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January 27, 2009

Politely Speaking the Truth

In a previous post, I wondered why Bill Gates, who has spent billions of dollars in an effort to improve public education, seemed reluctant to state and act on some of the simple truths that seem obvious to many education reformers.  One reader suggested that Gates might view a less-confrontational approach as more likely to succeed. 

Whatever the historical reasons, I was thrilled to read Gates' first "annual letter" on his philanthropic activities.  Here is the page on education.  My favorite quotes (with my emphasis on key points):

1. "Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way. These tended to be the schools that did not take radical steps to change the culture, such as allowing the principal to pick the team of teachers or change the curriculum. We had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school."

2. "But a few of the schools that we funded achieved something amazing. They replaced schools with low expectations and low results with ones that have high expectations and high results. These schools are not selective in whom they admit, and they are overwhelmingly serving kids in poor areas, most of whose parents did not go to college. Almost all of these schools are charter schools that have significantly longer school days than other schools."

3. "Based on what the foundation has learned so far, we have refined our strategy. We will continue to invest in replicating the school models that worked the best. Almost all of these schools are charter schools. Many states have limits on charter schools, including giving them less funding than other schools. Educational innovation and overall improvement will go a lot faster if the charter school limits and funding rules are changed."

As I had mentioned in a post on a recent editorial by the KIPP founders, all of these ideas are well-known.  However, it is fantastic to see them in writing from someone as influential as Gates, especially since he has shown the willingness to spend billions of dollars to get things done.


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