Giving Compass' Take:

• Bob Hughes highlights learnings from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's K-12 education network grantmaking efforts. 

• The author notes that the needs of individual students needs to be at the center of education work. How can philanthropy support this approach?

• Learn more about school networks

Here are some of the early general lessons that participants described in panels, table discussions and speaker sessions:

Schools need basic systems — strong leadership, strong instructional systems, ongoing youth engagement, to name a few — but there is no single answer to the work of optimizing these systems across large numbers of different schools. Given how highly varied schools are, with different cultures, governance structures, responsibilities and challenges, educators have the freedom to take research-based solutions and adapt them to the needs of their students, always checking for impact on student success.

Continuous improvement holds the promise of strengthening existing reform efforts and identify new strategies and tools to further enhance this work. NSIs use data — things like attendance, course selection, and college applications — to “see the system” and really understand its shortcomings — the root cause of challenges to individual students and their success in school. This is hard but critical to spend time on and get right.

The needs of individual students, and their experiences in classrooms or programs, need to be the center of this work. Grantees are overwhelmingly using surveys and empathy interviews to capture student voice and gain better understanding of their needs. Listening can be critical to challenge adults’ assumptions about student needs and their experience. But participants wondered if we could do more to include students and communities directly in the continuous improvement process.

Choosing to measure strategies against high-leverage, predictive measures of student success appears to be a promising way of entering the work. These include (together with research base): 8th and 9th grade on-track; college readiness on-track; well-matched postsecondary enrollment; and postsecondary momentum. You can find these in our P-16 Framework.

Read the full article about grankmaking focused on networks supporting schools by Bob Hughes at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.