FAQ: Request for Proposal on Networks for School Improvement

We received over 180 questions from participants on our Jan 17 webinar, in addition to the questions that are coming in to our inbox every day. We are working on updating our FAQs with general themes and questions as they arise. If you do not see your question answered below, please email us at K-12SchoolNetworkRFP@gatesfoundation.org. Thank you!

When does the RFP close?

All applications must be completed and submitted by 5pm PST on Feb 21, 2018. Applicants will receive an automatic notification upon submission of their application.


There are lots of supporting documents for this application. Why does this RFP require so much reading?

We learned from our RFI that words describing key concepts that are central to our strategy like “continuous improvement” and “networks” are interpreted in very different ways. Our strategy focuses on specific approaches to these concepts. We don’t want you to waste time and energy completing an application for work that is different from what you expected. Instead, we are providing as much detail as possible to guide your decision about whether to apply this year. This is also the reason why the selection process occurs over several stages, with relatively little information being requested through the initial RFP; we are asking only for what we need to assess successful applications at each stage of the process. This should reduce the overall burden for applicants.

Please read the supporting materials carefully, in particular the glossary, and if you are interested in submitting an application for funding, you can also watch our webinars which will be recorded live on Jan 17 and 26.

We welcome your feedback on our application process. If you would like to share any reactions with us, please email us at k-12schoolnetworkrfp@gatesfoundation.org.


I have never worked with the Gates Foundation before. Am I at a disadvantage?:

No. As part of our commitment to equity and inclusion, we’re working hard to ensure that we bring fresh talent into our grantmaking circle, and in particular, we are eager to hear from minority-led organizations who reflect the student population we seek to serve.

We understand that it can be very difficult to get your work “noticed” by education funders. That’s why we were delighted that 60% of the organizations that responded to our RFI last fall have never worked with us before. That’s also why we are running an open RFP with no restrictions on who can apply. We are also not offering advice or feedback to any applicant while the RFP is open because we believe that such activities disproportionately benefit those who already have a seat at the funding table. Instead, all applicants, including current grantees, will have access to exactly the same supports which can all be accessed from our website; every applicant should review the RFP documents carefully and use the resources available from our website to inform their application.


How many NSI grants does the foundation intend to make this year?

This depends on the quality of applications and the budget that potential grantees need to do this work. We anticipate making only three to five Type 1 grants this year and up to 20 Type 2 grants. Promising applicants who are not selected to receive funding this time will have the opportunity to apply again in 2019 and may also be invited to participate in a foundation-funded learning community later in 2018.


How and when will you screen the RFP applications?

The RFP closes at 5pm PST on Feb 21, 2018. The K12 team will then screen RFP applications. Initial screening will occur from Feb 22 – March 16. All applicants should hear from us by March 31 .

We will use a set of screening criteria that align closely to the descriptions set out in the glossary and the supporting documents for the RFP. Therefore, you should read the entire glossary and RFP documents closely before you write your application.


We are interested in this work but my organization doesn’t have all the skills to be an intermediary yet. What should we do?

You have a few choices. You can try to develop those skills on your own this year and come back and apply for our 2019 RFP. Alternatively, you could form a collaborative with one or more other organizations that have the traits and/or competencies you lack and respond to the RFP together with a view to becoming an intermediary team. Finally, you could complete the RFP to the best of your abilities and be really transparent about the areas where you have no experience. Remember, we are looking to fund aspiring intermediaries that show an ability to be coached and grow so please do not hesitate to be open about what you have left to learn. If you are not selected to receive funding this time, there may be opportunities for you to participate in a foundation-funded learning community later in 2018.


I haven’t worked on a project that enables me to answer all the questions in the “Looking Back” section of the RFP. What should I do?

We know from the RFI responses that a very small pool of intermediaries have deep experience facilitating NSIs. The “Looking Back” questions ask for very specific examples, and we understand that they might be intimidating if you do not have that exact experience. Remember that we are looking to invest in intermediaries who have great potential, not just those who have experience. Therefore, if you don’t have the exact experience that we are asking about, consider writing about something similar you have done. We encourage you to provide answers that show you are transparent about your growth areas. Your application will not be discredited if you are forthcoming about the experience and skills that you do not yet have; in fact, your transparency may mark you as a better, more reflective candidate than others.


I am an Intermediary with the experience you seem to be looking for. Do I need to have school partners ready and on board before I apply for funding?

No. The RFP is only open for six weeks and many applicants will not want or be able to find schools in such a brief period. If you are in this position, your proposed NSI should allocate planning time and an appropriate budget for you to assemble a network of schools with strong leadership teams who have the desire and ambition to work together on a common problem. In some cases, this may take only a few weeks; in other cases, it may take up to a year. Think carefully about how you will find them and what diligence and analysis you will need to do to ensure you pick the right schools. Finally, your year-on-year budget proposal in the final section of your RFP application should reflect the differing cost of searching for schools vs. working directly with them in an NSI.


In question 4.2 you ask me to speculate which of the outcomes or indicators I would choose for my NSI. How would I know this if I don’t yet know which schools I am working with and what their needs are?

If you are not planning to work on a problem that you have already defined with a set of schools, we expect that you have expertise that will help you decide which problems you’re best positioned to help schools tackle. You should suggest an outcome or indicator based on your experience navigating related problems in the past, and then if you are selected for funding, you will create a plan to find the schools that need your services. For example, if you have former guidance counselors in your organization or you work a lot with higher education institutions, you might gravitate towards College Access as a student outcome. In that case, you would look for school partners that are also interested in moving that outcome for their students. Many schools will share the same problem when it comes to College Access, but you will have to navigate the possibility that they are not physically all in the same location or that the problem may have different drivers in each school.


What is involved in the NSI grant application process?

The grant application process involves moving successfully through multiple stages that begin with a written response to this RFP and culminate with a set of intermediary organizations being invited to complete a full grant proposal, detailed budget, and measurement plan in partnership with the foundation. Stages of review include an initial screening of the RFP application, followed by a video interview and site visits. We will use the information applicants provide at each stage to determine which applicants advance to the next stage in the process.

No funding will be awarded solely on a written RFP response.


What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 grants?

Through this RFP, we plan to fund at least two different types of NSI investments.

Type 1: These grants are reserved for intermediaries that have demonstrated capacity and experience in the following areas: continuous improvement methods; data collection and analysis; network facilitation; school-level leadership development; improving outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students; and knowledge management.

These intermediaries

  • have successfully facilitated a network of schools or districts that used a continuous improvement process to improve one or more predictive student outcomes or indicators for Black, Latino, and low-income students, and
  • are (or will be with planning funds) ready to launch an NSI in 2018 or early 2019 that aims to increase the number of Black, Latino, and low-income students who make progress against a predictive student outcome or indicator with 10-50 schools.

Type 1 grants are multi-year awards (three to five years) for a small number of networks. We anticipate making only three to five Type 1 investments in 2018 and predict that number will increase over the next three years.

The size of Type 1 grant awards will be determined based on the number of schools in the network and will include additional capacity building for intermediaries. Based on an average network size of 20 – 40 schools for 3-5 years, we envision investments ranging from $1-$4M per year. This financial information and average network size is preliminary and should be used as general guidance. Detailed budgeting will be part of the grant creation process that successful applicants will undergo with a Gates Foundation Program Officer.

Type 2: These grants are reserved for intermediaries that have demonstrated experience in some, but not all, of the following areas: continuous improvement methods; data collection and analysis; network facilitation; school-level leadership development; improving outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students; and knowledge management.

Intermediaries that apply for Type 2 grants are developing their capacity to facilitate an NSI. As such, these grants are generally smaller in scope and duration.

The purpose of the Type 2 investment is to support intermediaries to lead a specific improvement project that seeks to improve a student predictive indicator while simultaneously building an intermediary’s capacity and potential to apply for a Type 1 grant in future years.

We anticipate funding up to 20 Type 2 NSIs in this first year. Each grant will fund a 12-24 month improvement project aligned to the NSI strategy and appropriate for the applicant’s context. Award sizes (up to $500,000 total for 12-24 months) will be determined based on project specifics, including the scope and duration of the investment and number of schools involved in the network.

Grants will be awarded directly to intermediaries. Successful applicants we be notified of the status of their award by August 2018. Subsequent payment is contingent upon satisfactory grant progress. In the case of higher risk investments, grants may be terminated at agreed-upon inflection points if progress stalls.


How will you decide on Type 1 applications vs Type 2? Should I state a preference in my RFP application?

We prefer for all RFP applicants to go through the same initial process and provide the same information. We will work with applicants in the later stages of the review to develop a grant proposal that suits their current skills and capacity, whether that is Type 1 or Type 2.


I want to be a Technical Assistance or TA Provider for NSIs. Should I apply to the RFP?

RFP applicants must be willing to facilitate NSIs. If your organization is not in that position, you should not apply. If you want to be a TA provider, please sign up for our K12 Momentum newsletter on our website and keep an eye out for opportunities that will be publicized there in the spring.


I might be an Intermediary one day but I am not ready to apply for funding yet; ideally, I’d just like to stay abreast of your work. What are my options?

Please sign up for our K12 Momentum newsletter to receive updates on our work and future funding opportunities. Please consider applying to the RFP even if you are not ready to launch an NSI immediately. We are considering opportunities to bring promising potential Intermediaries together in some kind of learning community in 2018 and you will need to submit an RFP application to be considered.


What happens if I don’t get a grant?

We want to build a strong bench of Intermediaries who can facilitate NSIs. If you do not receive a grant from us this year, you might spend the next 12 months seeking out ways to grow your own intermediary capacity so you can submit a stronger application next year. We are also looking into ways to bring promising potential Intermediaries together in some kind of learning community; all RFP applicants will be considered for this opportunity.


How many applications may I submit in response to this RFP?

Each intermediary organization, regardless of its size, may submit no more than two applications in response to this RFP.

If you choose to submit two applications, you must be capable of simultaneously sustaining both NSIs, financially and with appropriate human capital, if both proposals are approved.

Please note that each application must contain a different email address in section 1.11 because we use the email address as the unique identifier for the application.


What is the grantmaking timeline and process?

Applications must be received by 5pm PST on Feb 21, 2018.

Intermediaries that successfully pass the initial paper screening will be invited to a video interview with foundation program officers in late March or early April. In April or early May, foundation staff will conduct a short site visit to applicants who advance from the interview stage. During this site visit we will meet with the intermediary team and visit potential NSI schools if they have been identified. Following the site visit, the foundation will select a subset of these applicants to develop a formal grant proposal for either a Type 1 or Type 2 grant. This proposal must include a detailed plan to conduct necessary data analysis and onboard schools to the network. Final funding recommendations will be made by August, 2018.

Because the RFP is open to the public, it is difficult to predict how many applications we will receive. We therefore reserve the right to modify the review timeline slightly to ensure all applications receive appropriate consideration. If it becomes necessary to change the timeline, we will notify all applicants by March 16 and provide details of the updated timeline by email.

Additional RFP Resources

Start a Response to the RFP on Networks for School Improvement

We want to hear from Intermediaries of secondary school networks that have successfully engaged in continuous improvement.

RFP Grantmaking Guidelines

A set of guidelines to inform responses to the RFP on Networks for School Improvement.

More Info on the RFP

Learn more about the Request for Proposal on Networks for School Improvement.

RFP Glossary

A glossary to clarify terms that we may use differently in this RFP from how they are commonly used in the field.