New York City’s drive to open hundreds of new small schools got a boost last week with the announcement of private donations totaling more than $32 million, most of it from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Seattle-based foundation has pledged more than $800 million over the past five years to a national push for more personalized, academically rigorous secondary schools targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including $110 million in New York City alone.
The new aid comes as officials in the nation’s largest school district are facing sharp questions about their push for small schools, amid complaints that the initiative is making conditions harder at some of the city’s existing large high schools. (“Gates-Financed Initiative Faces Instructional Hurdles, Report Says,” June 23, 2004.)
Despite those criticisms, Tom Vander Ark, the Gates Foundation’s executive director for education, said last week that city school officials were “doing a great job” of mounting “the most aggressive effort to replace failing schools in the country.”
New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, for his part, said support from Gates and other funders has been “critical to the early success” of the district’s 2-year-old Children First New Schools Initiative, which has yielded more than 100 new schools so far and is expected to add 52 more next fall.
The grants announced on Feb. 15 will go to outside organizations that are cooperating with the 1.1 million-student district to open small schools, including many in buildings that house low-performing high schools being shut down.
Adding to the $4.3 million it received from the Gates Foundation in 2003, the College Board, which sponsors the SAT college-entrance exam, is to get $8.25 million from the foundation, along with $3.6 million from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.
College Board Model
The new money will help the New York City-based College Board expand a model it is now using in two small schools in the city to a network of 16 new schools by 2009. Designed for grades 6-12, the schools target children who would likely otherwise not be bound for college, said Helen Santiago, the executive director of the College Board’s New York Education Initiative.
“There’s tremendous commitment on the part of the College Board to do this,” she said.
For the Dell Foundation, the College Board gift marks a second foray into grantmaking benefiting New York’s small schools effort. Last year, the Austin, Texas-based philanthropy gave $2 million to the New York City Leadership Academy, which trains principals for the city’s public schools.
Another player in training principals, New Leaders for New Schools, got $10 million last week from the Gates Foundation for its efforts around the country.
The New York City-based organization will use $3.6 million of that award to train 46 leaders for schools in the city, said Jonathan Schnur, its chief executive officer.
Nearly $9.6 million will go to New Visions for Public Schools, a local nonprofit organization that is a significant partner in the district’s new-schools push.
Through its New Century High Schools Initiative, managed in collaboration with the district and the city teachers’ and principals’ unions, New Visions has helped open 75 small high schools in the past four years.
Started five years ago with $10 million contributions from each of three philanthropies—the Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Open Society Institute—the initiative got an infusion of $29 million from the Gates Foundation in 2003. With the new money, New Visions aims to create 15 more high schools and expand its work for structural changes in the district to support small schools, including processes for designing campuses for such schools.
Also included in last week’s Gates announcements was $7 million to the Urban Assembly, a local organization that runs nine small schools offering a college-prep curriculum tied to career themes. The organization plans to launch 10 more schools, half next fall and the other half in 2006.
Along with its grant announcements, the Gates Foundation released two reports it commissioned from WestEd, a research organization in San Francisco.
One focuses on New York City, particularly the Marble Hill School for International Studies, a 300-student school in the Bronx that was started in 2002 with support from New Visions. The second profiles five small high schools in California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio.
A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2005 edition of Education Week as Foundations Boost Giving to Small-Schools Effort in N.Y.C.