Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

5 Reasons I’m Optimistic about U.S. Schools

January 21, 2015

This morning, Bill and Melinda released their Annual Letter, where they make predictions about what the world will look like 15 years from now.

Predictions can be powerful because they help to redefine what is possible. When I joined the foundation more than a decade ago, few people believed that high school graduation rates could increase dramatically and that college- and career-ready would be the goal for all students.

As I read through the Annual Letter, I was inspired by both the global innovations that will improve the lives of children around the world and about what we can do here in the United States to increase opportunities for all young people. Here are 5 things on my mind after finishing the letter.

1. Education Starts with Great Teachers
As Bill and Melinda note, there is one thing technology will never do: replace teachers. All over the world, a great education starts with a great teacher. Even the most self-motivated student needs guidance and support. It’s because of this we work to give teachers the support and development opportunities they need to help all students succeed.

As Vicki Phillips—who leads our College Ready work—wrote in a recent blog, we need to “recognize and celebrate the most powerful force in education: the special connection between teachers and students.” The Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching conferences are one way we are bringing teachers together to learn from each other and share their achievements.

2. Teachers Need to Lead
Nobody knows teaching like teachers, and teachers across the country have told us that they don’t want solutions to be proposed to them; they want to design their own. That’s especially true when it comes to how they use technology in the classroom. When teachers get a chance to design technology, it can improve their teaching.

3. Technology Can Make Learning More Personal
America is called a melting pot for many reasons. Each person carries unique traits: culture, family, learning styles, interests, skills, life experiences, and more. We’re all at our best when we can tap into those characteristics that make us unique. That’s especially true when it comes to education.

Educators, colleges, and schools are now using technology to tailor education in order to engage each student as an individual learner on his or her own learning path. Known as personalized learning, this approach creates opportunities for teachers and innovators to work together.

4. The Power of Colleges Without Walls
Today’s college students are increasingly balancing work, school, and family—more than ever before. In order to earn a degree that will put them on a path to success, these students are turning to online schools, something Bill refers to as “colleges without walls.”

Bill and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Arizona to explore how online learning and technology gives students a more flexible, personalized education. While there, Bill met Shawn Lee, a former construction worker who went back to college so he could build a better life for his young son. Shawn told Bill that he struggled in a traditional school setting, but learning online made it much easier to balance school and work.

5. Education Has to Work for Everyone
Education is a great leveler. But as Bill and Melinda note, “If access to education isn’t equal, then education will become another cause of inequity, rather than a cure for it.”

Globally, this means we must close the gender gap that exists in education—particularly in poor countries. We know that when a young woman gets an education, she causes a ripple effect. She’ll earn more money and her children will be healthier and more likely to attend school.

As an adult, she’ll earn more money. If she has children, they will be twice as likely to live past the age of 5. Her daughters will be twice as likely to go to school themselves. There’s no way to get around the fact that more girls need to be in good schools, and for longer. But online education will open up new opportunities for girls with the means and motivation to take advantage of it.
- Bill & Melinda Gates, 2015 Gates Annual Letter

Here in the United States, we’re still leaving far too many students behind. Too often, the opportunity to get a great education is based more on a child’s zip code than anything else. By supporting teachers, we’re working to ensure all kids have the chance to achieve their dreams, no matter where they come from.

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