Originally the organization was run centrally from Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, limiting its activities to schools on the east coast. Later, it created regional hubs to coordinate reforms, coach teachers and administrators on school change, and evaluate schools for membership in the coalition. Eventually the national organization became only a coordinating body with relatively little direct interaction with schools, limiting itself to coordinating between hubs, presenting a national public face for the organization, and organizing an annual convention, the "Fall Forum." The organization was based in Oakland, California, from 1997 to circa 2011.
Supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Coalition of Essential Schools is engaged in a five-year initiative to establish ten new CES high schools, create a network of 22 CES Mentor High Schools to be actively engaged in helping to support the creation of new small schools, convert two large high schools into several new CES small schools, and document the CES principles and mentoring approach through an online resource, a "Mentor Schools Guide," and its network of Centers.