The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is taking a step back from its education reform efforts and will direct more than $1.7 billion over the next five years to initiatives aimed at building collaborative school networks, U.S. News and World Report reports.
Speaking at the annual Council of the Great City Schools conference in Cleveland, Gates said the foundation will no longer invest in new initiatives focused on teacher evaluation and compensation, although it will continue to collect data on the effectiveness of its previous efforts. Instead, the foundation plans to boost funding for curriculum design and professional development initiatives aligned with state-defined standards — including the Common Core, which the foundation still supports — and will continue its support for charter schools, with a focus on schools that are improving outcomes for students with disabilities.
Approximately 60 percent (roughly $1 billion) of the new commitment will support the development of curricula and the foundation's new network-building venture; 15 percent will support its charter school efforts; and the remaining 25 percent will focus on "big bets" that have the potential to change the trajectory of public education over the next ten to fifteen years. The network-building initiative includes funding for up to thirty networks, starting with a focus on high-need schools and districts in six to eight states where data collection and analysis are used to drive results.
Gates shared the results produced by existing networks as examples of how such partnerships might work. They include the Network for College Success, a group of fifteen schools that is partnering with University of Chicago researchers to help educators keep tabs on a set of indicators predictive of student graduation and college enrollment; California's CORE Districts, a group of school districts that banded together in 2010 to help each other implement the Common Core and more effective teacher-training programs; and Tennessee's Lift Education, which brings together superintendents from rural and urban districts across the state to share on best practices. Gates emphasized, however, that decisions under the new initiative will be made locally.
"We believe this kind of approach — where groups of schools have the flexibility to propose the set of approaches they want — will lead to more impactful and durable systemic change that is attractive enough to be widely adopted by other schools," said Gates. "If there is one thing I have learned, it is that no matter how enthusiastic we might be about one approach or another, the decision to go from pilot to wide-scale usage is ultimately and always something that has to be decided by you and others in the field."