We all know that with limited funds, most school districts would rather follow a proven path than forge a new one. Yet without innovation, our education system becomes stagnant. One way new ideas can be advanced is with the help and support of foundations. Because many of these organizations are private and do not need to produce a profit, they are free to explore new ideas and approaches. In addition, they have the wherewithal to make the long-term commitments necessary to research, try and prove new and better approaches to education. Following is information on some of those foundations.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s education investments focus on the creation of new, small, high-quality high schools and the conversion of existing low-performing schools into smaller, personalized learning communities. It is the foundation’s belief that America’s public high schools, designed for an industrial-based economy, do not prepare all young people with the knowledge and skills they need in today’s information-based society, and that smaller high schools foster the type of learning environments necessary for more students to succeed. To help all students have the option of attending more effective schools, the foundation is working with education and other civic leaders to support the creation of new small high schools and the conversion of existing large schools into smaller“learning communities” — more than 150 such new schools opened in 2003. For more information, go to .

KnowledgeWorks Foundation

KnowledgeWorks Foundation was created in 1998 as a charitable foundation. Although the foundation’s initial goal was to assist the districts in Ohio make the best possible use of the State of Ohio’s plan to spend more than $23 billion on new school construction and renovation, districts across the United States have been able to take advantage of KnowledgeWorks’ research and information bank. Of special interest to the foundation are the concepts of“schools as centers of community” and the engagement of communities in the planning of local school facilities. Learn more at .

Annenberg Foundation

The Annenberg Foundation is a private foundation established in 1989. One initiative of the foundation was the $500-million Annenberg Challenge to the Nation. Now complete, the Annenberg Challenge consisted of 18 projects operated in 35 states, funding 2,400 public schools that served more than 1.5 million students and 80,000 teachers. In addition, more than 1,600 businesses, foundations, colleges and universities, and individuals contributed $600 million in private matching funds. The Annenberg Challenge: Lessons and Reflections on School Reform reports on the findings and recommendations drawn from project activities including: the benefits of professional development; ways to make big schools small; enhanced parental involvement; community partnerships and support for public schools.

The Annenberg Foundation also provides primary funding for the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. The Institute currently focuses on four areas: redesigning school districts to support high-performing, innovative schools; developing and supporting educational leadership; rethinking accountability to link changes in policy and practice to evidence that guides continuous school and student improvement; and community-centered approaches to education reform. Visit their Website at .

George Lucas Educational Foundation

Unlike the foundations that concentrate on providing grants and technical assistance, the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF) is a nonprofit operating foundation that concentrates on documenting and disseminating information about exemplary programs in K-12 schools. Taking advantage of it’s media outlets, GLEF showcases schools that have taken the lead in the development of successful, innovative programs and facilities that best reflect the ideal educational landscape. Learn more at .

Making our schools a place where all students can succeed is a daunting job. But with the help of foundations who can help fund research and disseminate results — we have a chance!