By MOTOKO RICH | New York Times | http://nyti.ms/Vx6FMg
December 5, 2012 :: In an effort to encourage collaboration between charter schools and traditional neighborhood schools, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $25 million in grants to seven cities.
The Gates Foundation, which is one of the largest philanthropic players in public education, was scheduled to announce the grants on Wednesday to Boston, Denver, Hartford, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and Spring Branch, Tex.
Relationships between traditional public schools and charters, which are publicly financed but privately operated, are often fraught, with neighborhood schools seeing charters as rivals for money and the most motivated students.
Charter schools, which have been operating in the United States for two decades and now educate about two million children across the country, were originally conceived as places to experiment with new ideas in education that could be transferred to their traditional counterparts. But that transfer has not often taken place smoothly.
“It took Microsoft and Apple 10 years to learn to talk,” said Don Shalvey, a deputy director at the Gates Foundation who focuses on college readiness. “So it’s not surprising that it took a little bit longer for charters and other public schools. It’s pretty clear there is more common ground than battleground.”
The grants will support a variety of projects in the seven cities, which are among 16 that have signed district-charter collaboration compacts with the Gates Foundation over the last two years.
In New York, for example, four district schools and four charter schools will work to develop a literacy program that helps students meet the Common Core standards that have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.
In Denver, high-performing schools — whether charter or district schools — can apply for grants to serve as demonstration sites where teachers and administrators from struggling schools can visit and be paired with mentors.
“‘Best practice’ has become this very common phrase in education,” said Chris Gibbons, the chief executive of the Strive Preparatory School network of seven charter schools in Denver. “But so often the best-practice sharing that happens is at such a surface level.”
Nina Rees, the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the grants would give school districts more incentive to work with charter schools. “If you’re running a school district and looking at your bottom line, the notion of an entity that’s sitting outside of your system serving your students with more autonomy is not necessarily something you will openly embrace,” Ms. Rees said. “Which is why having mediators or foundations who can take a step back and bring the two sectors together is definitely welcomed.”
The Gates Foundation, as well as the Gateses themselves, has strongly supported charter schools. Most recently, Mr. Gates donated more than $3 million in support of a ballot initiative to permit charter schools in Washington State for the first time. That measure passed by a slim margin.