Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, released her first annual letter to the public, which highlights some of the important and difficult work the foundation has engaged in during her tenure.
Desmond-Hellmann has been chief executive for the past two years. The letter addresses the foundation’s work in global health and U.S. education. Reading the letter, you can see how effecting widespread change in U.S. public schools presents a challenge not unlike eradicating the devastating effects of the tsetse fly. In fact, doing the former is harder.
“We are firm believers that education is a bridge to opportunity in America,” Desmond-Hellmann writes. Although the Gates Foundation supported the development of the Common Core State Standards, the rollout was difficult. A good thing—high educational standards for all kids—got entangled in political headwinds.
Desmond-Hellmann writes, “It is a real struggle to make system-wide change. For far too many students today, the bridge to a prosperous and fulfilling life is obstructed and uncertain.”
Although she writes that “all students can thrive when they are held to high standards,” that may not be the case. According to a recent article in the Hechinger Report, in Kentucky, the first state to adopt the Common Core, the gap between standardized test scores of white students and those of black students has actually widened. This is after five years of using the tougher standards.
The good news is that Kentucky is reportedly committed to eliminating the gap and has even implemented a plan, at least in Louisville, that ensures school diversity—making closing the gap everyone’s problem.
The other good news is that the Gates Foundation also remains committed to teachers and student success. Desmond-Hellmann writes, “We’re doubling down on our efforts to make sure teachers have what they need to make the most of their unique capabilities.”
The foundation is supporting a partnership with EdReports.org in what Desmond-Hellmann calls the Consumer Reports of K-12 Curriculum to “provide free and open-access teacher-led reviews and evidence of instructional materials.”
She also cites three providers of digital content and tools that support teacher lesson planning: LearnZillion, Better Lesson, and EngageNY. These sites provide “millions of teachers with an attractive alternative to traditional textbooks,” Desmond-Hellmann writes.
“Our learning journey in U.S. education is far from over, but we are in it for the long haul,” the letter states. “I’m optimistic that the lessons we learn from our partners—and crucially, from educators—will help the American school system once again become the powerful engine of equity we all believe it should be.”