The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation believes in small schools so much that it funds the Small Schools Project, a group that coaches schools that want to follow the small-school model. The Gates Foundation also offers grants to new, small schools and to old, large schools that want to create smaller schools on their existing campuses. Among the efforts Gates supports is the Manual High School in Denver, which is in the process of splitting into three schools, and a half-dozen high schools in Oakland, California, that are in the early phases of splitting up, with the help of the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, a nonprofit organization. Says Tom Vander Ark, executive director of education for the Gates Foundation, "Size matters ... Creating smaller, more personalized learning environments where every student is held to high expectations works. Students stay in school, are more motivated, and achieve at higher levels."

Businesses need grads schooled in the three Rs, sure, but also practiced at today's way of work.

By Tracy Staton and Bill Marvel

Businesses and educators may wring their hands over math and science shortfalls and literacy levels, but today's companies don't just need kids who can figure statistics, design a circuit, or write a decent proposal. The workplace has changed dramatically since the assembly-line days, when most schools adopted their hierarchical form, but many haven't changed their teaching methods to fit the world outside the classroom. Some innovators, however, are helping kids learn the skills their work life will demand. Here's a sampling.

Collaboration and team projects are the current management zeitgeist. Students need to learn to pool their skills on teams, whether as member or leader.
Examples: In Union City, New Jersey, public school students tackle learning projects as teams and make intense use of technology to research and present their findings. Step into Maryann Sakoutis' classroom today at Emerson High School in Union City and take a look around: Sakoutis seldom lectures or assigns. Instead, wandering among her students, who are seated at round tables, she asks questions and makes suggestions.

"We really are preparing students for the real world," says Fred Carrigg, Union City's executive director of academic programs and architect of the new system.

People in real jobs don't sit at desks reading books and taking tests, he points out. "They work in teams. What we're teaching is what we believe the American corporate world and public world want."

Web-based software, e-mail, the Internet - and increasingly specialized technology on construction sites, in delivery vans, on the factory floor - mean today's graduates not only need to know how to type, but how to be comfortable with technology in various forms.