Bill Gates has invested nearly $1B in US schools and wants to make every dollar count

Bill has just given a very interesting speech on the state of the US High School system which he describes as obsolete:

By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded – though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they’re working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today. 

Training the workforce of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today’s computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. It’s the wrong tool for the times. Our high schools were designed fifty years ago to meet the needs of another age.  Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting – even ruining – the lives of millions of Americans every year.

He has a considerable interest in this failing as he explains here:

Our philanthropy is driven by the belief that every human being has equal worth.  We are constantly asking ourselves where a dollar of funding and an hour of effort can make the biggest impact for equality. We look for strategic entry points – where the inequality is the greatest, has the worst consequences, and offers the best chance for improvement. We have decided that high schools are a crucial intervention point for equality because that’s where children’s paths diverge – some go on to lives of accomplishment and privilege; others to lives of frustration, joblessness, and jail. 

and he is prepared to put his money where his mouth is:

Our foundation has invested nearly one billion dollars so far to help redesign the American high school. We are supporting more than fifteen hundred high schools – about half are totally new, and the other half are existing schools that have been redesigned. Four hundred fifty of these schools, both new and redesigned, are already open and operating. Chicago plans to open 100 new schools. New York City is opening 200. Exciting redesign work is under way in Oakland, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Boston.   

The basic message he speaks about is the need to prepare children to earn a wage they can support their families on, and that to achieve that wage they need to go to college, however in his talk he provides clear evidence that schools are failing in this objective.  The solution, the three Rs.

  • The first R is Rigor – making sure all students are given a challenging curriculum that prepares them for college or work;
  • The second R is Relevance – making sure kids have courses and projects that clearly relate to their lives and their goals;
  • The third R is Relationships – making sure kids have a number of adults who know them, look out for them, and push them to achieve.

Then he casts the statistics in a person light with this story:

When I visited High Tech High in San Diego a few years ago, one young student told me that High Tech High was the first school he’d ever gone to where being smart was cool.  His neighborhood friends gave him a hard time about that, and he said he wasn’t sure he was going to stay. But then he showed me the work he was doing on a special project involving a submarine. This kid was really bright. It was an incredible experience talking to him – because his life really did hang in the balance.  

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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