Say the name Bill Gates and most people immediately think Microsoft, but did you know that over the past few years Bill and his wife Melinda have become major influencers in the field of education? It’s true.  

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pumped literally BILLIONS of dollars into research organizations and advocacy groups that support pro-education causes such as teacher evaluation systems, charter schools, and common core. The amount of money the Gates have spent is the largest nongovernmental investment in K-12 teacher policy in the country.  

Transforming America’s Schools

Bill Gates laid out his vision for education at a speech given at the foundation’s headquarters. “Every student deserves high standards and an effective teacher. Every teacher deserves the tools and support to be phenomenal. And all students deserve the opportunity to learn in a way that is tailored to their needs, skills, and interests. This is the combination of advances we are backing that we believe will transform America’s schools—and at the center of it all is an effective teacher.”

Sounds like good stuff, and both Gates are fully committed to helping ensure K-12 students graduate high school prepared to succeed in college.

Too Much Influence?

As you can imagine, with this much money on the line, several groups have expressed concern that the Gates (who are not teachers) have undue influence in the education world. The Gates vision of improved education also includes several hot button reform issues such as school choice, high stakes testing, teacher evaluations, and the Common Core curriculum.  It’s easy to see why controversy follows the Gates, despite their good intentions.

Some teachers have expressed concern that the wants, needs, and experiences of teachers (who they feel know schools the best) are getting overlooked as education policy decisions are being made.

Gates is aware of the controversy surrounding Common Core, standardized testing, and teacher evaluations, but he is convinced they are all essential components of real and lasting reform.  The foundation continues to push forward in this direction.

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Managing Teacher Performance

Bill Gates is particularly passionate about managing teacher performance, which is why the Foundation launched the “Measures of Effective Teaching” project in 2009.  The idea is to identify what Gates calls “the elements of great teaching…many states are using this research to develop a shared definition of excellent teaching and help spread it.”

From the project’s research, a framework using trained observers and coaches to provide feedback to teachers was developed. The Gates feel strongly that a new approach to teacher supervision that incorporates feedback loops from both observers and students, along with growth in student test scores, are important for rating and improving teacher effectiveness.

Private Funds For Public Education

The Gates put their money where their mouth is by funding projects they feel align with their vision for education. They are radically changing the traditional approach to public education policy (usually the purview of states and local communities) by encouraging privately managed schools and privately funded research to shape curriculums and teacher development.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations’ radical break from the traditional approach to public education will continue to spark debate.  We’re guessing the Gates are probably okay with that.  They wanted to shake up an old system most people agree isn’t entirely effective.  Love it or hate it, the Gates Foundation is pushing for change.

What do you think about the direction Bill and Melinda Gates want to take education?  How do you feel about private funds influencing public policy?  Share your thoughts and comments in our Education Community.