Grantmaking Guidelines: Request for Proposal on Networks for School Improvement (Late 2018)

NSI Grant Opportunity

What is involved in the NSI grant application process?

We have modified the application process from our RFP earlier this year. This second RFP will be a staged process; applicants will complete the first stage and only advance if they successfully meet each stage’s eligibility requirements. This first stage requires applicants to complete a small set of questions about their past work. Successful applicants will be invited to complete a full grant proposal, detailed budget, and measurement plan in partnership with the foundation.

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

We welcome applications from intermediaries that can demonstrate alignment to our Networks for School Improvement Grantmaking Eligibility and Guidelines. Intermediaries that are current recipients of NSI grant funding are not eligible to respond to this RFP; they will be eligible to apply for additional NSI funding in the third (2019) RFP.

What is the scope of NSI grants?

For this RFP, we are seeking proposals for Type 1 (large) grants only. Type 1 grants are reserved for intermediaries that have demonstrated capacity and experience working with schools 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 of the three predictive student outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students, and
  • are (or will be with planning funds) ready to launch an NSI in at least 10 schools during School Year 2019-20 that aims to increase the number of Black, Latino, and low-income students who make progress against one or more of the three predictive student outcomes.

The grants are multi-year awards (three to five years), and each network must comprise ten or more schools.

There are five student outcomes that we hope to fund through our NSI strategy, but applications for this specific RFP must aim to improve one or more of the following three student outcomes, drawn from our list of five:

  • College Ready On-Track (as indicated by HS Math Proficiency, HS ELA Proficiency, HS Advanced Coursetaking, HS GPA, and On-Time HS Graduation)
  • High School College Access (as indicated by by Financial Access, College Entrance Exam, Postsecondary Application, On-Time HS Graduation, and Postsecondary Enrollment)
  • Postsecondary On-Track (as indicated by Postsecondary Match, College Course Completion, and Postsecondary GPA)

Please note that the components of the outcomes are slightly different from those we published with our first RFP. For more information, see the glossary.

We anticipate identifying up to four Type 1 investments through this RFP, and we predict that the number of grants awarded per RFP will increase in the future.

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. For this RFP, we are seeking proposals that fall within the range of $50,000 to $100,000 per school/year with a maximum grant award value not to exceed $13M for a five-year grant. This is purposefully a wide range to allow you as a potential grantee to propose a model that fits your individual context, and to recognize that the problem of practice selected, the number of schools in a network, and the location of the network can greatly impact a network’s cost per school.

If you progress through the RFP process, you will be asked for increasing levels of detail surrounding your proposed funding model. This table includes some average cost estimates that may help you plan a budget for your proposal.

Estimated Costs Per School / Year
# of Schools / Year Low Mid High
Small Network 10 – 20 $67,000 $80,000 $100,000
Medium Network 20 – 35 $58,000 $68,000 $84,000
Large Network 35+ $53,000 $63,000 $77,000

This financial information and average network size is preliminary and should be used as general guidance. Intermediaries will work collaboratively with a Gates Foundation Program Officer to determine the detailed budget and duration of NSI grants during the grant creation process.

The duration and funding amounts will depend on several factors, including:

  • the scope of a network’s improvement project;
  • the number of schools in a network;
  • the intermediary’s context;
  • the intermediary’s approach to network facilitation;
  • the specific network problem of practice; and
  • the level of planning required to launch the network.

Grants will be awarded directly to intermediaries. Successful applicants will be notified of the status of their award in June. 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.

The management of a Type 1 NSI is a significant administrative burden. For that reason, small organizations with (a) annual revenue of less than $1.5M (b) fewer than five full-time employees and/or (c) insufficient finance infrastructure are not eligible to receive a Type 1 award. Take our eligibility quiz to learn more. Organizations that do not meet the eligibility criteria should not apply.

Grantmaking Timeline and Process

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, and you are strongly encouraged to submit your response as soon as possible. In all cases, Stage 1 applications must be received by noon PST on Oct 26, 2018, and we are unable to extend the deadline for any reason. Note that unpredictable volumes of traffic on our website close to the deadline may make it hard for applicants to save their application for up to 12 hours before the deadline. Please plan ahead and submit your completed application as early as possible; extensions will not be possible.

Stage 1 of the RFP is an assessment of applicants’ readiness to lead NSIs based on their previous work. Intermediaries that successfully pass Stage 1 will be invited by Nov. 9 to complete Stage 2 of the written RFP. Stage 2 is the first point at which we will ask applicants to present a proposal. You can download a Word copy of Stage 1 and Stage 2 questions. Stage 2 applications must be submitted by noon PST on Dec 21, 2018.

Successful applicants will then be invited to a video interview with foundation program officers to take place between Feb. 4 and Feb. 11, 2019. For applicants who advance from the interview stage, foundation staff will conduct a site visit between March 20 and March 29, 2019. 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, by April 9, 2019, the foundation will select a subset of these applicants to develop a formal grant proposal. This proposal must adhere to our Data Stewardship Principles and include a detailed plan to conduct necessary data analysis and onboard schools to the network.

RFP selection timeline*
RFP STAGE 1 open Mon, Sept. 24 – Fri, Oct. 26, 2018
Invitations to RFP Stage 2 Fri, Nov. 9, 2018
RFP STAGE 2 open Tue, Nov. 13 – Fri, Dec. 21, 2018
Interview scheduling begins Tue, Jan. 22, 2019
Interviews Mon, Feb. 4 – Mon, Feb. 11, 2019
Site Visit scheduling begins Tue, Feb. 19, 2019
Site Visits Wed, March 20 – Fri, March 29, 2019
Finalists are invited to complete proposal documents Mon, April 8, 2019
Proposal documents finalized May, 2019
Funding released June, 2019

 *Because this 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 a timeline modification becomes necessary, we will notify applicants by Nov 9, 2018 and provide details of the updated timeline by email.

Maximum number of applications

Each intermediary organization 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 be associated with a different email address because we use the email address as the unique identifier for the application.

Disclosure Notice

To help the foundation with its review of RFP responses, the foundation may disclose proposals, documents, communications, and associated materials submitted to the foundation in response to this RFP (collectively, “Submission Materials”) to its employees, contingent workers, consultants, independent subject matter experts, and potential co-funders. Please carefully consider the information included in the Submission Materials. If you (the “Applicant”) have any doubts about the wisdom of disclosure of confidential or proprietary information, the foundation recommends you consult with your legal counsel and take any steps you deem necessary to protect your intellectual property. You may wish to consider whether such information is critical for evaluating the submission or if more general, non-confidential information may be adequate as an alternative for these purposes.

Notwithstanding the Applicant’s characterization of any information as being confidential, the foundation is under no obligation to treat such information as confidential.


This RFP is not an offer to contract or award grant funds. The foundation assumes no responsibility for the Applicant’s cost to respond to this RFP. All responses generated by this RFP become the property of the foundation.

Release and Verification

In exchange for the opportunity to be awarded a grant, the Applicant agrees that the foundation may, in its sole discretion:  (1) amend or cancel the RFP, in whole or in part, at any time; (2) extend the deadline for submitting responses; (3) determine whether a response does or does not substantially comply with the requirements of the RFP; (4) waive any minor irregularity, informality or nonconformance with the provisions or procedures of the RFP; (5) issue multiple awards; (6) share responses generated by this RFP with foundation staff, consultants, contingent workers, subject matter experts, and potential co-funders; and (7) copy the responses.

Applicant agrees not to bring a legal challenge of any kind against the foundation relating to the foundation’s selection and award of a grant arising from this RFP.

Applicant represents that it has responded to the RFP with complete honesty and accuracy.  If facts provided in Applicant’s response change, Applicant will supplement its response in writing with any deletions, additions or changes within 10 days of the changes.  Applicant will do this, as necessary, throughout the selection process.  Applicant understands that any material misrepresentation, including omissions, may disqualify it from consideration for a grant award.

By responding to this RFP, you are representing: (i) that you have authority to bind the named Applicant to the terms and conditions set forth above, without amendment; and (ii) that you agree to be bound by them.

Grantmaking Eligibility and Guidelines

The management of a Type 1 NSI is a significant administrative burden. For that reason, small organizations with (a) annual revenue of less than $1.5M, (b) fewer than five full-time employees and/or (c) insufficient finance infrastructure are not eligible to receive a Type 1 award.

No preferential treatment will be given to organizations on account of previous relationships with the Gates Foundation or current status as grantees. Written applications will be screened “double blind”, meaning that identifying information is removed before each application is screened by Gates Program Officers with no prior relationship with the applicant.

The diversity of leaders and employees working in NSIs is important, and we are excited to have intermediaries whose teams reflect the school populations with whom they aspire to work.

Intermediaries that are current recipients of NSI grant funding are not eligible to respond to this RFP; they will be eligible to apply for NSI funding in the third (2019) RFP.

All applicants should complete this eligibility quiz before applying for funding. Organizations that do not meet the eligibility criteria should not apply.

School composition and selection

An NSI is a network of secondary schools working in partnership with an intermediary organization to use a continuous improvement process to significantly increase the number of Black, Latino, and low-income students who earn a high school diploma, enroll in a postsecondary institution, and are on track in their first year to earn a credential with labor-market value.

To qualify as a Network for School Improvement, network schools working with the intermediary must meet the following criteria:

  • Schools identify and organize around a common problem and aim related to improving the percentage of Black, Latino, and low-income students who make progress against one of the three outcomes identified in our table of Outcomes and Indicators.
  • Schools serve students in grades 9, 10, 11, and/or 12. Schools may focus on one or more of those grades depending on the network’s aim and theory of how to reach that aim.
  • The majority of students who are served across the network schools are Black, Latino, and/or low-income students. Low-income students are students who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch. Given the foundation’s commitment to equity, we are particularly interested in RFP applicants who plan to work with networks of schools with very large populations of Black, Latino and/or low-income students.
  • Schools are represented by teams that include leaders, relevant administrators, and/or teachers with the time, expertise, ambition, and trust to solve the problem at hand. Depending on the nature of the problem, school teams might also include district staff.
  • Schools have the commitment and support of district/CMO leadership from the beginning. Support might include providing release time, access to data, and flexibility regarding district or CMO mandates.
  • Schools have the authority and autonomy needed to address the problem of practice. School team members have the support and time needed to participate in the network learning and convenings.

We believe intermediaries are best positioned to determine the number of schools in a given NSI by considering such factors as the capacity of individual teams and the complexity of the network problem of practice. The foundation will look to intermediaries to state the optimal number of schools in their network, although all must work with at least 10 schools to be considered for funding through this RFP.

Intermediary traits and competencies

We believe that intermediaries that exhibit the following traits and competencies are best positioned to lead an NSI.

  • Commitment and demonstrated capacity in improving outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students.
  • Credibility and experience working with secondary school leaders and teachers to improve outcomes for students in grades 9-12.
  • Credibility with education leaders and organizations in the geographic area where the Intermediary proposes to work.
  • Potential to influence field and policy knowledge beyond the local level.
  • Strong organizational leadership.
  • A well-defined theory of action.
  • Staff experienced in facilitating networks of schools.
  • Capacity and coaching experience in the following areas:
    • assessing and navigating data infrastructure in K-12 school systems;
    • using data for continuous improvement;
    • leadership development, specifically building the capacity of school leaders and teacher leaders to support continuous improvement efforts;
    • NSI problem of practice and aim;
    • guiding schools to identify evidence-based solution(s) and to implement these in short cycles;
    • connecting and convening schools or districts;
    • progress monitoring and accountability; and
    • creating effective knowledge management systems.

We expect intermediaries we fund to be transparent with us and the field about what they are learning, share their candid reflections on their own performance and identify their own growth areas whenever possible. This transparency gives us opportunities to support grantees and continue to learn from the field about the challenges inherent in facilitating an NSI.

For more information on the traits and competencies of an intermediary, visit the glossary. Please read this information carefully before deciding whether to apply for funding.

Continuous improvement

NSIs are expected to use a continuous improvement process that supports teams to use multiple and varied data to address a specific problem of practice by developing, testing, and refining promising solutions. Continuous improvement as defined in this RFP is a specific process anchored in improvement science; it is not a general description of ongoing efforts to improve.

The foundation believes that schools and intermediaries are best equipped to determine which continuous improvement process an NSI will use to guide its work as long as the process meets the criteria outlined here. Please read this information carefully before deciding whether to apply for funding.

Predictive outcomes

An NSI’s aim should be related to one or more of the student outcomes listed in the glossary and should address the underlying processes or actions that produce the current inequitable outcomes.

Reporting, measurement, supports, and evaluation

The foundation is focusing on a set of student outcomes and indicators that, when increasing or achieved, are predictive of students successfully completing high school, enrolling in postsecondary education, and obtaining a credential with labor-market value. Therefore, an NSI’s aim, while jointly developed by the intermediary and network schools, must be related to one or more of the outcomes listed here, and should address the underlying systems that produce the current inequitable results. The outcome(s) will be the measure of progress monitored across the network and reported on periodically and at the end of the grant period.

We understand that each intermediary will work with networks that operate in unique contexts which will impact exactly how these indicators are measured. As such, we will work closely with the intermediary during proposal development on defining the measures required and appropriate for their NSI’s context. The foundation has developed a set of recommended measures for the indicators to facilitate these conversations and a Program Officer will approve each intermediary’s measurement plan. For consistency and quality of in-network reporting, all schools in a single NSI must always measure the NSI’s targeted indicator(s) and outcome(s) in the same way, regardless of whether it is the foundation’s preferred method or a different, agreed-upon method.

Please refer to the glossary for the set of predictive outcomes and indicators, along with recommended measures. Note that these outcomes and indicators are slightly different from those we published with our first RFP.

System elements and network health

To better serve the needs of Black, Latino, and low-income students, we believe that schools in an NSI may need to change workflow or reallocate resources in pursuit of systemic solutions, rather than simply introduce new interventions. We will therefore require that schools administer a diagnostic assessment to gauge the state of different systems in schools. The assessment must measure the essential elements of a school system, which include the strength of distributed leadership, coherence of the instructional system, performance of faculty, learning climate, family-community-school ties, and the use of continuous improvement grounded in data and evidence. We are open to instruments already in use by schools in the network that meet the alignment criteria specified by the foundation at the time of measurement plan development, and we will work with individual networks to develop a comprehensive and efficient method of data collection.

Finally, we will require measurement of network health through a survey. The measurement instrument will capture critical information about the functioning of the network itself, about the types of supports the intermediary and foundation provide, and could also provide data for networks to guide work with evidence-based interventions/solutions. The content of the survey will include (a) a set of measures required to be included by all funded intermediaries and (b) a set of measures that the intermediary believes are important to measure according to its own theory of change.

Evaluation and reporting

Fundamental to this effort is a learning agenda, which allows schools, systems of schools, intermediaries, and the foundation to learn from one another about what works well and what does not in the development of NSIs. To that end, we will engage evaluation partners to work with NSIs from the beginning of the first NSI cohort. We expect that all NSIs will be willing participants in all evaluation activities, which will be designed to leverage data already being collected and will strive to limit burden on intermediaries, networks, and schools. The evaluation will give the foundation, NSIs, and other interested audiences a wealth of information about factors contributing to NSIs’ individual, comparative, and collective success, while simultaneously providing NSIs with ongoing self-evaluation and improvement mindsets, methods, and tools.

Supports for data collection

We recognize the complexity in collecting and reporting these data and commit to providing supports to facilitate, streamline, and ease the burden on intermediaries and schools. To facilitate FERPA compliance, the foundation will provide project management supports and technical assistance to help NSIs securely collect and report data to their various stakeholders, including the foundation. We will never ask grantees for data that identifies individual students. We will also consider funding improvements in both the intermediary’s and the schools’ data capacity as part of the investment.

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Overview of the Selection Process

Please note that the written RFP application is completed in two stages. With the exception of current NSI grantees, who are not eligible to apply for new NSI funding until 2019, any organization that meets the eligibility criteria is invited to complete the first stage, which is open from Sept. 24 – Oct. 26, 2018. Applications will be screened on a rolling basis. Stage 1 assesses your previous experience with NSI-type work.

By or on Nov. 9, 2018, we will email applicants who demonstrate a strong fit for a Type 1 grant to invite them to complete the second stage of the written RFP. If you are invited to complete the second stage, these are the questions you will need to answer. The second stage will be open from Nov. 13 – Dec. 21 and may require significantly more time on your part than the first stage, because the second stage requests information about the proposed NSI.

We are trying to keep the written part of the screening process as short as possible for applicants. For that reason, there are several things that we are screening for that we will ask about during subsequent stages of the selection process (interviews and site visits) but are not asking you to write about in your RFP. Note that interviews will happen from Feb. 4 – Feb. 11, 2019 and site visits will be scheduled from March 20 – March 29, 2019.

Please do not apply if you are not eligible for this grant. Please check the glossary and grantmaking guidelines and eligibility criteria before you begin the application process.

Download a word copy of stage 1 questions here and a word copy of stage 2 questions here.

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.


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