Can the Carnegie Corporation of New York Help Reinvent High Schools?

There are over 1,800 public schools in New York City, and they face a heavy lift when it comes to making the most out of the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. As part of Carnegie's Opportunity by Design initiative, the foundation recently kicked in $3 million to give New York City public schools a fighting chance.

The  money will go to the Fund for Public Schools, and help it do some big things to reinvent high schools. According to the foundation, “School redesign is an ambitious response to the challenge of the Common Core, but nothing less will capitalize fully on this extraordinary opportunity and produce the realignment of resources needed to provide all high school students, including those who are under prepared, with powerful, personalized learning.”

We love the premise here: don't just help schools survive the Common Core tsunami. Help them thrive

And Carnegie has definitely chosen a ripe target, in homing in on high schools. Studies have shown that approximately 40 percent of high school graduates in the United States have to take remedial courses in math or English before they qualify for college work. The numbers are surely grimmer in New York City. Not only does this indicate that American high schools need to do a better job of preparing students for the real world, but it also makes the process of earning a college degree even harder and more expensive.

The Fund for Public Schools specializes in building public-private partnerships to support the New York City Department of Education and the city's 1,800+ public schools. This nonprofit organization was established in 2002 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and it's now being run by Chancellor Carmen Fariña. Since its inception, the Fund has raised over $350 million for system-wide initiatives and programs. The Fund offers a few scholarship opportunities of its own, as well as grants for library research, family reading, and playgrounds.

After publishing the “Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success” report, Carnegie announced its $15 million initial commitment to catalyze district-based new school design work in March 2013. This is a nation-wide program, and other recent related grants include $1.5 million to the Alliance for Excellent Education and $3 million to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

So how, specifically, is Carnegie's large chunk of change being put to work in public schools? Here's what these dollars are trying to help achieve:

  • Integrate positive youth development through family and community
  • Strengthen teacher training
  • Link current learning to career pathways
  • Automate basic tasks and effectively use technology
  • Partner with community resource organizations
  • Communicate clear messages, goals, and missions
  • Improve curriculum to build student skills
  • Personalize learning to meet individual needs
  • Utilize high-quality systems to hire teachers and staff
  • Use data and analytic to constantly improve curriculum

That's a big agenda, but then Carnegie has some deep pockets.

It also has some broad thinkers. Leah Hamilton, the foundation's Program Director for Urban Education, has some strong opinions on what philanthropy is and what it should be doing for American education today:

Philanthropy can support research and other efforts to help us, as a country, understand to what degree our education systems around the country are or are not working and for whom. Philanthropy can support new ways of thinking about solutions, and implementing solutions that respond to the problems that surface when we have a good understanding of what is actually happening in the United States and globally. I also think philanthropy can support efforts to innovate in education that are informed by advances in fields outside of education and in other countries around the world. And philanthropy can and should take risks that others can’t.

Confession: When we think about risk-taking foundations, we don't tend to think of the century-old Carnegie Corporation of New York. But maybe it's time we change our thinking.