Gates Foundation Small Schools: Success, Failure, and Lessons Learned
After gathering a team of experts, they decided to focus on high school dropouts, the 20% to 30% of teens who fail to get a degree in four years. The foundation embraced what many social scientists had concluded was the prime solution: Instead of losing kids in large schools like Manual, the new thinking was to divide them into smaller programs with 200 to 600 students each. Doing so, numerous studies showed, would help prevent even hard-to-reach students from falling through the cracks. The foundation didn’t set out to design schools or run them. Its goal was to back some creative experiments and replicate them nationally. “I thought, if you get enough of these going across the country, people will realize they’re good, and more and more will pop up,” says Melinda Gates, who devotes several hours a week to education philanthropy.
Six years and a steep learning curve later, the Gateses see just how intractable are the many ills plaguing America’s worst schools. It has been a difficult, even humbling experience. Melinda Gates says she and Bill didn’t realize at first how much cooperation it would take from school districts and states to break up traditional big schools. “If you want to equate being naive with being inexperienced, then we were definitely naive when we first started,” she says. “There are a lot of places where many people have given up, or decided that ‘bad schools are not my problem.’ There are also a lot of entrenched interests.” read more