Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Invests $21 Million in Chicago Schools

By Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made an investment of $21 million in Chicago schools to strengthen the students’ preparation for college.  The gift funds the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative, which will provide for major improvements in high school curriculum and instruction to ensure the students are prepared to succeed in college and career. 

Under this initiative, the coursework structure and teaching methods of 50 high schools will be transformed. The goal is to give all students access to a high quality education, while keeping them motivated throughout their high school years. Courses will be offered to capture student interest, while providing them with the knowledge needed to graduate and go on to college or another form of post-high school education.  The initiative also will provide teachers who are well prepared and able to inspire these young people with a love of learning and desire to excel.

Like many other large urban districts, traditional high schools in the Chicago schools struggle to provide challenging and relevant coursework with the personalized instruction necessary for all students.  Currently in the Chicago schools, only 47 percent of graduates go on to college, while 46 percent of 9th graders dropout before graduation. Many of those who continue on to college find they need remedial classes to cover content they should have mastered in high school.

The Gates Foundation chose Chicago schools to be one of the first big cities to meet this challenge for today’s youth.  The Chicago schools were eager to partner in this endeavor.

Initially, Chicago schools will implement the transformation plan with 14 high schools, starting with the 9th grade. The redesign initiative then expands to other grades and to 36 additional high schools over the next three years.  The initial 14 schools are:

  • Bowen Environmental Studies Team (BEST)
  • Carver Military Academy
  • Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville
  • Crane High School
  • Dunbar Vocational High School
  • Dyett High School
  • Fenger Academy High School
  • Clark Academic Prep High School
  • John Hope College Preparatory High School
  • Kenwood Academy
  • Wendell Phillips High School
  • School of the Arts, South Shore Campus
  • Mose Vines Preparatory Academy at Orr Campus
  • George Washington High School

The goals of the broad redesign initiative are to improve classroom instruction, provide more options and opportunities for students and their parents, and to make Chicago schools performance more accountable to parents and the community.  The five most significant challenges to be addressed by the Chicago schools are strengthening the curriculum, increasing rigor and relevance of coursework, adding depth to course content, improving professional development, and providing better school-based support.

The curriculum areas of focus are English, mathematics and science with teachers providing more instructional support in these subjects. A new school accountability tool for parents is the scorecard. The card tracks a school’s performance in areas, such as graduation rate, school climate, teacher information, and student achievement.  One area of improvement of benefit to teachers, students and parents, alike, is the recruitment of and professional support for high quality principals for the Chicago schools.

The initiative is one of the most thoughtful and comprehensive approaches to high school reform in the nation with its aim of raising expectations and preparing every student for success after high school.

The initiative gives Chicago schools the potential to significantly impact the quality of education students receive in high school and put them on the right track to succeed after graduation.