The Gates Foundation will invest funds to develop “next-generation instructional tools” to help implement the Common Core state standards.

The Gates Foundation will invest funds to develop “next-generation instructional tools” to help implement the Common Core state standards.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to invest up to $250 million over the next eight years to develop “next-generation instructional tools” that will help states and school districts implement the Common Core state standards, the foundation said in its annual report Sept. 7.

The Gates Foundation, one of the largest givers of money to K-12 and higher education in the United States, also plans to fund “data-driven research that explores ways states can modify the [Common Core] standards and assessments to improve student success in school and the workforce.”

Led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, the Common Core State Standards Initiative established a set of shared K-12 standards for English and math that states could adopt voluntarily. The idea was to replace the patchwork of state standards that vary dramatically from state to state with a single, rigorous set of guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.

The final common standards were released earlier this year, and as of press time 36 states and the District of Columbia had adopted the new standards.

“The more states that adopt these college- and career-based standards, the closer we will be to sharing innovation across state borders and improving achievement for all students,” said Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates. “As states adopt the standards, policy makers will need to make sure that our teachers have what they need to do their jobs—rich assessment systems that yield useful, timely data; tools that translate that data into more effective instruction; and evaluations and compensation systems that reward teachers for performance.”

Supporting the development and adoption of the Common Core standards was one of the Gates Foundation’s many education investments in 2009. All told, the foundation spent $373 million on U.S. education last year and another $19 million on libraries, according to its annual report.

Besides the Common Core standards initiative, the foundation also invested in projects to improve teacher quality and improve education data systems.

Despite its work in these areas, the world’s largest charitable foundation acknowledged in its annual report that it is too secretive and hard to work with.

The report, posted online, includes the usual financial information and a look at the foundation’s plans. But it also offers a glimpse of the organization’s attempts to be more open.

CEO Jeff Raikes draws attention in the report to a grantee survey that gave the foundation poor marks for communicating its goals and strategies, and for confusing people with its complicated grant-making process.

Raikes originally released the survey results in June—a day before Bill Gates made headlines for launching a campaign with investor Warren Buffett to get other American billionaires to give at least half their wealth to charity.

Few but charity insiders noticed the unfavorable review, and the foundation could have let it fade into obscurity.

Instead, Raikes points out the results for all to see in the annual report, right next to his letter outlining the foundation’s priorities for the near future.

The editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy believes the foundation is clearly making an effort to improve its communications.

Stacy Palmer credits Raikes, with his years at Microsoft Corp., for knowing the importance of customer relations. But she thinks the foundation has a ways to go.