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These 3 California school networks are models for new Gates Foundation investments in education

Kate Stringer | October 19, 2017

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Bill Gates announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be giving $1.7 billion toward innovation in K-12 education over the next five years. (Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Of the $1.7 billion that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to public education over the next five years, the majority will go toward supporting innovations within schools that have joined together in collaborative networks.

Philanthropist Bill Gates made the announcement in Cleveland Thursday afternoon during his keynote speech at the Council of the Great City Schools’ 61st annual conference.

Gates hopes that the flexibility network schools have to drive “durable” and “impactful” change will make them incubators for best practices other schools can eventually adopt.

When it comes to education, “I don’t think any of us are satisfied,” Gates said. “Our role is to be a catalyst of good ideas.”

In his speech, Gates gave three examples from California to support his foundation’s direction for the next five years:

1. Fresno Unified — Gates noted the importance of investing in data systems that drive evidence-based change. He cited a Fresno project where data revealed that college-bound high school seniors were not aware of their options for attending college. Seniors whom the data showed were meeting college requirements received packages showing them their college options. This produced a 50 percent increase in students applying to public universities. His point was that students with the ability to attend more challenging schools were presented with the data that showed they were capable of doing so.

2. Summit charter network — The Summit Public Schools charter network, centered in San Jose, used data to identify best teaching practices among its staff to boost achievement for English language learners. They then shared those practices with their other teachers. Doing this decreased the achievement gap between ELL students and their English-native peers. 

• Read more: Summit charter schools launch nation’s first teacher residency program for personalized learning

3. CORE districts in CaliforniaCOREa partnership of eight large urban school districts including LA Unifiedalong with Tennessee’s Lift Education and Chicago’s Network for College Success, were examples of network schools Gates listed to show the direction his foundation wants to support. Tennessee’s LIFT collaboration of superintendents share innovation across the state, and Chicago’s Network for College Success looks to boost college-attendance rates with a specific focus on ninth-grade students. 

Gates’s latest investment marks a slight shift in the foundation’s direction. In the past, it has invested in small high schools, teacher evaluations tied to student test scores, and support for the Common Core standards, but those investments weren’t driving the scale of change hoped for, Gates said.

In addition to cultivating data-driven, evidence-based innovations in network schools, the foundation will support curriculum development, professional development, and charter schools, especially in their work serving special education students.

Of the $1.7 billion the foundation will give over the next five years, 60 percent will support network schools to share what does and doesn’t work so that best practices can be expanded to other schools.

“Big bets” in innovation will receive 25 percent of funding, Gates said. He cited education research as one of the most underfunded of any subject area. Advancements like artificial intelligence should be expanded throughout a school day to make learning fun, Gates said. Math will also be an area of focus, Gates said, as the foundation searches for evidence-based solutions for teaching and boosting student achievement.

Fifteen percent of the foundation’s funding will go toward expanding charter schools nationwide and specifically in Washington state, where 10 charter schools operate amid a years-long lawsuit threatening their constitutionality. The foundation also wants to support how charter schools serve special needs students.

As co-founder of Microsoft, Gates is worth an estimated $89.8 billion, a fortune he and his wife, Melinda Gates, have used to spur change around the globe in health care and education. Created in 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters is based in Washington state.

The full video of Gates’s remarks to the Council of Great City Schools, a group of 68 of the country’s largest urban school districts, will eventually be available for viewing on the 90.3 WCPN ideastream Facebook page.

Disclosure: LA School Report and its parent organization, The 74, receive funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This article was published in partnership with The 74.

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