Bill and Melinda Gates say they are rethinking how they address poverty in the U.S. — a move that could have them expand their influential philanthropic efforts beyond education.
The couple’s philanthropy has had an outsized influence on U.S. schools over the last two decades, as they’ve given hundreds of millions to encourage new models for high schools, the Common Core standards, and sweeping changes to teacher evaluation. In a letter released Tuesday, though, they indicate that they’re grappling with how improving education alone isn’t enough to move people out of poverty, and their strategy may be about to shift as a result.
“We’ve been looking at how we might expand our work in the U.S. beyond education,” Bill Gates writes. A trip to Atlanta last fall “reinforced the importance of education,” he said, but also underscored how issues of race, employment, housing, mental health, and incarceration are also connected to their mission. (Gates also supports Chalkbeat.)
It’s an acknowledgement that the U.S. is still grappling with issues that have been more central to their international giving. And it’s in line with some recent research showing that education may matter less than other factors, like local labor conditions, in determining whether poor children move up the economic ladder.
Here are a few other notable lines from the Gates’ annual letter:
- “Cash-strapped school districts are more likely to divert money and talent toward ideas they think we will fund.” The letter includes a lengthy section grappling with their own disproportionate influence. It’s unfair, they say, but they make up for it by being transparent and changing course when things don’t work — as they’re doing now with their education initiatives. We’ve written recently about their new focus on “networks” of public schools and improving curriculum.
- “For any new approach to take off, you need three things. First you have to run a pilot project showing that the approach works. Then the work has to sustain itself. Finally, the approach has to spread to other places.” This formula didn’t work for their teacher evaluation work, they acknowledge, as only a few places — including Memphis — have stuck with new systems over the long term.
- “I wish our president would treat people, and especially women, with more respect when he speaks and tweets.” The letter also includes an appeal to President Trump to be a role model and, on education, to help simplify the financial aid process for poor students applying to college.