The Gates Foundation Shifts Its Education Gears

The Gates Foundation Shifts Its Education Gears

BE Smart, Black Enterprise’s education-focused initiative, is a grantee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has supported improvements in K–12 U.S. public education to the tune of $1 billion over the past 17 years.


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At the Oct. 19 conference of the Council of Great City Schools held in Cleveland, Bill Gates gave a speech about how the Gates Foundation’s education strategy is shifting.

He reiterated the organization’s concern that all students—especially low-income students and students of color—have access to a public education that prepares them for adulthood.

Here is an excerpt from that speech.

When our foundation began working in education in 2000, we started with a few guiding principles.

Our No. 1 priority was – and still is – ensuring that all students get a great public education and graduate with the skills to succeed in the workplace.

We wanted to work with educators to better understand their needs and the needs of their students and communities.

And, taking their best ideas, we wanted to pilot potentially transformative solutions and understand what worked well and what didn’t.

Today, I’d like to share what we have learned over the last 17 years and how those insights will change what we focus on over the next five years.

But first, I’d like to say a few words about the state of public education in the U.S. By and large, schools are still falling short on the key metrics of a quality education – math scores, English scores, international comparisons, and college completion.

While much has rightly been made of the OECD data that shows lagging performance of American students overall, the national averages mask a bigger story.

When disaggregated by race, we see two Americas. One where white students perform along the lines of the best in the world—with achievement comparable to countries like Finland and Korea. And another America, where Black and Latino students perform comparably to the students in the lowest performing OECD countries, such as Chile and Greece.

And for all students in U.S. public schools, the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in postsecondary institutions has remained essentially flat.

Without success in college or career preparation programs, students will have limited economic mobility and fewer opportunities throughout their lives. This threatens not only their economic future but the economic future and competitiveness of the United States.

There are some signs of progress. Over the past decade, in cities like Charlotte, Austin, and Fresno, high school graduation rates have gone up rapidly.

To read more, visit GatesNotes, Bill Gates’s personal blog.