Chicago was left out of a round of district-charter collaboration grants announced today by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The reason: the city’s turnover in schools leadership.

“Due to the recent administrative changes, we believe this is an opportunity to support the new superintendent in her transition and to give her adequate time to learn about the [district-charter collaboration] Compact and whether she might want to make any changes to the [grant application], as she would be part of the leadership team responsible for its implementation,” wrote Deborah Robinson, a Gates Foundation spokeswoman, in an email.

Robinson said it was a “mutual decision.  Given the recent changes in leadership, we want to give the new superintendent an opportunity to become more familiar with the compact, and they agree.”

Chicago previously received $100,000 from the Gates Foundation when its compact, pledging cooperation between the district and charter schools, was signed a year ago. Catalyst Chicago reported at that time on proposed agreements in the compact, one of a number of such agreements in cities across the country.

It’s also possible that CPS wanted to avoid a spotlight on its agreements with charter schools at a time when the district faces a $1 billion deficit, a pending round of what is widely expected to be dozens of school closings and criticism that charter expansion could be a contributing factor to the loss of students in neighborhood schools.

CPS will still be eligible for a second round of funding in the spring or early summer of 2013. That round of grants will include funding for specific district-charter collaboration projects as well as for “program-related investments,” which will help districts fund charter school facilities through loans, credit enhancements and financial risk-sharing mechanisms.

Since 2010, 16 cities have signed “district-charter collaboration compacts” which have different stipulations, but generally entail an agreement to give charters the same funding as other schools.

The agreements often include a commitment to sharing professional development, curriculum standards, and best practices, and the grant funding will provide resources for such efforts.

Of the 16 compact cities, seven received grants that were announced today:

  • Hartford, Conn.: $4,996,773
  • Denver, Colo.: $4,001,999
  • New York City, N.Y.: $3,699,999
  • Boston, Mass.: $3,250,000
  • New Orleans, La.: $2,968,172
  • Philadelphia, Pa.: $2,499,210
  • Spring Branch, Texas: $2,192,636

Successful collaboration

Charters were originally conceived as a way to try out new models and spread successful ideas back to other schools, pointed out Vicki Phillips, Director of Education, College Ready in the United States Program for the foundation.

She touted successful examples of collaboration like:

  • A partnership in Denver between the K-5th grade Cole Arts and Science Academy, a district school, and Denver School of Science and Technology, a charter. The two schools share a campus, and students who graduate from 5th grade at Cole are automatically admitted to Denver School of Science and Technology for 6th grade.


  • Achievement First in Hartford, Conn. opening up its principal residency program to district principal candidates.


  • Common performance standards and shared applications for traditional public and charter schools in New Orleans, La. Similar initiatives are already under way in Chicago.


Lori Shorr, chief education officer for Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter, said Gates money would help that city with a principal training program that will eventually graduate 40 or 50 new principals a year for both district and charter schools.

Catholic schools and other private schools are also part of the compact in Philadelphia. The Gates funding will also back an effort to expand Mastery Charter Schools program to provide training to neighborhood, charter, archdiocese, and private schools in how to help teachers become more effective.

In Spring Branch, Texas, Spring Branch Independent School District Duncan Klussmann says the district has opened up KIPP charter schools’ leadership development program to all school principals.

YES Prep Charters have responsibility for training all new Teach for America teachers within the district, and Spring Branch has put charter school programs into traditional schools as “school-within-a-school” programs.

And in Denver, the district has set up a “learning labs” where top-flight schools can apply to be demonstration sites, leading other administrators and teachers to learn about they do well.

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