The Gates Foundation and Small High Schools

Harvard Business School



Case Study Sector


Covers the evolution of the Gates Foundation's multibillion dollar effort to influence reform in the U.S. public education system since 1999, particularly the foundation's recent (2002) decision to invest heavily in the breakup of existing urban high schools and the creation of new small high schools. Examines the merits of that strategy and various implementation issues associated with it. Tom Vander Ark, who oversees the foundation's education initiative, prepares for a meeting with Bill Gates in which he will review the foundation's track record and propose targeting future investments on small high school reform. For background and context, the case covers the contemporary small schools movement in the United States and the consolidation of high schools and districts in the United States since 2000.
Learning objective: To analyze Vander Ark's strategy of small high school reform as a platform for sector-wide improvement, to investigate the specific implementation challenges that Vander Ark faces in investing in high school reform, and to develop insight into the nature of large-scale education reform movements.



  • Strategy


  • Northern America

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