Funding Education Reform

Gates Foundation Pumping $1.7 Billion into Ed Programs over Next 5 Years

Over the next five years the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation expects to invest almost $1.7 billion for K-12 education. Most of that funding will be targeted at four areas:

  • Support of networks of school using data and evidence-based interventions to improve student achievement;
  • Development of new curricula and professional development;
  • Help for charter schools focused on students with special needs; and
  • Investment in research and development of scalable education models for helping underserved students.

Bill Gates made the commitment during remarks he gave at the Council of Great City Schools in Cleveland. Most of these targets build on work where the foundation has already been active.

The organization expects to support the work of about 30 networks — groups of schools working together to identify "local problems and solutions" and using "data to drive continuous improvement," particularly in student learning, progress and postsecondary success. That will start with high-needs schools and districts in six to eight states. Each network, Gates said, "will be backed by a team of education experts skilled in continuous improvement, coaching, and data collection and analysis."

Gates emphasized in his talk, however, that data collection work will no longer be focused on projects involving teacher evaluations and ratings, even though the foundation will continue encouraging the use of such systems.

In the area of instructional materials, Gates referenced previous support of the Common Core. He said the newest backing from the foundation would be plowed into making sure that within five years "teachers at every grade level in secondary schools" would have access "high-quality, aligned curriculum choices in English and math, as well as science curricula based on the Next Generation Science Standards." That would include "in a few places" support for pilots related to educator training on the curriculum.

Those two areas — networks of schools and development of curriculum and professional development — were expected to get about 60 percent of the investment.

Another 25 percent would be invested in R&D, seeking out "big bet" innovations "with the potential to change the trajectory of public education over the next 10 to 15 years. Calling pre-K-12 R&D "underfunded and fragmented," Gates referenced two areas of interest for the foundation. The first was math. "Math is one area where we want to generate stronger evidence about what works," he said. "What would it take, for example, to get all kids to mastery of Algebra I? What kinds of intelligent tools do teachers and students need to get there? And how might we design these in partnership with the best math teachers in the country?"

The second area of R&D interest was on helping students prepare for the workforce. "We have to make work-related experiences a consistent part of high schools in ways that build student engagement and relevant skills, and that put young people on a path to credentials with labor market value in our future economy," Gates explained.

Gates estimated that about 15 percent of education-related funding would be directed to the charter sector, and specifically on improving outcomes for special needs students — "especially kids with mild-to-moderate learning and behavioral disabilities." Calling that a "critical problem across the education sector," he asserted that charters "have the flexibility to help the field solve this problem."

"Our role is to serve as a catalyst of good ideas, driven by the same guiding principle we started with: All students — but especially low-income students and students of color — must have equal access to a great public education that prepares them for adulthood," Gates concluded. "We will not stop until this has been achieved, and we look forward to continued partnership with you in this work in the years to come."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.