Open Gates

We can expect all students to go to college, said Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation in an NPR interview.

And maybe they are not coming in with the right reading or math skills, but we are going to bring them up, and we are going to have high expectations of them.

NPR also asked why the Gates-funded group, Strong American Schools, “has no official stand on vouchers, on charter schools, on No Child Left Behind, or on any other bill in Congress.”

Because I think it’s more important to get the American people demanding of the presidential candidates that they address these issues. The thing that we are talking about is bigger than any specific one piece of bill or one legislation; it’s having Americans rise up and say, ‘Let’s collectively do something about it; let’s debate the issues; let’s come up with the right solutions.’ We’re not trying to dictate a solution. We don’t think we have all of the answers, but we think the American people should make sure that their candidates lead on this issue and come up with the right answers.

How can people evaluate which are the right answers if education reformers won’t discuss policy trade-offs. Talking about education — it’s good! we need more of it! — isn’t enough.

About Joanne


  1. One of the nice things about having money is that one can speak boldly and clearly about what one sees as the truth, rather than hedging and dodging and going vague to avoid disfavor.

    Having spoken clearly and precisely, it’s important to also listen carefully and honestly to the response, so that one’s views can be refined by further information and insight.

    That would assist a lot in getting the discussion going. But it’s amusing how often wealthy benefactors seem timid.

  2. BadaBing says:

    This is a copout that means absolutely nothing. If she doesn’t take a stand on something, what’s to debate? Let’s get people talking about it = Let’s all pool our ignorance and see what happens. Lame.

  3. Mrs. Davis says:

    Bad thing about having money is you can never have enough. And schools buy a lot of computers. Without Linux. Gates should stick to malaria.

  4. It could be that education is _not_ an important issue for a large percentage of Americans. Before everyone jumps on me, consider the large numbers of baby boomers entering retirement. Many of them had no children. The percentage of Americans who are childless by choice has risen remarkably quickly.

    When Americans rate education as #7 on a list of priorities, it’s likely that they’re telling the truth. All of the PR and interviews in the world aren’t going to change that.

    In addition, I would doubt that a majority of Americans would agree that “all children should complete college.” I believe in the transformative effects of education, but I know adults who were miserable in the classroom. Many adults also chose careers which don’t need advanced schooling, because they hated school.

  5. It’s not like Strong American Schools makes no claims or hold no positions. They do.

    1) national standards
    2) professionalization of teaching (differential pay, accountability, etc.)
    3) longer school days

    So what if Melinda doesn’t have an opinion on vouchers (which are deader than Lincoln anyway)? The rationale behind advocating the above positions over individual bills is the necessity of making substantial structural reforms rather than rearranging some deck chairs.

  6. Anyone who thinks all kids should go to college is part of the problem.

  7. Markm said, “Anyone who thinks all kids should go to college is part of the problem.”

    Amen! Except for a few areas of study, college is used by society as a very expensive form of credentialism. Many of the jobs that now require a credential don’t actually need one. The credential, i.e., the degree, simply shows that you have certain personal traits that the employer wants and needs. As an example, I worked my way through college in the early 70s at a Boys’ Club. At the end of my sophomore year at age 18, I was given the full-time position (with a yearly salary and great benefits) of Assistant Director with all sorts of supervisory and financial responsiblities. I kept the position for three years. Today, that same position requires at least an undergraduate degree. There is no plausible reason why a college degree is necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of that position, but there it is!

  8. Ditto, markm. What a silly idea, being pushed by some very silly people. It is absurd to think that everyone should go to college. An awful lot of what people learn in college would be better learned on the job or in vocational schools. Really: not every bookkeeper needs an accounting degree, not every landscaper needs a design degree. Teaching every student as if he were college-bound is a noxious waste of money. There should be some way for kids to do some testing of the waters in school and see if they would be happier in a trade rather than in some “profession.” Bill and Melinda Gates are very silly people; they just get to be noisier about it because they have the money.

  9. John Dewey says:

    And maybe they are not coming in with the right reading or math skills, but we are going to bring them up, and we are going to have high expectations of them.

    Melinda, if you’re reading this, do you have anything specific on how to bring up math skills? Have you or Bill looked at your home state to see the effect of Washingotn’s math standards, and the effects of programs like Investigations on young children? Do you have any comments on this?

  10. That statement alone pretty much precludes her having anything worth saying in the education spectrum. The problem with many rich and/or influential people is they confuse their success at something with some other all encompassing wonderfulness that gives them insights into other areas.

  11. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    All children should go to college? I would wage that the very attitude espoused there is part of the problem with grade school, especially high school. High schools (by that I mean the educators that inhabit them) simply do not look at themselves as institutions that only have four more years to teach students all they need to know to not just function but thrive in society. Why should they when they can instead focus solely on providing a GREAT social environment for students, placing learning and academics on the very back burner, and dumping the students onto unsuspecting colleges to teach them what the high schools should have been doing all along?

  12. Mrs. Davis says:

    All this from the wife of a college dropout.

  13. Mrs. Davis makes an interesting point. Bill Gates did what he did without completing college. Are we to assume that all the other kids in the country are neither as lucky nor as genius as he is, and therefore required to complete college?

    I’m a college prof. I have to admit considerable frustration with students who come in with either (a) low skills, because they’ve been passed along by teachers who were either overworked or assumed someone down the line would correct the problem or (b) students with the attitude that if they warm the seat in the classroom for four years, that automatically entitles them to a $50K a year (or better) job.

    College is great – for certain professions and/or certain people. (I could not have become a scientist without it). But for a lot of people, it’s a bad match, both career-wise and temperament-wise.

    I tend to be leery of anyone who suggests “one size fits all” solutions, which is what Mrs. Gates is doing.

  14. ricki,
    Mrs Davis would seem to agree: Bill Gates went to college … and I would wager that he was prepared for college when he did.

    The core part of the message: all children should be ready to succeed in college addresses all of the concerns: not steering them off college by dint of zip code or other reason. Whether they go is less material by career: although they’ll have the opportunity to be more engaged citizens with math, reading, history, science and language skills. eg going into the military isn’t a failure. but having them show up skill-less (whether to college, to boot camp, to their first job or to the voting booth) IS a failure.

  15. As an employer, I’m not interested in a college degree as a credential. It acts as a filter for many office jobs. Advertise for most entry level office jobs and don’t specifically require a college degree in the ads and you are inundated with applications. Require a college degree and the flood becomes manageable….

    And as more kids go to college, the more college starts to look like vocational training.

    See “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education: Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers.” by William Deresiewicz, The American Scholar, Summer 2008

  16. Chug said, “And as more kids go to college, the more college starts to look like vocational training.”

    Except in increasingly rare circumstances, college has become vocational training. And ,indoctrination into the “right” kind of thinking.

    Bumper sticker seen more often at my college: They can send me to college but they can’t make me think.

  17. Mrs. Davis says:

    I still maintain that my grandparents, none of whom had over an 8th grade education, knew more of what’s important than most (that’s the 51st percentile) college graduates of today. If we were getting better at educating people they would be educated sooner. At 14, people are prepared to be adults and would be if we treated them that way. And their productive careers would be 10% to 20% longer. And those who stayed in school for college would understand the alternative and that college is work not country club.

  18. Roger Sweeny says:

    Mrs. Davis,

    If 14 year olds were prepared to be adults, there would be an awful lot of unemployed teachers and professors.

    There is, alas, a certain incentive to pass kids along and stretch out schooling for as long as possible.


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