Can Bill Gates Save Our Schools?

It seems that 30 years ago the public education system did the trick. Now our schools are really not where they should be to ensure that America can compete globally. What happened?
The main thing that happened is the other [countries] kept improving their school systems and made them a lot better than ours. They actually manage their teachers the way we manage sports players, where if you are not delivering you’re not on the team. And they are constantly studying who is doing well. They have more school days. They have a longer school day. That’s worked for them. Our school system has largely stayed the same. The achievement levels have not really moved. The amount of money being spent on schools as a portion of the economy or any measure has gone up a lot in the last 30 years—I mean massively. And the numbers of the people, adults being paid to the number of students—there are twice as many adults now as there were 30 years ago. The amount, the relative salary of those people compared to the average salary, is much higher today. It was below average. Now it’s above average. So there is this huge investment that’s been made, and yet achievement in the country—math, reading, and whatever you want to take—is flat. The reason other countries are ahead of us is they improved and we didn’t.

You hear a lot about schools being underfunded. Is it so much the funding, or the application of that funding?
That’s right. You compare the states that fund their schools very generously … it’s been said that parts of New Jersey spend $25,000 per student per year … their performance is much worse than in Utah, which spends $6,000 per student per year. So you don’t always find a correlation between an amount being spent and results. Now, I can think of lots of ways that more money would be helpful. And I’m all for spending more money on the K–12 and higher education systems, but it’s not the reality of the current budget situation that you’ll be getting more money for K–12. You won’t be getting more money. It’s not going to happen. We’re going to have to fight very hard to make sure we don’t get less money, because the claims, medical costs, and pension costs, and just debts run up from the past are commanding more and more of both state and federal budgets.

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