Glossary: Request for Proposal on Networks for School Improvement (Spring 2019)

Glossary of Terms

We offer this glossary to clarify terms that we may use differently in this RFP from how they are commonly used in the field. Please read this glossary before deciding whether to apply for funding.


An aim is a specific and measurable goal that the network commits to accomplish by a specific date. An NSI’s aim is to improve the percentage of Black, Latino, and low-income students who make progress against a specific outcome(s) that is predictive of high school graduation or postsecondary success. An NSI’s aim focuses the network’s improvement efforts and provides a specific and measurable goal for the network’s collective action.

Continuous Improvement:

Continuous improvement is a process for addressing a specific problem of practice by developing, testing, and refining promising solutions. Inquiry cycles, once started, are rapid and last no longer than one month per testing cycle.

Any Continuous Improvement methodology that meets the criteria outlined in this glossary is eligible for NSI funding. Network Intermediaries will determine which continuous improvement methodology their NSI will use to guide its work.

In conjunction with our first cohort of NSI grantees, the foundation has begun to codify aspects of the continuous improvement process that we believe need to be present for student outcomes to move. We call these the “Core Parameters” of continuous improvement and we will be using them as our lens as we review RFP responses.

(REVISED, JANUARY 2019) Continuous Improvement Core Parameters

  1. An understanding of the problem,* the systems that produce current inequitable outcomes, and the opportunities and assets of the community and their students.
  2. A clear and specific aim* centered on achieving equitable outcomes for Black, Latino, and/or low-income students.
  3. An equity-centered theory of practice improvement* for how to reach the aim.
  4. Disciplined inquiry cycles to test interventions* and collect and analyze data to assess if changes are an improvement.
  5. Collaborative and diverse teams comprised of people with time, expertise, experience, and will to tackle the problem.
  6. Use of locally relevant and valued data from multiple sources, relevant research, and measurement as keys to improvement.

  *These are anchored in multiple forms of data, an understanding of relevant research, and the specific needs and assets of the students and their communities.

 Note: the improvement project must center on the specific, data-identified needs of the NSI’s Black, Latino, and/or low-income students, which may be entrenched in long-standing inequities within a school and school system. Intermediaries must be capable and willing to identify, examine and address deep-rooted issues of race, language and class which may emerge as barriers to student success when schools dive deeply into new, disaggregated data. Intermediaries must, in particular, be motivated to enable and elevate the voices of Black, Latino, and low-income students as a source of both critical data about root causes as well as honest stakeholder feedback on the effectiveness of interventions designed by the NSI.


An intermediary is defined as a central, coordinating entity that brings together multiple school leadership teams to tackle common problems and work toward common aims. Intermediaries serve several functions, including: (a) supporting individual school teams to use continuous improvement to improve student outcomes; (b) networking school teams with one another to innovate, improve, and build capacity; (c) sharing and codifying lessons learned within and across the network; and (d) bringing together key stakeholders who can support and accelerate a network’s success, including external experts. Intermediaries may be, but are not limited to: non-profit school improvement organizations; regional education service agencies; school districts; charter management organizations (CMOs); higher education institutions; or for-profit professional services firms.

Intermediary Organization Type:

We collect data on the types of organizations seeking to be NSIs and our previous RFPs offered lots of drop-down selection options to describe the lead applicant. For this application we have chosen seven simple and clearer categories.

  1. District
  2. Charter Management Organization
  3. County Offices/Educational Service District
  4. For-Profit Firms (includes professional services, curriculum/assessment providers)
  5. Non-Profit Organizations (includes research orgs, TA providers, whole school improvement organizations, affiliation organizations, curriculum/assessment providers, university-affiliated centers)
  6. Community Partnerships
  7. Other

Minority-Led Organization:

The NSI strategy is investing in intermediary organizations that are positioned to provide schools with the resources to improve outcomes for Black, Latino and low-income students across the United States. To achieve the strategy’s goal of improving these outcomes, we are committed to increasing the presence of minority-led organizations (MLOs) in our investment portfolio. We believe that organizations that draw on diversity in their leadership and staffing structures are well-equipped to serve a US public school population that continues to become more ethnically and racially diverse.

Here, we define minority-led organizations as those that meet one or more of the following criteria:
#1. An organizational leader (i.e., Superintendent, Executive Director, President, or Chief Executive Officer) that identifies at Black and/or Latino.
#2. An executive leadership team (e.g., center directors, CFO) in which at least 40% of the members identify as Black and/or Latino.
#3. A Board of Directors in which at least 40% of the members identify as Black and/or Latino.
#4. An organization with programmatic staff (i.e., full-time staff members that make programmatic design and implementation decisions) of which at least 40% identify as Black and/or Latino.

If your organization is led by Indigenous people or another racial or ethnic group that reflects the student population you serve, please email us directly at to discuss MLO status.

Network for School Improvement:

A Network for School Improvement (NSI) is defined as a group of secondary schools (focused on grades 6-12) working both collectively and individually in partnership with a high-quality intermediary to use a continuous improvement process to improve outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students. To support the acceleration of learning and improvement, NSIs set a network aim, tackle problems of practice that are common across the network schools and track their progress using indicators that are predictive of student learning, graduation, and postsecondary success.

NSIs are:

  • led by an intermediary skilled in: continuous improvement processes, data collection and data analysis from multiple sources, and developing school-level adult capacity to address the network problem and aim; and  
  • facilitated by said intermediary to drive school and network improvements, surface learning within and across schools, and uncover meaningful variance as schools work to reach a specific and measurable aim.

NSIs have the following characteristics:

  1. Network is focused on addressing a problem of practice and reaching a measurable, time-bound aim that is shared by all network schools. An NSI’s aim is related to improving one or more predictive outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students.  
  2. Network comprises an intermediary and multiple school teams from one or more districts and/or Charter Management Organizations (CMO).
  3. Network is structured to support school teams to reach their aim and build their capacity to use a continuous improvement process.
  4. School teams are guided by a working theory, informed by research and practice, of how to reach the aim (e.g.  logic model, network theory of action, or driver diagram).
  5. School teams engage in rapid inquiry cycles to develop, test, and refine interventions.  
  6. Network has the necessary data, research, measurement, and analytic skills to drive improvement, surface learning within and across sites, and uncover meaningful variance.
  7. Network is organized to spread and accelerate learning and improvement.

Validation/Impact candidates have implemented six specific components of an NSI model that give us confidence in their capacity to move student outcomes through large, 3-5 year grants. Read about those model components here.

Predictive Outcomes and Indicators:

The foundation is focusing on a set of student outcomes and indicators that, when increasing or achieved, are predictive of students successfully earning a high school diploma, enrolling in a postsecondary institution, and being on track in their first year to earn a credential with labor-market value. The table below encompasses these outcomes and indicators associated with secondary schools, and includes example measures for each indicator. Note that the example measures were derived from research on a limited set of districts, and we expect each Intermediary to work with schools and districts to derive optimal measures according to their context. Optimal measures tailored to schools and districts may involve adjusted or wholly different measurement tactics, or have identified other unique factors predictive of success.

To balance between creating standardization across networks and allowing for schools to capitalize on existing measurement, the foundation will allow Intermediaries to develop their own approach to measuring these outcomes if they are already in use by schools in the network and meet the alignment criteria specified by the Gates Foundation at the time of measurement plan development. Note: All schools in the network must use the same measurement of these outcomes, regardless of whether it is the foundation’s preferred method or a different method.

These outcomes have been updated since our first RFP. There are a number of minor shifts, but you will notice significant shifts in outcomes and indicators related to college going and college match. These shifts are reflective of evidence that indicates the importance of not just college enrollment but enrollment in a matched institution, and also adjustments to better align with our Postsecondary team’s definition of on-track derived from evidence in the field related to completion.

Outcome – Shown by research to predict college enrollment and persistence Indicator – Components of the outcome shown to be important in the research to predict college enrollment and persistence Example Measure – Example way to measure each component of the outcome
8th Grade On-Track –
Student is academically and behaviorally on-track in middle school to graduate high school and be academically prepared for college.
8th Grade GPA % of 8th grade students with a GPA of 3.0 or better
8th Grade Attendance % of 8th grade students with attendance 96% or better
8th Grade Course Failures % of 8th grade students with no Ds or Fs in ELA or Math
8th Grade Suspensions % of 8th grade students never suspended (in- and out-of-school)
8th Grade Math Proficiency % of students with a 3.0 or better GPA in Math and meeting standardized math benchmark on assessment aligned with high-quality standards and/or curricula
8th Grade ELA Proficiency % of students with a 3.0 or better GPA in ELA and meeting standardized ELA benchmark on assessment aligned with high-quality standards and/or curricula
9th Grade On-Track – Student is academically and behaviorally on-track during their freshman year of high school to graduate, enroll in postsecondary, and/or be on-track in their first year of postsecondary. 9th Grade Course Credits % of 9th grade students who accumulated sufficient course credits for promotion to 10th grade
9th Grade Course Failures % of 9th grade students who failed no more than one semester course in a core subject (English, math, social science, or science) during their freshman school year
9th Grade Attendance % of 9th grade students with attendance 96% or better
9th Grade GPA % of 9th grade students with an GPA of 3.0 or better
9th Grade Suspensions % of 9th grade students never suspended (in- and out-of-school)
College Ready On-Track – Student has the academic credentials needed to be accepted to a college with a high institutional graduation rate. HS Math Proficiency % of 10th or 11th grade students demonstrating grade-level ability in Math on benchmarked assessment aligned with high quality standards and/or curricula and/or assessment levels needed to avoid remediation in relevant context
HS ELA Proficiency % of 10th or 11th grade students demonstrating grade-level ability in ELA on benchmarked assessment aligned with high quality standards and/org curricula and/or assessment levels needed to avoid remediation in relevant context.
HS Advanced Coursetaking % of 11th or 12th grade students completing at least one AP, IB, or dual credit class
HS GPA % of 11th or 12th grade students with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better
On-Time HS Graduation % of students graduating high school on time
Well-Matched Postsecondary Enrollment: Student immediately enrolls in a credentialing postsecondary program likely to lead to their attainment of a credential with labor market value (including 4-year, 2-year, and technical) Secured Postsecondary Plan By end of Fall senior year, completion of FAFSA, submission of applications to a well-balanced portfolio of 3+ institutions, and completion of 1+ college entrance exams
Senior Summer On-Track During summer after senior year, completion of intended institution’s registration, financial, and logistic deadlines
Early Postsecondary Momentum: Students meet 1 or more criteria suggesting an increased likelihood of graduation within 6 years Credit Momentum % of students completing 15 semester credits in the first term or at least 30 semester credits in the year
Gateway Course Momentum % of students passing college-level math and English courses during first academic year
Program Momentum % of students completing 9 semester credits in chosen field of study in first academic year

Problem of Practice:

An NSI’s problem of practice is the specific student-focused problem or issue the network schools are brought together to address. Addressing this problem will make significant progress toward the network’s aim for Black, Latino, and low-income students. The problem of practice that guides an NSI’s efforts should be within a school’s sphere of control.

Root Cause:

A root cause is the underlying or essential source of an NSI’s problem of practice. When teams engage in a root causes analysis, they use multiple and varied data to drill down into a problem to uncover what is truly causing the negative effect. Determining a problem’s root cause helps teams ensure their work is addressing a problem’s exact causes and not its symptoms.

School Team:

The Intermediary convenes school teams – alone or in partnership with district/CMO staff – to work on a school-based problem of practice. School teams include school leaders, leadership team members, relevant administrative personnel, and/or teachers who have the time, expertise, ambition, and trust to solve the problem at hand. School teams work interdependently, sharing leadership, decision making, and accountability. Depending on the network’s problem and aim, school teams might also include district staff.

Network Model:

Validation/Impact candidates have implemented the seven specific components of an NSI model that give us confidence in their capacity to move student outcomes through large, 3-5 year grants.

  • Replicable CI Process: The way in which the network applies continuous improvement to local school context
  • District Support: The intermediary has practices and supports to ensure that the district creates the conditions and provides supports necessary to improve outcomes
  • School Engagement and Support: The codified set of tactics used by the intermediary in how it interfaces with the schools
  • Student Progress Monitoring (Data for CI): The schools in the network use common data and methodology for engaging in continuous improvement
  • School (Systems) Health: The intermediary supports schools to use a common methodology for assessing (and improving) school conditions that are believed to be leading indicators of progress
  • Network Health: The network uses tools and processes for assessing (and improving) its health
  • Knowledge Asset Generation: The mechanism used to capture knowledge of what has been tried by schools and its impact as described by data and judgment of those interpreting the evidence

 Impact candidates, in addition to demonstrating all of the model components above, must also provide rigorous evidence of moving their target student outcome/indicator.

 Model Design and Initiation investments are intended to help organizations clarify and refine their NSI model and build capacity around aspects of their model where they feel, as an organization, they could use additional support and development. Model Design & Initiation awards therefore do not directly fund the primary activities associated with running an NSI.

Validation/Impact Application

Model Design and Initiation Application

Additional RFP Resources

More Info on the RFP

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

RFP Measurement and Evaluation

Learn more about how we will measure progress against outcomes and indicators.

RFP Grantmaking Guidelines

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


Questions? Please read the Frequently Asked Questions page for more information on the RFP process.