In one of the largest grants it has ever made to a single school system, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $21 million to the Chicago Public Schools to establish a more rigorous high school curriculum, boost graduation rates, and better prepare students for college.

The money is a crucial element of the district's so-called "transformation project," a push by the nation's third-largest school system to cut high-school dropout rates and improve the fortunes of students who do go on to college.

The $21 million figure is the second-largest total that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' foundation...

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