Gates Foundation will invest in broad new education agenda

SEATTLE — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is announcing a five-year plan to invest billions more dollars in a new set of educational programs that will substantially broaden the foundation’s efforts to improve American schools.

The foundation had for the last eight years invested in building successful new high school models across the country, including a set of small schools in New York City. Now, the foundation is announcing that it will broaden its efforts to include active lobbying for policies such as national standards; massive investments in building data systems and research on K-12 education; and another set of investments to lure more high school students into attending college.

Bill and Melinda Gates announced their new direction this morning to an audience of America’s top education officials gathered right now in Seattle, including at least four people short-listed to be the next Secretary of Education; at least three advisers to President-elect Barack Obama, and the current Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings.

They said they landed on their new agenda after a year spent studying the effects of their investments over the past eight years. Bill Gates, in an address, said that there were several disappointing results, as well as a small group of successes.

One of the successes Gates named was the rising graduation rates in the New York City small schools the foundation has funded. One of the disappointments was the fact that students graduating those city small schools were no better prepared for college than students citywide, according to their scores on Regents tests.

Gates also said that the goal of the foundation had been to scale up its successful schools, so that the 8% of schools they invested in would affect the other 92%. “Largely, this did not happen,” he said.

He said the results are leading the foundation to shift its focus to include not just changing the way schools are structured — the defining feature of many Gates-funded schools is their small size — but also research on what happens inside classrooms.

“These structural changes were helpful but not sufficient in and of themselves,” Gates said.

So far this morning the foundation’s director for education programs, Vicki Phillips, has detailed its planned K-12 investments, and later in the day the foundation will unveil how it plans to invest in efforts to improve the number of students who complete college.

More than $500 million of the foundation’s grants will go toward helping states and school districts build data systems to track student performance, the foundation’s director of education efforts, Phillips said. Another $500 million will go toward searching for ways to improve teacher performance.