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Published in Print: March 13, 2002, as $20 Million Grant Award Targets Baltimore High Schools

$20 Million Grant Award Targets Baltimore High Schools

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and eight philanthropies based in Baltimore are granting the Baltimore public schools $20.8 million to retool nine struggling high schools, as part of an ongoing effort by the Gates Foundation to decrease school size.

Bill Gates

The five-year grant project will support elements of the 96,000-student district's plan for raising achievement in its nine zoned, or neighborhood, high schools, the foundations announced late last month. The city's 18 other high schools, which include specialized magnet schools, will not receive grant funding.

As part of the reform plan, the 14,000 students who attend the neighborhood schools will ultimately have access to six to eight new, 500- student "innovation high schools" and a more difficult curriculum, including Advanced Placement classes.

Currently, Baltimore's nine neighborhood high schools boast enrollments of about 1,500 each, and 65 percent of the students attending them fail to graduate in four years. The first of the new high schools is slated to open by the fall of 2003.

"The high school is where it's at for our young people," said Carmen V. Russo, the chief executive officer of the Baltimore district. "When they get that diploma after 12 years, it has to mean something."

The $20 million in grant funding will not support building the new schools, which will be financed by the state of Maryland, or the hiring of new teachers. Instead, the private aid will focus on improving curricula, technology, and teacher training within the high schools.

"This is all about trying to get the kids prepared" for the workforce or for college, said Diana Morris, the director of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, another funder.

That philanthropy, founded by international investor George Soros, joined with the Blaustein Foundations, the Aaron Straus and Lillie Straus Foundation, the Abell Foundation, the Baltimore Community Foundation, the Clayton Baker Trust, the Lockhart Vaughan Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation to give nearly $8.8 million to the Fund for Educational Excellence. The fund is a Baltimore-based group that will oversee the improvement effort.

Dual Effect Envisioned

The Seattle-based Gates Foundation donated the lion's share of funding—$12 million—for the high school project.

Targeting high schools will have the dual effect of benefiting "the students who are most underserved and the ones closest to becoming the adult population," said Kenneth W. Jones, the foundation's education program officer.

The Gates Foundation—which has focused largely on health care and technology—made its first education-related grant in March 2000, with a $25.9 million donation to the 47,000 Seattle public schools to improve technology and create smaller schools.

Over the course of the following year, the philanthropy granted $46.1 million for small-schools initiatives to nine other school districts and a Roman Catholic diocese in Washington state. Its education-related giving has since branched out to include national organizations and districts in other states.

In Baltimore, the Gates Foundation wants to reach the greatest number of students, but the youths in question need more than just smaller schools, Mr. Jones said. "Small is necessary, but not sufficient," he said.

For that reason, Mr. Jones said, the foundation wants to support various aspects of the Baltimore reform plan, including encouraging teachers and administrators to set high expectations for their students, putting more emphasis on rigorous courses in the schools, and helping staff members and students focus on the same goals.

Vol. 21, Issue 26, Page 9

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