Richer-than-god founder of Microsoft Bill Gates has just pledged a $1.7 billion investment for America’s public education system. The announcement came earlier today as Gates delivered the keynote address to the Council of the Great City Schools conference in Cleveland, a gathering of over 1000 school administrators and educators from all over the country.
In his speech, Gates said that every student in America deserves a quality education that will provide them with the tools to succeed in the marketplace. To that end, he said that the role of the philanthropy is “not to be the primary funder, but rather to fund pilots, to fund new ideas – to let people, and it’s always the educators trying new ideas – to let them try them out, and see what really works super well, and get them to scale.”
The Need for Improvement
Part of the push behind this investment into the public school system comes from the distinct disparity of success rates between largely white suburban areas, which he said is like looking at “two different countries – one where suburban white students perform almost as well as other developed countries, and another where inner-city students and Black and Latino students perform pretty much at the lowest end of all developed countries.”
Because of this disparity, it has become more and more the case that there are more jobs available than people qualified for them, as more and more job paths favor students with a post-secondary degree (specifically, a bachelor’s or above).
With this investment, Gates’ hope is to bolster the success rates of students across the board, though paying specific attention to the issues plaguing largely low-income or minority school districts and classrooms.
Moreover, Gates is interested in how schools can focus on innovations in technology and data to increase performance levels and education for students everywhere, using data systems to track and record the best ways by which to reach the most students.
Where the Money is Going
Gates went on the provide a broad outline for the investment and where specifically the money will be spent to improve public schooling.
He outlined his support for the sometimes-controversial common core standard of curriculums and spoke about how the methods of teaching and teacher-training around these common core standards will be further refined using the existing data and building with data being gathered to better develop the entire common core system.
The most significant portion of the investment, over 60%, is intended to support public schools at large. Gates cited specifically networks of schools that focus on developing new ways of using data to specify which students need special help and “innovative research” for means of providing students with that specialized kind of education.
The goal here is to have these networks propose ideas to the foundation rather than be directed by the foundation. As Gates put it, “We will let people come to us with the set of approaches they think will work for them in their local context.”
25% is directed at funding “big bets – innovations with the potential to change the trajectory of public education over the next 10 to 15 years.” Along similar lines as developing and utilizing data systems to monitor the success of schools, this money is looking to fund innovative strides taken for “promising developments in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and behavioral economics.”
The remaining 15% will be directed to charter schools. Charter schools have been a somewhat polarizing concept in education for some time, given that they are privately-run schools working from public funds. Historically, charter schools have generally not outperformed regular public schools, though select few have been very successful in the implementation of their systems.
What This Means for Public Schools
This investment is a welcome one for many beleaguered educators and administrators all over the country, though it is still a start. There are hundreds of thousands of schools across America and tens of millions of students. Hopefully, the goals set by this investment will encourage new systems of learning and tracking performances.
A welcome part of Gates’ speech was that the methods by which teachers have been evaluated in the past, programs of his design, will be mostly set aside for now. When these systems of teacher evaluations started, we saw a massive pushback from teachers everywhere who cited that it seemed more like a way of scrutinizing and blaming teachers rather than a metric for helping students receive better educations.
Ideally, the focus on helping low-income and largely minority attended public schools will see an increase in the graduation levels nationally, which have been mostly static the past few years. With more students pursuing and achieving post-secondary degrees, they will have better access to economically stable and personally fulfilling careers.
“Our role is to serve as a catalyst of good ideas, driven by the same guiding principle we started with: all students – but especially low-income students and students of color – must have equal access to a great public education that prepares them for adulthood,” Gates said.
“We will not stop until this has been achieved.”