The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has put hundreds of millions into improving public education, has taken its first large-scale step into supporting private schools, with a $4.4 million grant to a group that represents Christian schools.
The grant to Christian Schools International, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., was part of an effort to ensure that the Seattle-based foundation’s portfolio reflects a representative sample of schools, said spokeswoman Carol Rava. Between 10 percent and 11 percent of students nationwide attend private schools.
Grants to one Roman Catholic school and the Diocese of Yakima were the philanthropy’s only previous grants to private education, she said. The grant to CSI, announced last month, will be shared by 14 urban schools in Chicago and three rural schools in New Mexico.
The choice of CSI serves not only the foundation’s goal of supporting improvement in private schools, but also of aiding schools that serve poor and minority populations. The New Mexico schools enroll mostly Native American children, and the Chicago schools enroll students of various races and ethnicities. Both serve large numbers of students from low- income families.
“One of the most pleasing things about this grant is that it will help us improve the education of students who don’t have all the opportunities for education that some other students do,” said Daniel Vander Ark, CSI’s executive director. “The emphasis is on children, not the structure of the schools. We believe that private schools serve the public good as well as public schools do.”
Gates Foundation officials were familiar with the work of CSI because Mr. Vander Ark is related to the foundation’s executive director for education, Tom Vander Ark. (“Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” Oct. 10, 2001.)
And, Ms. Rava said, the CSI schools in Chicago and New Mexico are seeking to improve in areas that the Gates Foundation focuses on: enhancing technology infrastructure, adopting research-based instructional practices, and providing staff development.
The religious schools in Chicago will be able to share their effective practices with a group of Chicago public schools that recently won a Gates grant, Gates and CSI officials said.
The 17 schools chosen to share the grant are a mix of elementary, K-8, and high schools that serve 4,300 students and include several Roman Catholic and Lutheran schools. They do not yet know their respective shares of the grant money. They will submit applications to CSI outlining their plans, Ms. Rava said.
Zuni Christian Mission School in Zuni, N.M., which serves 75 students in grades K-8, mostly from the Zuni pueblo on the Arizona border, hopes to use the grant money to upgrade its Internet connection and to use computers to enhance its instruction both in English and in Zuni. “We want to foster a good exchange between the two languages and technology,” Principal Kathleen Bosscher said.