What Bill Gates Learned About U.S. Education in 17 Years—and Why He’s...


What Bill Gates Learned About U.S. Education in 17 Years—and Why He’s Investing $1.7B More

By Tony Wan     Oct 20, 2017

What Bill Gates Learned About U.S. Education in 17 Years—and Why He’s Investing $1.7B More

Bill and Melinda Gates have poured billions of dollars into efforts to shape U.S. K-12 education over the past 17 years. So what’s $1.7 billion more?

In his keynote address at the Council of the Great City Schools conference in Cleveland this week, the Microsoft co-founder reflected on some lessons learned about education reform, along with plans to “invest close to $1.7 billion in U.S. public education over the next five years.”

Here’s what Gates says he has learned from efforts that will no longer be a focus of the foundation’s education strategy:

Creating small schools of less than 500 students: “Over time, we saw that the overall impact of this strategy was limited—the financial and political costs of closing existing schools and replacing them with new schools was too high.”

Observing and measuring “effective” teachers: “This work has helped states across the country build comprehensive evaluation systems based on multiple measures...But districts and states have varied in how they have implemented these systems because they each operate in their local context.” He later added: “...although we will no longer invest directly in new initiatives based on teacher evaluations and ratings, we will continue to gather data on the impact of these systems and encourage the use of these systems to improve instruction at the local level.”

Both aforementioned efforts have drawn spotlight—and scrutiny. Even the foundation has acknowledged it is “facing the fact that it is a real struggle to make system-wide change,” as Sue Desmond-Hellman, the foundation’s CEO, wrote in a letter last year.

The Gates Foundation’s role in supporting the creation and adoption of the Common Core State Standards emboldened critics who believed Gates had too much sway in shaping what American students would learn. While the standards had the support of many state education officials and policymakers, the foundation did not do enough to reach parents and teachers, it acknowledged.

“Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards,” Desmond-Hellman said. “We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators—particularly teachers—but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.”

Rather than supporting top-down reform efforts, Bill Gates said he wants local educators to propose solutions themselves. In the years ahead, he said the bulk of the foundation’s investments will focus on “locally-driven solutions identified by networks of schools,” along with efforts to create curricula and professional development opportunities for teachers. “We anticipate that about 60 percent of [the $1.7 billion commitment] will eventually support the development of new curricula and networks of schools that work together to identify local problems and solutions . . . and use data to drive continuous improvement.”

Another 25 percent will go towards what Gates called “big bets—innovations with the potential to change the trajectory of public education over the next 10 to 15 years.” His examples included support for research into PreK-12 education, math and workforce preparation for high-school students.

Finally, 15 percent will go towards supporting charter schools that serve special-needs students.

“Giving schools and districts more flexibility is more likely to lead to solutions that fit the needs of local communities and are potentially replicable elsewhere,” Gates said. “If there is one thing I have learned, it is that no matter how enthusiastic we might be about one approach or another, the decision to go from pilot to wide-scale usage is ultimately and always something that has to be decided by you and others the field,” he added, speaking to the school officials in attendance.

The foundation plans to release a “request for information” on Monday to solicit ideas for how the money should be spent, reports The Washington Post, along with an official request for proposal early next year.


Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up