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Winter 2003 | Volume 26, Number 1 | Features
Gates Renews Gift

Foundation Continues Funding of SPU School Research Center

WITH A $1.8 MILLION GRANT, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has renewed its funding of Seattle Pacific University’s Washington School Research Center (WSRC) for the next three years.

SPU Professor Jeff Fouts directs the Washington School Research Center.
The gift is in support of The Campaign for SPU, which seeks resources to advance the University’s vision for bringing about positive change in the local and global communities. The Gates Foundation has contributed a total of $3.5 million over three years to Seattle Pacific initiatives in the key areas of minority student success and public school performance.

Directed by Professor of Education Jeff Fouts, the WSRC has generated valuable research and data analysis critical to Washington state’s educational reform effort. “The current round of state educational reform is quantitatively and qualitatively different than what went before,” says Fouts. “Now the expectation is a higher level of achievement for all kids, regardless of race or socio-economic level. The piece the Center provides is sound evidence of those factors that most affect student performance. Everyone has an opinion, but what is proven and demonstrated to work? That’s been the missing piece.”

The Center staff and research teams have examined the effects on scholastic success of such variables as school environment; school and school district size; income; and ethnicity. Part of the Center’s work is dispelling erroneous conclusions. For example, while the media tend to focus on the ethnic composition of poor achievers, Fouts says that the numbers actually show that “income is generally a better predictor of student achievement.”

“A finding that’s even bigger than that, though, is the notion that students who’ve demonstrated poor academic performance cannot achieve at high levels,” continues Fouts. “Our research is beginning to show that these kids can succeed in the right educational environment.”

One organization that applauds the work of the WSRC represents 96 percent of the state’s 3,000 school principals. Rainer Hauser, director of the Association of Washington School Principals, says the contribution of the Center is invaluable to the work of school principal leadership. “Jeff ’s group provides the essential data upon which we can base intelligent decisions and overcome ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ thinking. When you’re armed with the facts, it changes the nature of the discussion.”

Though he enjoyed 22 years in the university classroom, Fouts appreciates now being able to focus on a central task, one that resonates with the work of Seattle Pacific. “It’s hard to separate the SPU School of Education and the work of the Center,” he says. “Both are divisions of the University that focus on improving education for kids. At Seattle Pacific, it’s the training of quality educators; at the Center, it’s providing the research results that give those educators the direction they need to accomplish their work.”

Thousands of people across the state benefit from the results, including the superintendent of public instruction. Parents, teachers, administrators and students are able to access student achievement information and research project findings for Washington public schools by visiting the Center Web site at

“Continued Gates support puts SPU on the map,” says Bob McIntosh, vice president for university advancement. “Other foundations and grant organizations take note when the world’s largest foundation makes such a significant contribution.” Donors who have also chosen to help fund the Center include Washington Mutual and The Boeing Company.

“Bill Gates Sr. recently had lunch on our campus,” says SPU President Philip Eaton. “He expressed how pleased he was that the Gates Foundation can have a part in the Center. That’s exciting feedback.”


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