Can Bill Gates Save Our Schools?

Bill Gates, founder and CEO of Microsoft Corp., co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Photo by Lonnie C. Major)

Three years ago, Bill Gates transitioned out of his day-to-day oversight of Microsoft Corp. to tackle important health and education issues. As co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates (who remains chairman of Microsoft) spends much of his time and considerable resources examining ways to help the world’s poorest people lift themselves out of poverty, investing in the development of vaccines to combat diseases, and improving education in the U.S. to increase the number of graduates—particularly in underserved communities. Since its founding in 1994, the Seattle-based nonprofit has committed to more than $25 billion in grants in these three areas.

Black Enterprise Multimedia Editorial Director Alan Hughes sat down with Gates following his discussion at the annual National Urban League Conference in Boston to discuss the state of American public schools and how the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation can help improve education in the U.S.

Where can you best apply the resources at the Gates Foundation to really move the needle and help to improve inner-city public schools?
We have two big theories about how we might be able to change things. One is to help improve the quality of teaching. And that means really studying why some teachers are so much better than others and making it easily available for teachers to watch exemplars—exemplars who calm the classroom down, exemplars who include the kid who’s behind, exemplars who make a subject particularly interesting. There is some magic stuff being done by the best teachers. And yet there is not really an effort to transfer those skills to other teachers. One of the ways to change that is through the personnel system. You get feedback. You get peers to come in and see what you’re doing. If there is a digital camera in the classroom you can even review yourself. When did the kids start becoming inattentive? Asking another teacher to look at what you did [and] give you advice on that.

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