Millions from Bill Gates for North Carolina Education: Good or Bad?

The big news today was that Bill Gates decided to aid an initiative in North Carolina to create new small high schools dedicated to more intense education to the tune of $10.4 million (one of many articles here). The gift was in addition to an $11 million gift in 2003. I love the idea, and the Gates have definitely done good with the $1 billion in total donations to education they have made through their foundation. But I see this development as a little troubling.

If we are going to rely on donations of private individuals to continue providing quality education, there may be a compromise of the integrity of the content. Also, it is a fundamental belief of mine that there are certain services whose burden should be shared by everyone through our government; since the quality of our education system has a bearing on the quality of life for everyone in the country, I believe that education should be something that we all pay for. Another way to look at it is that the education system is so important that all citizens should have a stake in it.

This could be analogized to earlier large gifts by Carnegie to build many libraries around the country. While the initial gift was a great boast in building libraries, it also showed one of the problems of private endowments of this type: the endowments usually get things going, but there is a lack of long term commitment that must be compensated for by future government spending. For me this would be great, but we need to ensure that the government does continue to fully fund these initiatives.


My view

The role for people like Bill & Melinda Gates is to fund innovation. If something works, the system should adapt and adopt. While I disagree with the nonsense highlighted by Anglico recently that public school systems should not innovate, private groups are better able (and often better funded) to pilot new programs. I'm encouraged that the Gates Foundation is expanding the program -- it suggests that it's working, and it may provide part of the answer to the question "how do we fix our schools."

It's tricky.

Much of the Gates money is going to fund innovation within the current educational bureaucracy . . . with educators and administrators dragging their feet on one hand and slurping up the money on the other. I think there are five different programs being experimented with, all involving high-stakes testing with a focus on science and math.