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Forbes.com published an interesting commentary today on the small high schools that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation created across the country — including in San Diego Unified, where one such school is trying to secede from the school district as an independent charter school. The efficacy and affordability of small high schools has come under fire as budget cuts bear down on San Diego Unified.

Its author, Diane Ravitch, chronicles the schools-within-a-school movement, its promises, and its pitfalls on a national scale. This month the Gates Foundation said that the smaller schools “had not fulfilled their promise,” Ravitch wrote, acknowledging that there were not dramatic improvements in college preparation.

The bad news about the Gates’ initiative began to accumulate in 2005, when a Gates-funded study by the American Institutes for Research showed that students in traditional, comprehensive high schools were learning more mathematics than those in the Gates’ small schools. … Then in 2006, additional research commissioned by the foundation concluded that the Gates-funded small schools had “higher attendance rates but lower test scores” than other high schools within the same school districts in both reading and mathematics.

We must give the Gates Foundation and its founders credit for their honest self-scrutiny. Most proponents of education reform defend their ideas against all critics, regardless of what evaluations show.

EMILY ALPERT

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