To help school-reform pioneers in seven cities reinvent the high school experience for more than 140,000 students, Carnegie Corp. of New York and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have committed a total of $60 million to Schools for a New Society, an initiative that aims to improve urban high schools around the country.

Over the next five years, school and community partners in six of the cities—Boston, Chattanooga, Providence, Sacramento, San Diego, and Worcester, Mass.—each will receive $8 million, to be matched locally, for carrying out reforms. The seventh city, Houston, will receive $12 million because of its larger size.

Additional funds will be invested in technical assistance and evaluating the initiative, which has the goal of effecting sweeping, large-scale reform based on new ideas for secondary education and new expectations of teachers, students, parents, administrators, and curricula.

During the last 15 months, Carnegie Corp. has supported these reform efforts with $2.5 million in planning grants. Now it is investing $40 million, along with $20 million from the Gates Foundation, to help cities carry out their plans. Organizers of the program say they hope its model for systemic change will give a real boost to the high-school reform movement.

“We are joining citizens in these seven cities in saying that public high schools, with community support, can become communities of learning that prepare every student for success in our knowledge-based economy and in our knowledge-based democracy,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corp.

Reform efforts focus on 85 comprehensive high schools in the seven cities, but plans also include improvements in a score of urban vocational and alternative high schools. Throughout each district, vast and impersonal high schools are being reconfigured as small learning communities that foster academic growth and caring relationships and, in many instances, tailor learning to student interests in a particular issue, academic subject, or career.

Poor reading and math skills will be addressed with intensive remedial programs, as well as by subject teachers who will be trained to emphasize literacy and numeracy skills in nearly every course.

Strategies to raise students’ own expectations will include holding all students to high standards; improving support and communications systems; giving students more responsibility for their education and school affairs; and mobilizing each community’s business, cultural, educational, religious, and recreational resources in the cause of youth development.

Michele Cahill, the Carnegie Corp. senior program officer who designed the Schools for a New Society initiative, said the school-community partnerships in the seven cities were chosen following their participation in a Carnegie-supported planning process which began in June 2000 after 21 urban districts with records of innovative leadership had been invited to submit initial proposals.

“The winning reform plans,” said Cahill, “were chosen on the basis of the depth of their analysis of current problems and the quality and scope of their vision, ideas, and goals.”

The seven partnerships came out on top in a number of selection criteria, including having the political will and a demonstrated ability to forge broad-based partnerships that welcomed businesses, universities, parent groups, youth development agencies, and community-based organizations.

Cahill said the Schools for a New Society initiative is guided by four “strategic assumptions”:

1.School and community representatives—including students, teachers, school officials, and leaders in higher education, politics, unions, businesses, and civic organizations—must jointly redesign their outmoded comprehensive high schools.

2.Obsolete factory-model high schools must be transformed into learning communities that help all children reach high standards; one approach is to create small schools—or schools within schools—that can create a caring culture of learning.

3.The challenges presented by high schools are systemic and require district-wide leadership and reform.

4.Schools cannot succeed alone. To raise expectations for students and provide the means for them to succeed, school districts must raise community expectations for students and recruit community partners who will share public and private resources in a coordinated effort to help all young people develop into healthy, well-educated, productive citizens.

Carnegie Corp. of New York was created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote “the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.” It awards grants totaling approximately $75 million a year in the areas of education, international peace and security, international development, and strengthening U.S. democracy.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is dedicated to improving people’s lives by sharing advances in health and learning with the global community. Led by Bill Gates’ father, William H. Gates, Sr., and Patty Stonesifer, the Seattle-based foundation has an asset base of $24.2 billion.

Related links:
Carnegie Corp. of New York
http://www.carnegie.org

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
http://www.gatesfoundation.org