American Institutes for Research and SRI International. (2003). High time for high school reform: Early findings from the evaluation of the National School District and Network Grants Program. Washington, DC: Authors.
The vision behind the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s National School District and Network Grants Program is nothing less than the transformation of the American high school experience. The initiative seeks to catalyze a shift from large, anonymous, comprehensive schools to smaller learning communities, in which strong relationships between students and adults are combined with challenging, inquiry-based curricula to offer students a learning experience that is at once highly motivating and rigorous and that provides meaningful preparation for college and work.
To this end, the foundation announced in 2000 its commitment of $350 million to a variety of organizations across the country to support school reform. The National School District and Network Grants Program promotes a two-pronged approach: the start-up of new small high schools of no more than 400 students, and the conversion of large high schools into smaller, more personalized schools or learning communities. By funding a wide range of intermediary organizations that support school change, the foundation hopes to promote initial demonstrations of successful schooling models in a wide range of contexts, building eventually to large-scale education reform that will result in a system of school choice for families throughout the country. The initiative has a particular focus on underserved communities, with the goal of creating a more equitable system of learning opportunities for all students.
This report is one of a series that will be produced over the 5-year course of the National School District and Network Grants Program evaluation. The evaluation examines the extent to which foundation-supported schools adopt elements of effective schooling and show better, more equitable outcomes for students. It also investigates the factors that promote or impede school change and its sustained success at scale.
Given the early stage of the initiative, this report focuses on the experiences of educators and students in the first year of operation of new small schools. These experiences are contrasted with those in large high schools planning a conversion into smaller units and those in a set of model small schools in operation before the start of this initiative. We also describe the roles played by the intermediary organizations that are receiving Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funding to catalyze school change. Later reports will document the initiative as it continues to unfold, following schools as they mature and evaluating student outcomes as those begin to