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Bill and Melinda Gates have spent billions on US education — but they are not yet satisfied with the results

Leanna Garfield
Bill and Melinda Gates

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation/YouTube

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funneled billions in funding toward improving US education and raising public high school graduation rates.
  • In Bill and Melinda's annual letter, Bill writes that schools around the country are still "falling short on important metrics."
  • The foundation's new strategy focuses on listening to teacher feedback, and funding programs that are specific to each community.

On Tuesday, Bill and Melinda Gates published their annual letter. In it, the pair answers 10 questions that people often ask them.

One question wonders what they "have to show" for the billions the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent on US education in the past decade.

"A lot, but not as much as either of us would like," Bill Gates writes. "Unfortunately, although there’s been some progress over the past decade, America’s public schools are still falling short on important metrics, especially college completion. And the statistics are even worse for disadvantaged students."

To help raise graduation rates, the foundation has given money toward programs that aim to transform low-performing schools. 

In 2008, the foundation poured hundreds of millions into designing systems that evaluate teachers — and often determine their pay and job status — based on student standardized test scores. These systems are now controversial, since some experts say the approach does little to help teachers improve. Today, 30 states require schools to consider test scores in teacher evaluations.

In 2009, the Gates Foundation also started giving hundreds of millions toward creating and marketing what became the Common Core, standards that outline what K-12 students should know at the end of each grade.

2016 report from The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) discussed the results of testing a representative sample of high school students who had gone through seven years of Common Core curriculum and tests. On average, from 2013 to 2015, the students' scores dropped in math and flatlined in reading.

In the letter, the Gates' said they have learned that "strong leadership, proven instructional practices, a healthy school culture, and high expectations are all key" to improving US education.

Melinda Gates further explained the foundation's new strategy for improving middle and high schools across the country. It focuses on helping educators create and implement their own strategies, which will be specific to each community or school. The foundation will help teachers and administrators gather and analyze data, and devote funding toward strategies that appear to work.

"Some networks of schools will focus on approaches that we have a lot of experience with, like stronger curricula and teacher feedback systems. Others will look at areas that are new to us, like mentoring programs to ease the difficult transitions from middle to high school and high school to college," she wrote.

Watch the Gates' briefly answer a few other questions below:

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