Putting Education Reform To The Test

Was Bill Gates’ $5 Billion Worth It?

Win McNamee / Getty Images News

Bill Gates Testifies At A U.S. Senate Hearing

That’s the question the Wall Street Journal asks in their weekend interview with the Microsoft founder and education philanthropist. Gates admits a $100 million program to create smaller high schools did not work as well as hoped:

“But the overall impact of the intervention, particularly the measure we care most about—whether you go to college—it didn’t move the needle much,” he says. “Maybe 10% more kids, but it wasn’t dramatic. . . . We didn’t see a path to having a big impact, so we did a mea culpa on that.” Still, he adds, “we think small schools were a better deal for the kids who went to them.”

The Gates interview raises questions about failed education experiments. Gates’ said his smaller high school initiative did not work, so, similar to dropping a computer operating system that fails to meet expectations, he tried something new despite students seeing slight performance gains. But what if the next experiment has an adverse effect on students? Or what if Hillsborough County’s Gates-funded initiative to evaluate teachers serves only to frustrate and drive educators from the profession?

Gates clearly believes more education research and development money is needed, but where should communities draw the line between the need to innovate and a failed experiment’s detrimental effect on students?


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