At a time when some say the steam has gone out of the push for national K-12 standards, a Philadelphia foundation has announced plans to inject $14 million into several projects that emphasize the development of voluntary national standards.
In a parallel move, the foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, announced the formation of the Pew Network for Standards-Based Reform.
It will give one of the grants, a $1.45 million gift, to the Education Development Center in Newton, Mass., to help eight school districts determine whether a standards-based approach can produce "significant improvement" in students' academic performance.
Just as groups like the Coalition of Essential Schools have brought together reform-minded schools around a common agenda, Pew hopes the standards network will do the same for districts, according to Robert Schwartz, the director of education programs at Pew.
"We really don't know what good districts look like," Mr. Schwartz said in an interview.
While there are "hundreds of examples of successfully reformed or reforming schools," a written overview of the project says, many are "buried in demonstrably second-rate districts."
The eight network members are medium-sized districts or parts of large urban districts serving 15,000 to 50,000 students: Community School District 2 in New York City; Beaumont, Tex.; Christiana, Del.; Lexington, Ky.; Pittsburgh; Portland, Ore.; a cluster of high schools in San Diego; and Yonkers, N.Y.
Each will receive about $1 million over a five-year period.
Among the other grants, Pew will give $6 million to the University of Pittsburgh for the New Standards project, which is working with 16 states and six districts to come up with performance standards and assessments in English, mathematics, science, and applied learning.
Pew also will award $4 million to the National Center on Education and the Economy in Rochester, N.Y., to support its National Alliance for Restructuring Education, a group working with five states and four districts to create "break the mold" school systems. The center is also a partner in the New Standards project.
Other grants approved at Pew's June board meeting included $200,000 to the Council for Basic Education, for a panel to review the controversial U.S. and world-history standards, and grants of $600,000 and $500,000, respectively, to the University of Maryland and the University of Oregon to restructure their admissions around reforms in K-12 education.