Bill Gates on his decade of involvement with school reform

$5 billion later, he says, “It’s hard to improve public education—that’s clear.”

In a recent Wall Street Journal interview Gates admits laments that his first major foray into school reform – the creation of small enrollment high schools – didn’t make much of a difference where it counted with greater numbers of students going on to college.

Writes the Wall Street Journal:

“The reality is that the Gates Foundation met the same resistance that other sizeable philanthropic efforts have encountered while trying to transform dysfunctional urban school systems run by powerful labor unions and a top-down government monopoly provider.”

Part of Gates’ problem may be the advice he’s been getting. For more on that, click the “Read more” link.

Gates isn’t the first well-meaning philanthropist to run upon the rocks and shoals of public education reform. Other philanthropic efforts, like ones from Ford Foundation, Carnegie Foundation and more recently the Annenberg Foundation are now largely history. None made much of a dent in the achievement gaps they hoped to reduce or eliminate.

It remains to be seen if Gates will get it right with his newest efforts. One potential winner: he reportedly favors charter schools.

However another Gates effort, running in conjunction with the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence here in Kentucky, looks pretty “iffy.” This one is an attempt to push student-centered learning into more classrooms.

It has a hollow sound.


Because Kentucky has been trying to do exactly that since the enactment of KERA.

I bet no one told Gates that his supposedly new effort is actually old news – tried years ago right after KERA got going – and to date it hasn’t really moved the performance dial that much.

Maybe someone recently came up with a way to do student-centered learning better, but it seems to me that shaping learning only around what interests a child will simply insure many children won’t learn a lot of things they need to know. The real key isn’t appealing to a child’s desires; it is knowing how to fire kids up to want to learn things that initially might be unknown to them or which might not be terribly appealing. That’s not student-centered, but it is what is needed if kids are really going to become college and career ready by the end of high school.

In any event, Gates isn’t quitting education – yet.

However, as he seems to admit to the Wall Street Journal, so far he isn’t getting much bang for his many bucks, either.

Maybe someone who knows Gates should suggest making a donation to the Bluegrass Institute. We do have some ideas to improve education, and we promise we won’t just dust off some old idea that didn’t work out in the early days of KERA.