The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving away $92 million to help schools work together and use data to solve problems, it announced Tuesday, part of a $460 million plan to help more poor students and students of color graduate high school and college.
Most of the 19 new grants are going to nonprofit organizations, including a group of urban California districts and New Visions, a New York City-based network. One grant is going to a district, Baltimore City Public Schools.
All have plans to convene middle and high schools in a “continuous improvement” cycle that uses data to improve student outcomes, though their approaches vary.
“Rather than coming in with a bright shiny new idea, we’re asking districts, schools, and intermediaries to look at investments they’ve already made,” Bob Hughes, the director of the Foundation’s K-12 education work, told reporters on Monday. “We’re really trying to build on what’s there, and really empower educators to continue the work that they’ve done but get the extra resources they need to finish the job.”
It’s a lot of money, likely to make an impact on the affected schools. But it still amounts to a scaling back of the ambitions of the Gates Foundation, which spent the last decade pushing for sweeping changes to teacher evaluation rules and academic standards across the country. (Gates is a funder of Chalkbeat.)
The change in direction, announced last year, reflects lessons learned learned by the influential foundation, it said. Critics have argued that Gates has been heavy-handed in pushing its ideas about how education needed to change, even as those efforts yielded disappointing results, as its teacher evaluation work did in one recent study.
The focus on expanding local initiatives might make educators more amenable to the foundation’s approach, though it is also likely to limit how widely felt the initiatives are. And whether the network approach of “continuous improvement” is likely to help schools get more kids ready for college, and what the Gates grants will mean for how schools are run, isn’t clear.