Education Funding

Gates Grants to Assist With 168 Alternatives To Traditional Schools

By Caroline Hendrie — March 05, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As part of a broader push to create hundreds of small, personalized high schools across the country, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the launch last week of a five-year, $31 million, initiative to start 168 alternative schools geared to young people who are falling through the cracks in traditional high schools.

Awards ranging from $887,500 to $6.3 million apiece will go to eight organizations, with a ninth grant of $1.9 million going to the Big Picture Co., which will coordinate the initiative. The Big Picture Co. is currently in the fourth year of a five-year, $4.1 million grant from the Gates Foundation to replicate the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, or the “Met,” an alternative school it runs in the nonprofit organization’s hometown of Providence, R.I.

Tom Vander Ark, the Seattle-based foundation’s executive director for education, said the grant recipients subscribe to the Met’s approach of marrying a commitment to high academic expectations with an individualized, supportive environment for students who have had trouble in other settings. (“What’s Up, Doc?,” April 28, 1999.)

“They combine rigor, relevance, and relationship in unique ways with the goal of preparing every student for college and work,” Mr. Vander Ark said. “In many of these schools, students leave with the skills to get and keep a family- wage job, but they’re also prepared for further education.”

The largest single grant will go to the Georgia chapter of Communities in Schools, a national nonprofit group based in Alexandria, Va. The grant to the Atlanta- based chapter, which currently runs two alternative schools and plans to raise that total to 25 over three years, was trumpeted at a press conference last week by state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox.

Another top recipient is YouthBuild USA, a national nonprofit group based in Somerville, Mass., that runs 200 programs that allow former dropouts to prepare for General Educational Development exams or earn their high school diplomas while helping to build affordable housing. The organization will use the grant to strengthen its 23 diploma-granting sites, including 19 charter schools, and to create 10 more.

Tim Cross, the vice president of field services for YouthBuild, called the Gates initiative “an amazing opportunity” that will ultimately help participants amplify the voice of dropouts in national discussions of how to improve education.

“We think it’s really important that their experience not be lost in this debate,” he said.

Scaling Up

Other grant recipients include two national organizations based in the nation’s capital— one representing municipal governments and the other focused on helping expand educational choices for black parents—as well a charter school located there.

A Denver-based network of Christian alternative schools also is receiving funding, along with a community college in Oregon that already runs alternative high schools serving 1,500 students.

Dennis Littky, the co- director of the Big Picture Co., said he hopes his experience in quickly replicating an alternative, but academically oriented, school model will help ease the way for other grant recipients trying to pull off a similar feat.

“The hope is it helps everybody: We learn from them, they learn from us,” Mr. Littky said.

The Gates Foundation is in the midst of a major national initiative to foster and replicate successful small schools and to break up existing, large high schools, especially those in urban areas. Such a broad-scale assault on the prevailing approach to secondary schooling is justified, the foundation asserts, by worrisome dropout rates and forecasts that the high school population will double by 2009.

To reverse what he called “a massive failure of America’s high schools,” Mr. Vander Ark said school and civic leaders need to assemble “portfolios of options” that include more of the kinds of alternative schools that the latest grants will support.

The grants announced last week will be supplemented by additional fund- raising efforts by the recipients, foundation officials said. They added that the $31 million will cover, on average, roughly 70 percent of the costs of the projects being supported.

Since March 2000, the Gates Foundation has committed more than $400 million to help establish or strengthen nearly 1,100 small, personalized high schools, foundation officials report. That includes nearly 230 new schools, in addition to the 168 alternative schools to be supported by the latest grants.

Mr. Vander Ark said the foundation would announce efforts bringing the new schools’ total to around 1,000 over the next 18 months.

Events

Teaching Webinar Examining the Evidence: What We’re Learning From the Field About Implementing High-Dosage Tutoring Programs
Tutoring programs have become a leading strategy to address COVID-19 learning loss. What evidence-based principles can district and school leaders draw on to design, implement, measure, and improve high-quality tutoring programs? And what are districts
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding The Political Spotlight on Schools' COVID Relief Money Isn't Going Away
Politicians and researchers are among those scrutinizing the use and oversight of billions in pandemic education aid.
7 min read
Business man with brief case looking under a giant size bill (money).
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding Here's How Schools Can Use Federal COVID Aid to Solve Bus Driver and Other Transportation Woes
The Education Department outlines districts' options for using relief money to solve nationwide problems in getting kids to and from school.
2 min read
Students catch their bus near Ambridge Area Senior High School on the first day of Pennsylvania's mask mandate for K-12 schools and day care centers on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, in Ambridge, Pa.
Students catch their bus near Ambridge Area Senior High School in Ambridge, Pa., earlier this year on the first day of Pennsylvania's mask mandate for K-12 schools.
Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Education Funding High Schoolers to Decide How to Spend $1.5 Million in COVID Funding
State officials called Connecticut's new Voice4Change campaign “a first-in-the-nation statewide student civic engagement initiative.”
1 min read
Image is an illustration of a school receiving financial aid.
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: E+, Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty)
Education Funding North Carolina Must Spend $1.75B to Narrow Education Gap, Judge Orders
The judge's order has angered GOP lawmakers and will likely set up a constitutional showdown between the three state government branches.
4 min read
Image of money.
TARIK KIZILKAYA/iStock/Getty