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Published in Print: February 21, 2001, as Calif. Group Receives $40 Million For School Improvement

Calif. Group Receives $40 Million For School Improvement

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A network of reform-minded public schools in the San Francisco Bay area has secured $40 million in new grants, enabling it to continue for five more years the improvement efforts it began in 1995 as part of the nationwide Annenberg Challenge.

Announcing the grants this month, officials with the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative said they planned to use the grant money from the Annenberg Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to leverage an additional $60 million in donations over the next five years.

The BASRC intends to give the $100 million as grants to as many as 300 public schools in six Bay-area counties to use what organizers describe as data-driven methods for improving student performance and narrowing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their wealthier peers.

The collaborative was formed in response to the Annenberg Challenge, the school improvement initiative launched in 1993 by the retired publisher and ambassador Walter H. Annenberg. Mr. Annenberg committed $500 million to public schools and districts around the country and urged the private sector to respond in kind. By January 2000, Mr. Annenberg's half-billion dollars had generated $566 million in matching grants nationwide. ("Matching Grants Have Bolstered Annenberg's 1993 Gift," Feb. 2, 2000.)

Annenberg officials say the grant money has reached 2,400 schools of all sizes in rural and urban communities in 35 states. Most have substantial portions of poor and minority students.

The new infusion of funding in the San Francisco Bay area comes as the BASRC's original $50 million in grants—which the collaborative augmented with $112 million in challenge grants—is about to run out. That first $50 million came from the Annenberg and Hewlett foundations and California industrialist William Hewlett.

"Getting a second round of funding of this magnitude feels like lightning striking twice," said Merrill Vargo, the collaborative's executive director. "As any of us who work in school reform know, it's unusual to get to work consistently on the same agenda for a decade. It's a wonderful opportunity and a tribute to the hard work of a lot of people in the schools in the Bay area."

Making a Difference

The most recent grants include $25 million from the Menlo Park, Calif.-based Hewlett Foundation—the largest single donor to the Annenberg Challenge—and $15 million from the St. Davids, Pa.-based Annenberg Foundation. In making the grants, the foundations noted that a team of Stanford University researchers had found significant improvement in BASRC- assisted schools.

"The Hewlett Foundation is awarding this new five-year grant because of the steady progress BASRC has made in improving public schools in the region," Paul Brest, the president of the foundation, said in a prepared statement.

The Stanford study last spring of BASRC schools' four-year performance records found that students at those schools had made greater gains on the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition than had their peers at non-BASRC schools of similar socioeconomic makeup. Elementary and middle schools serving large numbers of poor students made particularly strong showings on that standardized test, the evaluators said.

According to the researchers, the improvements were driven by the way the schools trained teachers, shared leadership, and used data to evaluate and adopt teaching methods. "Fundamental changes in the culture and core practices ... seem to be making a difference for student learning," the study found.

The Bay-area collaborative says it will award the new grants to small groups of schools working on an "inquiry- based, data-driven approach to school reform."

Under that approach, schools are required to use multiple types of data to identify and fully explore student-achievement problems, set improvement goals, choose research-based strategies for improvement, carry out those strategies, and analyze the results. Each group will have an "anchor school" that will teach the inquiry- based method to other schools.

Ms. Vargo said the focus of the new grants would be onimproving school systems, rather than individual schools, and on making those improvements last.

Vol. 20, Issue 23, Page 7

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