Bill Gates' Big Play: How Much Can Money Buy in Education?
Bill Gates' first challenge was to define a vision. After experimenting with small schools, he discovered that this approach did not lead to consistently higher student performance. So he stepped back and said, OK, let's figure out just what IS going to increase those test scores? This was the crucial decision that has determined all other steps that have followed. The purpose of schooling has been determined by the measurement that tells us if we have succeeded. Although Bill Gates would perceive this as a neutral objective, in fact it has created a driving agenda for school change. The agenda is this: To recraft the system so that it is just as relentlessly focused on test score improvement as any business is focused on making money.
First, acknowledge that current tests are of limited value. We cannot abandon them because they are all we have, and we cannot ignore the data they give us, even though it is not all we might wish for. Develop a plan for a new generation of tests that will be clearly superior to existing tests. These new tests will be richer, and incorporate technology, and based on new quasi-national standards that are likewise superior. The Gates Foundation has been a huge supporter of the Common Core Standards, and is partnering with the Pearson Foundation to develop online reading and math courses aligned with the standards.
It may surprise you--it was certainly surprising to us--but the field of education doesn't know very much at all about effective teaching.
Get non-profit advocacy groups on your side. If you hand out multi-million dollar grants to organizations that are piecing together their existence on much smaller sources, all of a sudden you can become their biggest sponsor. Pump money into advocacy groups like Teach Plus, and discover they are willing to lobby on behalf of things you value. Help sponsor the creation of new advocacy groups like Students First and they can help as well.
The Gates Foundation, one of the sponsors of this event, and the largest single funder of education anywhere in the world. It's their facts that we're going to be referring to often to help along our conversation.