Seattle's worst

The Gates foundation has learned some lessons - and Seattle's public schools are poorer for the experience. In 2000, the foundation made a series of high-profile, five-year, multi-million-dollar gifts to districts deemed capable of bringing about significant change in their schools. Seattle received $26 million at the time, but it most likely won't be receiving any more. The foundation recently announced new grants to districts that "have a really good record of improvement, have enjoyed stable and effective leadership, and had a really good plan going forward," said the foundation's Tom Vander Ark, "and none of those applied to Seattle." Four days later, the Seattle Time's editorial page concurred: "The 46,000-student district is listing in rocky seas. It needs an infusion of money. And to get it, the district is going to have to demonstrate improvement." Also getting scaled back is the foundation's push for small high schools. Vander Ark learned that the process of breaking up schools "monopolized the agenda" to such a point that what happened in the classroom didn't change. But the foundation remains interested in addressing the problems faced by high schools. "I doubt," says Vander Ark, "we'll have a district partnership that doesn't include efforts to change the structure of the high school to make it more personalized."

"Gates Foundation exec pans Seattle school district," by Linda Shaw, Seattle Times, October 20, 2005

"Gates and schools: lessons for Seattle," Seattle Times, October 24, 2005