Participants in The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Networks for School Improvement initiative — which launched a year ago and is aimed at grouping schools to tackle common problems, with an emphasis on helping low-income students and students of color — are beginning to assess the results they've seen so far, Chalkbeat reports.
One school network in Baltimore, for example, plans to use $11 million to boost 8th- and 9th-graders' reading and writing skills, and while leaders admit that figuring out how to accomplish that and track progress was tricky, they're reportedly optimistic about the longterm impact the "continuous improvement" work will have.
The Gates Foundation has distributed $93 million to 21 nonprofits coordinating the networks thus far, with the goal of encouraging schools to develop grassroots solutions to common problems that can serve as best practices examples. While little data was provided on current progress, Columbia University research on the initiative's first year will be released later this year, and student progress data will come in the next three years.
Beyond Baltimore's plans, Achieve Atlanta is using its $530,000 in grant funding to boost college attendance and decrease undermatching among Atlanta Public Schools students, while Chicago's Network for College Success is focusing on improving 9th-grade on-track-to-graduate rates among black, Hispanic and low-income students with its $11 million, according to Chalkbeat.
Last year, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initially announced it was giving $92 million to help schools collaborate on solutions in the form of 19 grants. The move accompanied a step away from pushing for changes to teacher evaluations and academic standards.
That strategy shift, first detailed in 2017 by Bill Gates, places a greater emphasis on "locally driven solutions." At that time, Gates said the foundation would no longer focus on changing teacher evaluations, but put its energy into helping the highest-needs schools and districts in about six to eight states.
Recently, the foundation released eight case studies examining how school systems’ district offices support schools. Fresno Unified School District’s study, for example, looked at how the district was attempting to add more time in the day to speed up student and teacher learning. New Orleans’ First Line Schools, on the other hand, is working on reorganizing the time teachers do have so they can continue to grow in their professions.