The failed promise of small learning communities

In marked contrast to its splashy announcements of large grants (totaling $1 billion) to fund some 1500 "small learning communities" across the country, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has quietly concluded: they don't work.
"At the Gates Foundation, early grants went to utopian and communitarian movements but we moved away from that because it does not work," foundation spokesman David Ferrero said late last month. Ferrero spoke at a conference on high school reform sponsored by the Center for Education at the National Academies of Science. (from "Educational Epiphany of Bill Gates" by Malcolm A. Kline, April 05, 2006)

Tom Vander Ark, executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's education initiatives discovered, "With many of our early grants, I encouraged people to fix the architecture. Several years later, many of those same folks are stuck in architectural arguments and never got to the heart of the issue — teaching and learning."

In his January 2006 commentary in Education Week, "Come Clean on Small Schools" (requires registration) David C. Bloomfield, professor and the head of the educational leadership program at the Brooklyn College campus of the City University of New York said, "The students affected do not have the luxury of walking away from failed social experiments."

If you are a parent, this last comment should hit home. If your school district adopts the latest educational fad, ask lots of questions. The foundation grant money may sound sweet to cash-strapped schools, but your child does not have the luxury of a "do over" if it does not work for him or her.