Gates learns

Via Charter Blog, here’s a Business Week interview with Bill and Melinda Gates, who talk about their focus on improving high schools. They’ve given $1 billion to education so far, with most of that going to create smaller high schools. But improving achievement is harder than they thought. Small alone doesn’t work. Improving curriculum and teaching are critical too, says Melinda Gates, who responds to a recent Gates Foundation study showing that “math results at schools receiving money from the foundation are lower than at traditional high schools.”

Melinda One of the things we have to look at is what is it about the teachers today and the curriculum today that’s making math not successful in these schools? We just recently had those results. The best thing the foundation can do is really look at that and talk with our partners and say: “Do we need to change something about how we’re helping teachers teach math? Do we need to help change the curriculum in the schools?”

But that is what I think the unique role may be with the foundation: We’re not afraid to take those results and publish them broadly and tell everybody: “Yep, here are some things we’re finding. Let’s have a conversation about it and now, let’s figure out how to solve it,” as opposed to hiding it and saying: “Well, let’s not worry about math and science and kind of act like it’s working.”

I think the Gates people charged ahead at first with the “small is beautiful” idea but have been good at looking at results and rethinking. Bill Gates plans to shift his attention from Microsoft to philanthropy in the next two years. He has the potential to do a lot of good.

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Comments

  1. Small alone doesn’t work. Improving curriculum and teaching are critical too, says Melinda Gates, who responds to a recent Gates Foundation study showing that “math results at schools receiving money from the foundation are lower than at traditional high schools.”

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. The small schools supported by Gates money are all hyper “preogressive”/constructivist.

    I have a few posts on these small schools at my site. Here and elsewhere:
    http://instructivist.blogspot.com/2006/04/political-litmus-test-for-math-teacher.html#comments

    A big mistake of the Gates effort is to focus exlusivesly on high schools. By the time high school rolls around it’s too late. Their focus should be on elementary schools. That’s where most of the damage is done in math and science.

    I also think the whole-class model is unworkable for the disadvantaged. If a whole-class model is used, it should be supplemented by academic support teachers who provide more intensive involvement to students who are pulled out of classes. This is where Gates money could do tremendous good. As it is Melinda is barking up the wrong money tree.

  2. mike from oregon says:

    Until they (the teachers and administration) get back to the basics and fundamentals – meaning “drill and kill”, the kids will never succeed. You have to have the basics to build upon. Whole word, fuzzy math, the teaching of using a calculator for EVERYTHING dooms a child. I don’t care how small the class is (or large for that matter) if the child doesn’t have a foundation to build upon then they can’t build. They can’t develop “critical thinking skills” from no base – it becomes the old situation of “doesn’t know what they don’t know” – the ‘newer’ ideas (that teachers have) that kids should ‘discover’ everything themselves is bunk. I’d hate to sit around waiting for the concept of the wheel to come to my mind (or the minds of our collective group when we ‘group learn’). No, teach them the basics, have the basics MEMORIZED, students don’t move on UNTIL they have the basics down. Then and ONLY then will children start learning. If the Gates wish to spend their money well, spend on teaching the basics – period.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    If they don’t understand that not everyone shares their values or their goals, they are going to miss the main chance.

  4. “math results at schools receiving money from the foundation are lower than at traditional high schools”

    Why is it so hard for people to accept the concept that money is not necessarily the answer to all problems? Per-pupil spending on education in the US is up 23% in constant dollars over the last seven years; would anyone claim that we’re turning out students who are 23% better educated? Of course not.

    Still, every time the subject comes up, money is always the answer.

    It seems to me that the correlation is almost the opposite, at least for some ranges within the domain. If we were to drastically CUT education funding, maybe we would see a sudden increase in the quality of the students.

    Or maybe not. All we know for sure is that more money has not been the answer so far and there’s little evidence that it will be the answer in the future.

  5. edgeworthy says:

    Gates’s self-criticisms are promising, but I wonder if they can really get around the “progressive” teachers’ aversion to drill and to teaching the fundamentals? Moreover, what works with well-off kids who come from supportive families may not be helpful to poorer kids from dysfunctional backgrounds.

    The elephant in the room is Discipline or, if you prefer, values. Virtually all studies of Catholic schools show they work in helping the poorest kids because of strict discipline, the willingness to set and enforce high standards,emphasis on establishing a common school culture, and the lack of apology for shaping kids’ moral views. (See Bryk, et al. “Catholic Schools and the Common Good” Harvard press.) Yet there class sizes aren’t particularly small and the subsidies not very large.