Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bill Gates' Education Fix?

While the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has greatly contributed to progress in school reform, there are times when Bill's ego leads him to falsely believe he can work his "Windows" magic everywhere. Case in point: his recent op-ed in the Washington Post entitled "School Reform That Works." Gates offers explanations of urban, failing schools that have improved through increased expectations and standards, guided by programs like KIPP. Certainly, this progress is admirable and should be, in some ways, replicated. However, when Gates begins to make broader recommendations on school policy, he reveals an ignorant bias toward the mission of k-12 education in the United States. One example is his misguided belief that "Our goal as a nation should be to ensure that 80 percent of our students graduate from high school fully ready to attend college by 2025." His assumption that a college prep curriculum is necessary for eight out of ten high school students reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of American society and the type of education reform it needs.

Why would Gates choose an arbitrary number such as 80% of high school graduates going to college when statistically only 30% of the country currently has a degree. That is the highest the US percentage has ever been, and it has adequately served a country that even in this crisis is only looking at 8% unemployment. Is he expecting that by 2025 eight out of ten jobs in America will require a college degree? Where are all the jobs for that "over-educated" population he seeks to create. I doubt they'll all be hired by Microsoft. Gates' vision is a foolish over-estimation, and if he'd run his business with the same kind of narrow view of society, I bet Macs would be the dominant platform in the world, not PCs. Gates also praises the schools where 90% of student "enter" a four-year college. That's impressive, but the more important statistic is whether 90% exit with a degree. Research shows the number will be more like 40%, Thus, college serves to be a colossal waste of time and money for many kids. Gates is creating unrealistic educational expectations that will result in a tremendous waste of resources.

Bill Gates has done a lot of good for schools, but he might consider returning to computers, as Microsoft lays off 5000 people, and he reveals a true lack of understanding in terms of the educational needs of this country.


Darren said...

He also pushed the "small schools" concept a few years ago, with not a lot to show for his money. To his credit, though, he followed an adage I believe in: When the facts contradict your expectations, believe the facts.

He doesn't talk about "small schools" anymore.

Clix said...

I can't speak too much against Gates - his foundation has provided a ton of "matching" grants to, which means my proposals get funded more easily! He is welcome to his ideas. A college preparatory curriculum does not have to exclude career or vocational training. I'd love to see our society get to the point where college is a viable option for any high school graduate: not a requirement or expectation, but a definite possibility.