Now Laurene Powell Jobs is starting a $50 million project to rethink high school.
With an advertising campaign that looks as if it came from Apple’s marketing department, the initiative is meant to create high schools with new approaches to education. In essence, Ms. Powell Jobs and her team of high-profile educators and designers hope they can crowd-source a solution to a problem that has flummoxed policy makers for decades.
“The system was created for the work force we needed 100 years ago,” Ms. Powell Jobs said in an interview here Friday. “Things are not working the way we want it to be working. We’ve seen a lot of incremental changes over the last several years, but we’re saying, ‘Start from scratch.’ ”
Called XQ: The Super School Project, the campaign is meant to inspire teams of educators and students, as well as leaders from other sectors, to come up with new plans for high schools. Over the next several months, the teams will submit plans that could include efforts like altering school schedules, curriculums and technologies. By fall next year, Ms. Powell Jobs said, a team of judges will pick five to 10 of the best ideas to finance.
Ms. Powell Jobs has for years financed College Track, which helps low-income students across the country to enroll and then succeed in college. Since the death of her husband in 2011, Ms. Powell Jobs has taken tentative steps into the public sphere, including advocating an overhaul of immigration laws.
Ms. Powell Jobs has assembled a team of advisers led by Russlynn H. Ali, who worked in the Obama administration’s Education Department as the assistant secretary for civil rights. Ms. Ali, who for the last several years has overseen education grants at Emerson, will serve as the primary public face of the campaign. Michelle Cahill, who has spent more than three decades in education, including as a senior adviser to Joel I. Klein when he was the New York City schools chancellor, has culled much of the research used on the website. Keith Yamashita, a consultant for the project, has worked with Apple, IBM, General Electric and several start-up companies.
Improving outcomes for high school students has long been a priority in education. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has financed scores of small high schools meant to better educate students through more focused attention and carefully tailored programs. Boston began a push this year to redesign its public high schools.
“There is a huge gap between what students want for their future and what their schools are offering,” Ms. Powell Jobs said. “Once you have liberation from a system that was designed for the beginning of the century, there’s nobody to blame.”
Ms. Powell Jobs said that while she was committed to ensuring that the new schools are public, she was unsure whether they would be charter schools. She pointed out that she, like most Americans, is a graduate of a public high school. Plans for a national tour to collect ideas for the project do not include a stop at her alma mater in New Jersey, West Milford High School.
“We want to make high schools back into the great equalizers they were meant to be,” Ms. Ali said. “The point is not to have some predetermined outcome. The hunger for change is real, and we’re offering up the tools to communities to make it happen.”