Bill Gates and our schools
The Bill Gates Foundation’s efforts to improve U.S. public education haven’t gone as well as hoped, as Gates admitted in remarks last month at an education conference. As a result, he said the foundation is “evolving our education strategy” as it looks to invest close to $1.7 billion in U.S. public schools over five years.
While the Gates Foundation has funded many education initiatives, its biggest splash came with its Common Core campaign, launched in 2009. But Common Core has come under fire from teachers unions and their political allies because of its emphasis on testing and teacher accountability. And Common Core faces criticism from conservatives because it seeks to require independent-minded states to use standards mandated at the national level.
These changing political waters suggest that if the Gates Foundation truly wants to advance public education, the last thing it should do is advocate national standards. Instead, it should urge states to copy what has worked in other states.
The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, for example, established standardized basic methods to assess the performance of students, teachers, administrators and superintendents and hold them accountable. Its public schools are widely seen as America’s best.
Since 1984, Texas has passed a series of education reforms that— like those in Massachusetts—set up basic accountability requirements for schools and districts while tracking the performance of four student groups: whites, Hispanics, African-Americans and the economically disadvantaged. A 2015 Urban Institute report ranked Texas behind only Massachusetts and New Jersey in school quality.
No critic can explain away the years of comprehensive success seen in Massachusetts and Texas. Whether you live in a red state or a blue state, no one should accept so-so schools. There is a better way.