A month after becoming the world’s largest philanthropic foundation with an endowment of more than $21 billion, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said on March 2 that it would direct $350 million during the next three years toward improving K-12 education in the United States.
This latest announcement moves the foundationalready a major donor of computers and software to classrooms and a funder of minority scholarshipssquarely in line with an issue that is considered a key to education in the next decade and beyond: using the internet access that has grown among schools in the last few years to transform education.
To this end, the foundation is seeking innovative strategies that encourage new approaches to learning, said Executive Director Tom Vander Ark.
“The investments we are making in education all derive from a core belief that all students can achieve if you provide the right leadership, the right learning environment, and the right tools,” he said.
At the same time the three-year program was announced, the foundation announced the first phase of its supporta $25.9 million grant to the Alliance for Education and the Seattle Public Schools.
The partners will “create a model school district in Seattle through improved teaching and learning, increased access to technology, and stronger home and community partnerships,” said Robin Pasquarella, president of the Alliance for Education.
Specifically, funds from the Gates Foundation will be used to enable each of the Seattle district’s 97 K-12 schools to purchase technology resources, obtain technical assistance, and train staff in the use of technology. These “transformation grants” will account for about $20 million to $21 million of the funds. They also will support development of a district-wide network, dubbed the Academic Operating System.
This network will serve as the infrastructure for instructional technology and administrative tasks. In addition, funding will accelerate wiring of all schools into local and wide area networks, thus connecting workstations and providing internet access in the office, library, computer lab, and other student spaces.
Meanwhile, the remainder of the foundation’s $350 million commitment during the next three years will support four types of activities:
• State Challenge Grant for Leadership Development ($100 million): Leadership development for administrators who are dedicated to using technology to improve student learning. Modeled after the Smart Tools Academya partnership among the Gates Foundation, the University of Washington, and the Seattle nonprofit Technology Alliancethis program will be open to every superintendent and principal in the country by making grants to consortia in every state.
• Teacher Leadership Grants ($70 million): This grant will continue a Washington state program that trains teachers on how to use technology in the classroom so they can help their students meet state standards and “create strong learning environments based on active inquiry, in-depth learning, and high expectations.” About $45 million will go toward training 1,000 Washington teachers in each of the next three years, and $25 million will support similar programs elsewhere in the country.
• District Grants ($150 million): Funds will support 10 Washington districts and 20 other districts nationwide in projects to improve teaching and learning and enhance student access to technology.
• School Grants ($30 million): Washington schools can use these funds to improve teaching and learning and enhance student access to technology.
Much of this year’s funding will be targeted toward schools in Washington state. However, foundation officials said the Washington state grants will develop model programs that, over the three-year period, will be replicated nationally with support from the Gates Foundation. The State Challenge Grants are open nationally now.
Eligibility requirements and applications are available on the foundation’s web site (see link below). n
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Alliance for Education
Seattle Public Schools