Networks for School Improvement: Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Network for School Improvement (NSI) and why are you investing in them?

An NSI is a group of middle or high schools working together 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 labormarket value. School teams work collaboratively to identify a common problem, establish a goal and then test, and refine solutions that target a problem and reach a goal common across the network. An NSI’s aim is to improve outcomes that are predictive of high school graduation and postsecondary success. These outcomes include attendance, suspension, staying on track in middle and high school, graduating and enrolling/ succeeding in a college or career program after high school.

We believe that with support, educators can collaborate, used data and research to craft programs or revise school systems that lead to higher achievement for all students.   Because contexts vary considerably from school to school, and student to student, this work is best done at the front line by principals, teachers, parents and students in collaboration with other school communities facing the same problems.


What is continuous improvement?

Continuous improvement is a process used in a variety of areas, from medicine to education, to improve the quality of services and supports provided by organizations to individuals over time.  We are asking school-based teams to use data and research to solve chronic problems in their schools that prevent students from succeeding.  For example, a teaching team may recognize that a subset of students is absent 20 or more days.  The team will formulate a plan based on a review of relevant research, establish a goal and set of strategies for improvement (i.e., reducing absence by 50% by calling parents and following up with home visits), and then implement the strategies and test which ones are most effective in their school.


What is an intermediary organization?

An intermediary organizes groups of schools, providing the space, technical assistance and data support to enable school teams to learn, meet their aims and close student achievement gaps. Intermediaries can include a wide range of organizational types, including non-profits, districts, charter management organizations, universities or community-based organizations.


How were the grant recipients chosen?

The majority were chosen through a Request for Proposals that was issued in January 2018, in a process that was designed and lead by a team of experienced program officers. That followed a Request for Information in which we sought to learn from organizations that had experience and insights into the networking approach.  We received more than 500 proposals from organizations headquartered in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Over 70 percent of applicants were from organizations that had no prior funding relationship with the foundation’s K-12 program.


What is the outcome you hope to achieve with the Networks?

The work of the foundation, in the U.S. and around the world, is driven by the belief that all lives have equal value. In essence, we believe that every person should have the chance to live a healthy and productive life. A high-quality education can frequently serve as a path to prosperity and participation in the American Dream.

A great K-12 education and a college degree or trade certificate can be a bridge to opportunity like no other when it comes to good jobs and career paths, economic and social mobility, and personal growth and fulfilment. Our next chapter of investments in K-12 education is guided by a direct focus on supporting schools in their work to improve student outcomes. We believe that school leaders, including principals and teachers, are in the best position to know how to support their students, help them be successful, and improve student outcomes. 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. We are looking to codify a model that can be replicated and scaled.


Why are you focused on investments in a limited number of problem areas like attendance or on-track rates?

Evidence suggests there are predictable times and transitions within a student’s school journey that are critical, particularly for student populations at risk of school failure. For an individual student, for example, successfully navigating the middle school-to-high school and the high school-to-postsecondary transitions are critical for long-term success.  Student-level on-track indicators, such as attendance, GPA, suspensions and credit accumulation, can similarly provide schools with visibility into whether an individual student is being equipped with the knowledge, skills, and agency to succeed in upcoming transitions. By monitoring those and other indicators, schools can identify students who are off-track early and intervene where appropriate to remove barriers or provide new or existing services to support students.


How many Networks are there in this round of funding?

We are announcing grants to support 19 networks in August 2018. Additional grant announcements will follow this Fall. We also expect later this year to issue a Request for Proposals for another round of grants for Networks for School Improvement.


How many NSI grants or rounds of grants does the foundation intend to make overall?

The foundation anticipates making three rounds of grants funding Networks for School Improvement.


How much money is being dedicated to the NSIs?

In the first round, more than $91 million will be disbursed to fund networks over periods ranging from 15 months to five years. Including other rounds of funding for school networks that are expected over the next five years, we expect that more than $400 million will be used to support the Networks for School Improvement.


How soon do you expect to see student outcome results?

We expect it will take a few years for definitive outcomes to become apparent. But some of the networks we are funding, like the Network for College Success in Chicago, have already demonstrated that when schools use continuous improvement to address common problems, student outcomes can improve. In Chicago, for example, targeting certain key indicators of success helped to raise the percentage of students on track to graduate from high school from 61 percent to 85 percent, while four-year college enrollment rates went from 36 percent to 44 percent.


When you look back on these investments 5 years from now, how will you know if they’ve been successful?

We are committed to work with the field to identify and successfully implement strategies that enable more Black, Latino and low-income students to demonstrably succeed in school.   At the individual investment level, success will be learning with our partners what strategies work, or do not work, to increase student performance against these key predictive indicators.   Across the NSI portfolio as a whole, we hope to answer a broader set of questions:  Were our grantees, by and large, able to replicate what research says is possible in terms of gains for students?  Were they able to do so in ways that can be replicated by others?  Were there any special circumstances that accelerated (or hindered) their success?  What were the total project costs associated with achieving that success?  Is it affordable for other organizations to take on similar improvement projects?

In both cases, we believe that we can collectively   deepen the field’s knowledge about how networks for school improvement can contribute to our ambitions to increase opportunities for students across the country.


I applied but I didn’t receive a grant. Will there be other opportunities to propose networks to be funded by the foundation in the future?

Yes. We are looking into ways to provide learning opportunities to promising potential intermediaries; all RFP applicants will be considered for this opportunity.

Additional Resources

More Info on Networks for School Improvement

Learn more about Networks for School Improvement.