What would you do if you had $1 billion to spend on education reform every year?
That’s the unusual dilemma of the Bill Gates Foundation now that they’ve pooled his money with a large chunk of Warren Buffett’s fortune to create an endowment of more than $60 billion.
The result is a non-governmental organization that could have a huge influence on the future of schools in this country.
Never before has an individual given such a large amount of money to someone else’s foundation. Never before has a private foundation had assets of this dimension. Never before has any individual or foundation had so much power to direct the course of American education, which is one of the primary interests of the Gates Foundation. Educators are waiting with bated breath to see which direction this multibillion-dollar behemoth will take.
Actually, the Gates Foundation has already invested more than $1 billion in the past five years on education reform projects. Most of that has gone into “small high school” projects, creating about 1500 schools of 500 students or less with less.
The results of those efforts, however, have been less than stellar with some districts deciding to return to standard sized schools.
In the process, however, the Foundation learned a lot, concluding that simply creating a smaller version of a traditional high school is not enough to accomplish genuine educational improvement.
They now seem to understand that “curriculum (what students are taught) and instruction (the quality of teachers) may be no less important than school size”.
It remains to be seen whether large amounts of money with no governmental controls can actually bring fundamental change to the incredibly entrenched American education system.
In light of the size of the foundation’s endowment, Bill Gates is now the nation’s superintendent of schools. He can support whatever he wants, based on any theory or philosophy that appeals to him. We must all watch for signs and portents to decipher what lies in store for American education.
It will also be very interesting to watch the kind of experiments that billions of dollars will buy.