FAQ: Request for Proposal on Networks for School Improvement

We received over 200 questions from participants during our Jan 17 and Jan 26 webinars, 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!


The RFP Process, Requirements, Screening and Decisions


NSI Focus—Student Population, Schools, Geography


Eligibility and Experience


Identifying the Problem of Practice, Root Cause, Research,


What If My Organization Isn’t Ready


Data and Evaluation

The RFP Process, requirements, screening and decisions


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.


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.


The Intermediary entity is charged with networking individual schools. Is there an expectation for engaging district offices or other schools in a district? Related, might the network begin with 10 schools and increase to 20 in Year 2 and 30-50 in subsequent years?

We expect that an Intermediary will engage district or CMO offices as necessary. We leave that to the Intermediary’s discretion, with the assumption that any school team will usually benefit from the support of the school system.


The Intermediary entity is charged with networking individual schools. Is there an expectation for engaging district offices or other schools in a district? Related, might the network begin with 10 schools and increase to 20 in Year 2 and 30-50 in subsequent years?

We expect that an Intermediary will engage district or CMO offices as necessary. We leave that to the Intermediary’s discretion, with the assumption that any school team will usually benefit from the support of the school system.


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.


IIs this process available annually? Does the application remain the same annually so that we can plan to apply in the future if we can not meet the timeline for this year’s application?

We plan to issue an RFP annually for the next few years. We expect to learn much about what makes a successful NSI and do not anticipate that the application will be entirely consistent from year to year.


Is having an external evaluator a requirement of the grant?

No; we will work with a third party evaluator to understand the impact of NSIs on student outcomes as evidenced by the indicators outlined in the glossary. Join our Jan 26 webinar to learn more about Measurement and Evaluation.


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.


Should we put together a budget that’s in line with the amounts for Type 1 grants and then scale back if we’re selected for a Type 2 instead?

You can submit a budget proposal for any amount that makes sense for you. But we are of course screening for cost effectiveness and we are more likely to approve proposals that fall within the stated budget range.


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.


Is the two application limit per organization for the RFP in general or for each Type?

No organization should submit more than two applications. There are actually not Type-specific applications; every applicant goes through the same process regardless of the type of grant they would like. Decisions about the funding “Type” will actually be made later in the review process when RFP applicants will work with a Program Officer to create a detailed budget as part of a specific grant proposal.


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.


Are you looking for letters of support or any other supporting documentation with the RFP? Will there be ability to include attachments?

We are not asking for these in the initial RFP but we might ask for these or something similar if you successfully move to stage 2 or beyond. You can add attachments to your application; some questions specifically prompt you to do so. Please do not upload attachments we have not specifically asked for. These will be disregarded due to the volume of applications.


If awarded grant money, can the first year be a planning year, or is there a certain timeline for which the funds must be use?

Yes, the first year can be a planning year. Your application should list the milestones that make the most sense for your proposed network. Some of those milestones may have passed already while others may occur after the grant begins but before you start working with schools; most of the milestones will occur after you launch the work with schools. We’ll want to see a plan for how and when you will reach each milestone both in your RFP application and in subsequent interviews and conversations.


In the Budget Section of the RFP, questions 6.7 and 6.8, would you please clarify the difference between a financial award to schools and payment to schools or other partners?

We didn’t write this question very clearly in our RFP and we’ll change it for future RFPs. The difference between “financial awards to schools” and “payments to schools and other parties” is a bit confusing. You should think of financial awards to schools and payments to schools as basically the same thing. The latter includes the former BUT for the second question we also ask you to include you how much you plan to pay to other partners.


How should I think about Indirect Costs in the budget section of my application?

For our indirect cost we typically provide no more than
• 0% for Government Agencies
• Up to 10% for U.S. Universities and Community Colleges
• Up to 15 % for Public Charities, NGOs and For-profit Orgs.
More information on our indirect cost policy can be found here.


NSI Focus — Student Population, Schools, Geography


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.


Would you find it favorable/unfavorable to pitch an NSI that includes a program that has already secured Gates support?

Previous funding status has no bearing on the status of an application. Applications will be reviewed through a double-blind process. Readers will not know the identity of the applicant or any prior relationship with the foundation.


Will the foundation be giving priority to projects located in states where it has made previous investments? (So: should Intermediaries focus on projects located in those states?)

No. We will give priority to NSIs that reach Black, Latino and low-income students, wherever those students are found, regardless of our prior funding commitment to a specific state, region or city.


Do the schools involved need to have all three target populations: African American, Latino and low-income students at 50% or above, or can they consist of only one or two of those groups?

Our commitment to equity means that we will consider supporting NSIs where the majority of students in the network – as a whole — are Black students, Latino students, or low-income students. It doesn’t have to be all three.


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.


What are the expectations about geography and the proximity of schools?

This is totally up to the Intermediary. We don’t have a preference at the foundation. You should work with schools that make the most sense for you. In RFP applications, we will be looking for an approach to school selection that is consistent with the Intermediary’s vision for how the NSI will operate.


Can a Type 2 grantee organize a network of fewer than 10 schools as it tests its approach?

No. All NSIs must have at least ten schools. per our definition of a Network for School Improvement, an NSI is organized to spread and accelerate learning and improvement. Fewer than ten schools makes it difficult to leverage the power of the network.


When calculating the 50% Blk/Latino/FRM students, is that an aggregate across all school participating or within each school?

It’s calculated as a percentage across ALL schools in the network. Please see FAQ here.


Is there space for innovative research-based schools that are meeting with high student success (85% completing college within five years) and who are currently serving a majority white population, & who want to and have the capacity to share these innovative practices with underperforming schools?

An NSI should comprise a mix of schools that are aligned with the demographic guidelines offered in the RFP and that would benefit from sharing best practices to resolve a common Problem of Practice. Network schools should be willing, able, and eager to learn from each other about how peer schools have implemented solutions to the shared problem. Lower performing schools could really benefit from having high-performing schools in the network as long as the latter school’s leaders and staff are committed to the network and see genuine value in their participation. Also, it may help if lower-performing network schools share some of the characteristics and autonomy of the high-performing school, so that they are able to “see themselves” in the work done by the peer school and are empowered to re-create the best practices in their own building.


Do you have a view as to how many schools should an intermediary should be working with, roughly? Do we need to have a predefined set of schools to work with before applying?

All Intermediaries must find a minimum of 10 committed and engaged schools to participate by the end of the first year of their NSI work. That said, we want to reach as many students as possible and we welcome applications for NSIs comprising 40 or more schools. Intermediaries do not have to have a specific list of schools in mind before applying; we will want to see a plan for how the you will find schools, consistent with your vision for the network.


Are we still eligible to apply if we do not have 10 schools yet, but have a plan to develop a network of over 10 schools?

Yes, you are eligible. We will want to see evidence that your plan to select schools is consistent with your vision for the network.


Why are you focusing on black, Latino, and low income students and not other groups?​

When we look at the evidence of not just where there are equity gaps in educational access and achievement but also where the concentrations of students are that we can reach through this work, the categories that emerged were Black, Latino, and low-income students in grades 6-12. In many locales, there are significant overlaps of these groups with other groups that need support. However in order to maximize learning across networks, we are choosing to focus on these historically underserved students to increase the likelihood that what we learn what can work across the field in the future.


Why are you funding NSIs for secondary schools only?

The K-12 team landed on a secondary school focus for two reasons. First, our capacity and resources are limited so we are compelled to be targeted and strategic. Second, our experience from the early K-12 strategies was that they were partially a response to the belief that high schools were incapable of change. Our decision also reflects the fact that there are more philanthropy dollars flowing to the early grades than the advanced grades. Separate work on a national early learning strategy is being led by our Pacific Northwest team.


How many students should be served by a network?​

We’ve gotten this question more times than we would have imagined.   Perhaps applicants are worried that they will propose a network that’s too small or too large.   Here’s our answer:  we do not have a specific target, maximum, or minimum number of students for an NSI.  We really don’t.   Promise.   The number of schools in the network and the size of those schools will dictate the number of students.  In the RFP, you’ll  see that we seek to support networks that range in size between 10-40 schools.  Our research, experience and observations lead us to hypothesize that networks working with 10-40 schools will be best positioned to test this model and approach to school improvement. One of the things we expect to learn about is whether or not this is an optimal size or range of schools for this kind network work.


Eligibility and Experience


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.


Can a school district, a State Education Agency or a Community College act as Intermediary?

Yes! Any organization that meets our definition of an Intermediary can apply for funding.


Is there a minimum size/capacity (e.g. #employees) for an Intermediary?

No, although you must ensure that your organization can perform the activities as described in the glossary.


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.


With the RFP targeting interventions in secondary schools (6-12), is it allowable to include K-8 schools in the network? Would the grant only cover interventions in grades 6-8 in those schools?

K-8 schools can be included in the NSI, but funds may only be used to support activities directly affecting grades 6-8.


Can a network be comprised of only middle schools or must it contain middle and high schools?

Middle schools can work in networks without High Schools. Any work in MS needs to focus on students in grades 6-8.


Can traditional public school districts form networks of schools? Or is the definition more specific to charters?

Both traditional and charter public schools are eligible to participate in an NSI. Privately-funded schools are not eligible.


Is the “improvement science” methodology a required research/evaluation approach for this grant opportunity?

NSIs must use a Continuous Improvement process. Check out the definition of Continuous Improvement in the glossary that accompanies the RFP on our web site.


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.


Is a female-led organization considered a minority-led organization for response to RFP question 1.4?

We are using the federal/SBA definition, which lists female-led organizations as a separate category from minority-led organizations. We are not collecting data on the gender of the applicant organization’s leadership at this stage.


How much of a proof of concept Does the RFP require? We began implementation our first phase of our NSI this month after more than a year of planning and development.

It varies by Type. Our expectation of evidence of prior success will be less for Type 2 grantees. We don’t expect all applicants to have facilitated NSIs in this exact form before.


Would the district office of a network of 10 schools be considered an Intermediary?

Such a district office would be considered an Intermediary if it planned and showed evidence that it had the capacity to conduct the work of an Intermediary as defined here.

Can you confirm schools in Puerto Rico could for a consortium and apply (with an intermediary?

Public schools and/or Intermediaries in all US states and US territories are eligible to apply for funding, provided they meet all other eligibility criteria. We welcome applications from Puerto Rico.


Can two programs from the same institution apply separately – one with another lead partner and one leading a different network?

Each Intermediary organization may submit no more than two RFP applications as the named Intermediary. Intermediaries may provide light-touch support as partners on the applications of other named Intermediaries. If you choose to submit two applications AND be a support partner, you must be capable of simultaneously sustaining all of that work, financially and with appropriate human capital, if all of the proposals are approved. In most cases, we would expect an average-sized organization to support no more than two applications in addition to its own proposal.


Can a private foundation (a university foundation, for example), acting as a fiscal agent, apply for an organization on campus – or should the intermediary itself submit the application?

Typically we prefer that the organization doing the work of an Intermediary be the one to submit the application, but feel free to ask about your specific situation at k-12schoolnetworkrfp@gatesfoundation.org.


Is the RFP open to intermediaries that already have long-term relationships with secondary schools? The RFP suggests intermediaries that want to expand their relationship with secondary schools.

Yes the RFP is open to Intermediaries that already have relationships with schools so long as that relationship is anchored in a genuine desire to move the outcomes and/or indicators targeted by the proposed NSI. Note that all schools need to participate in the NSI as committed and engaged participants. We will check for this. Some Intermediaries do not have schools in mind yet and they will need to describe a strong plan to find committed and engaged schools to participate in the NSI.


Is the RFP open to foreign-based organizations and if so, what are the restrictions?

We are open to funding organizations headquartered anywhere in the world. But they must have a sufficient footprint in the USA to operate a Network for School Improvement here and they must meet all of our eligibility criteria. You can find those criteria on our webpage and it’s worth reading those in detail if you are a foreign-based intermediary and you are thinking of applying for funding. Basically: we are not going to fund a non-US-based intermediary to expand its work in the USA if it has not already shown that it can add value for Black, Latino and/or low-income students in networks of secondary schools. And because we are the US Education Program, we are not funding Networks for School Improvement that include schools that are outside of the USA. So if your schools are based in another country, I’m afraid this RFP is not for you.


Can private or parochial schools be part of an NSI?​

No, our K12 strategy and our Networks for School Improvement work are committed to working with public schools and public charter organizations.​ So if you want to work with network of private schools or parochial schools this RFP is not for you. We are open to networks that include both traditional public schools and public charters schools. Secondary schools, of course.


Identifying the Problem of Practice, Root Cause, Research,


The RFP indicates that the school system itself, not just the schools involved, would need to identify a common problem of practice. Is that so?

The school system is very important to the success of the NSI as an enabling conditions partner to support the network work, but the problem of practice only needs to be specific to the schools involved.


To what extent does the Intermediary recruit schools who share an interest in a problem of practice, versus identifying schools for the network who then identify a problem of practice that they want to work on together?

We have no preference as to how the NSI is formed. We expect to invest in both approaches to see what can be learned from each.


Does the root cause analysis need to be part of the grant project or could the research have already been done?

We don’t have a preference. Your application should list out the milestones that make the most sense for your proposed network. Some of those milestones may already have passed; others may occur after the grant has begun. If that’s the case, we’ll want to see a plan for how and when you will reach each milestone in your RFP application and in subsequent interviews and conversations.


Does this project require that the promising solutions used to address the root cause of the problem of practice be developed by the schools in the network or can they also include practices and strategies that we, as an Intermediary, bring to the table?

Both scenarios are acceptable to some extent. Schools must make the decision about which solutions they ultimately decide to test, but Intermediaries can – and should- support and inform their research.


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.


Where can I find the list of predictive outcomes and indicators?

You can find the list of predictive outcomes and indicators in the glossary.


Do the targets for improvement have to be one of the list of outcome indicators or can the NSI and school network have their own indicators also?

The outcomes are specified in the glossary but the associated measures have more flexibility. See our webinar on Jan 26 for more information on this point!


Does the Aim have to be the same across every school in the network?

Yes, it does. Please see definition of an Aim here.


Can the NSI focus on more than one outcome-indicator. For example, a grade 6-12 network focused on 8th grade ELA proficiency and HS ELA proficiency?

We have gone back and forth a lot as a team on this question! We think there’s no right answer here. Instead, we think there are several questions an intermediary should answer when deciding the scope of its improvement project. For example:

• What is the school-level capacity to work on multiple outcomes or indicators simultaneously?

• Would it make more sense for the school to sequence the work so they focus on one outcome or indicator first before focusing on the next? In other words, is one content area a bigger barrier for Black, Latino and low-income students’ college or career readiness than the other?

• What is the capacity in the intermediary organization to manage both projects? Does your organization have the content expertise to support all of these outcomes or indicators? Ultimately, you’ll want to select a focus that will move outcomes for Black, Latino and low-income students and that is realistic for the schools and for your own organization to tackle.


Should the root cause analysis with schools happen prior to the RFP or is school interest enough of a start?

It is up to the intermediary to sequence the start-up of their network in line with their vision for the work. The RFP application should list out the milestones that make the most sense for the proposed network. Some of those milestones may already have passed while others may occur after the grant has begun but before the Intermediary starts working with schools; most of the milestones will occur after the work with schools launches and ALL must occur within two or five years, depending on the NSI type. We’ll want to see a plan for how and when an Intermediary will reach each milestone both in their RFP application and in subsequent interviews and conversations. We are looking for strong plans that will get an NSI to student outcomes in 5 years. The plan needs to be consistent with the Intermediary’s vision for how the NSI will operate..


Do all schools have to measure the same indicators? In other words, might schools share an aim but have different indicators?

We would expect to see a single Aim across the entire NSI and a focus on the same indicators, but individual schools can – and should – have different targets. This is fine so long as they are using the same set of indicators to measure progress. The reason is that if schools are using different indicators, it becomes very difficult to learn from and accelerate each other’s progress..


Are the Outcomes & Indicators tight (i.e. Gates adheres to them strictly) or ONLY Outcomes, and Indicators are more flexible?

We are specifying a set of outcomes that are based on evidence and form the backbone of our NSI strategy. The outcomes are therefore “tight.” However, we are flexible on the indicators and on the measurement of those indicators. Note that Indicators do need to be consistent – and used consistently – across schools in the NSI to ensure that schools can learn from and accelerate each other’s experience in meaningful ways..


Outcomes are fixed to those listed in the RFP. Is there flexibility to use other research/evidence based indicators no listed in the RFP that applies to the outcome? Are you asking an Intermediary to focus on one-or-more indicators or one-or-more outcomes?

Yes, there is flexibility with the indicators, so long as the same indicators are being used consistently and across all schools in the NSI. We will expect the focus of the NSI’s work to be on the one or more indicators that will move the outcome. So we expect measurement to focus on that outcome and the outcome of the next grade span..


As we think through our proposal, we’ve gotten stuck on just how narrow to go. Would we be going too broad if we focused on college readiness across the board – in both ELA and math? Or do you think we would be better off honing in on college readiness in math only for the purposes of this proposal?

There’s no right answer to this question. Instead, we think there are several questions an intermediary should answer when deciding the scope of its improvement project. For example: · What is the school-level capacity to work on to work on both math and ELA simultaneously? · Would it make more sense for the school to sequence the work so they focus, for example, on math first before focusing on ELA? In other words, is one content area a bigger barrier for college readiness than the other? · What is the capacity in the intermediary organization to manage both projects? Does your organization have the content expertise to support both math and ELA? Ultimately, you’ll want to select a focus that will move outcomes for students and that is realistic for the schools and for your own organization to tackle..


Is your network aim just one of the indicators or outcomes?

Maybe, but not necessarily. Your network aim should relate to advancing one or more of these outcomes and indicators, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your aim is one of these outcomes and indicators. It can be – but it doesn’t have to be. What we expect is that intermediaries develop the network aims and school level target with schools through a thorough data-driven root cause analysis, and from there, determine an aim that relates to advancing one of the outcomes or indicators. For example, a network of schools might come together to focus on 8th grade ELA proficiency indicator, which is an indicator of middle school on-track. And based on their root cause analysis, they could learn that in all the schools, ELL students are lagging behind non-ELL students and that academic writing is really the place that’s causing these gaps. So in a case like this, a network aim might be: cut in half the performance gap between English learners and non-English learners on the writing portion of the state test between June 2019 and June 2021, without any lowered performance of non-English learners. This aim is measured by the 8th grade ELA proficiency indicator..


Some of the indicators you talked about as being predictive – grades, attendance, and behavior – can be gamed easily. Is everyone going to lower their standards to show success? ​

Almost everything can be gamed. We’re hoping, though, that schools that are interested in being part of a network are ones that are interested because this is an opportunity to really focus on improving outcomes for students through concerted efforts to improve the systems and practices that will prepare kids for future success — and not by lowering standards or other ways of making the data look better than it is. We also think that’s where you, as intermediary organizations, come in. We trust you to be able to determine a school’s readiness and interest in being part of this project. At the same time, we’ve been in the accountability space for long enough to recognize that this question is a really good and valid question and one we’ve had long conversations about at the foundation and with our partners. One of the biggest concerns about using improving grades, attendance, and behavior is that it will result in lowering standards or minimizing efforts to improve students’ content knowledge. But what we’ve learned from the data is that grades, attendance, and behavior are really strong predictors of future success. Even though grading practices vary from school to school or classroom to classroom, the data show that getting Bs or better, for example, really does predict for future success..


What If My Organization Isn’t Ready


Suppose an organization has some, but not all of the capacities you envision. Can you provide a clearinghouse to allow potential applicants to identify partners to help with aspects of the work they don’t do (e.g. data analytics.)?

We would love to connect potential applicants with each other to build coalitions. For this initial RFP, we have not built a process to do so. This may change in the future.


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 far along does a intermediary need to be? Already existing in the space or are startups that have connections to school districts a valid entity?

If your mission is to improve student outcomes for Black, Latino and low-income students AND you measure your success in student outcomes AND are doing “adjacent” work AND want to develop into this NSI space, we encourage you to apply. If you have less experience than other applicants, you are unlikely to get a large grant this time around but you may be invited to access capacity-building supports.


Data and Evaluation


Is it required to have prior data agreements with schools to address the student outcome collection? Or would you be willing to provide support in developing such agreements?

You don’t have to have a pre-existing data sharing agreement. In your application, you may wish to describe how you will undergo the process to reach a data sharing agreement that will cover each school and each school system that is part of your network. We will be providing the support of a data sourcing partner to help successful applicants with this.


How and when are you selecting your data support partner?

We plan to release a multi-phase Request for Proposal to identify the data sourcing partner towards the end of the quarter. As the portfolio of NSIs grows and matures, we will monitor the demand among our partner intermediaries for other types of technical assistance in regards to data.


You noted that formative eval will be sponsored. Does that mean within this grant (and our proposal), within this grant (but addressed “later”) or in a separate grant/proposal/project?

The formative and summative evaluations will be separately funded projects. We expect all grantees to be willing participants in those evaluations, as a condition of applying for funding.


Who is the formative evaluator partner?

As part of our commitment to technical assistance around data for grantees, we have designed a flexible action-research partnership with a formative evaluator where researchers collaborate with NSIs to develop qualitative and quantitative measures that give both NSIs and the foundation a wealth of information about factors contributing to NSIs’ individual, comparative, and collective success, while simultaneously providing NSIs with ongoing self-evaluation and improvement methods and tools. We are nearing completion of a Request for Proposal with a formative evaluator.

Additional RFP Resources

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.

RFP Grantmaking Guidelines

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