better match Atlanta Public School students with colleges.

Baltimore City Public Schools: $11.2 million over 48 months to focus on eighth- and ninth-grade literacy, with literacy coaches in 12 to 15 middle schools.

Bank Street College of Education: $700,000 over 16 months to work with 10 middle schools in Yonkers, New York, to increase the number of students who successfully complete eighth-grade math.

California Education Partners: $12 million over 61 months to launch and manage a network of up to 50 secondary schools across 18 California districts aimed at improving outcomes for black, Latino, and low-income students.

Center for Leadership and Educational Equity: $560,000 over 20 months to create a network of 10 high schools in Rhode Island focused on the number of students completing a ninth-grade college prep math course.

City Year: $520,000 over 18 months to convene a network of 10 middle schools in Milwaukee to utilize early-warning indicators to ensure students are on track in eighth grade.

Communities Foundation of Texas: $503,000 over 15 months to support a network of 10 schools in North Texas focused on increasing eighth-grade math proficiency.

Community Center for Educational Results: $515,000 over 24 months to expand an institute working with high schools in South Seattle and South King County, Washington, to increase the number of students who have a meaningful plan for college and career.

CORE: $16 million over 61 months to work on improving ninth-grade on-track rates, enhance data systems, and sustain a research partnership at the eight large California school districts.

High Tech High: $10.3 million over 60 months to partner with up to 30 high schools in Southern California to focus on college matriculation issues for high-needs students.

Institute for Learning: $7.4 million over 60 months to support English language arts proficiency at 12 middle and high schools in Dallas.

KIPP: $499,000 over 23 months to support the charter network’s college counseling program, KIPP Through College, at 31 high schools across 16 states.

Network for College Success: $11.7 million over 60 months to test interventions in 15 to 20 Chicago high schools aimed at increasing the number of students earning a 3.0 GPA or better by the end of ninth grade, with a goal toward college readiness.

New Visions for Public Schools: $13.9 million over 60 months at up to 67 New York City high schools to increase the number of students who graduate ready to succeed in college by maintaining competitive GPAs, finishing advance coursework, and earning college-ready scores on state exams.

Northwest Regional Educational Service District: $586,000 over 24 months to support 32 regional high schools in Northwest Oregon in their work to increase the number of students who are on track to graduate by the end of ninth grade.

Partners in School Innovation: $499,000 over 15 months to run a network of 10 Philadelphia middle schools focused on helping students rapidly catch up in math.

Seeding Success: $560,000 over 24 months to help a network of 15 middle and high schools in Memphis, Tennessee, to track eighth- and ninth grade on-track outcomes, identify reasons students are falling behind, and create interventions.

Southern Regional Education Board: $3.3 million over 36 months for a network of 10 schools in Birmingham, Alabama, to focus on increasing proficiency rates in eighth-grade math and ninth-grade Algebra 1.

Teach Plus: $619,200 over 23 months for a network of 10 middle schools in Chicago and Los Angeles to achieve proficiency in eighth-grade math.

Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Karsh Family Foundation, and the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund provide financial support to KIPP and The 74. The Walton Family Foundation provides financial support to High Tech High and The 74.

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