Bill Gates Urges Restructuring U.S. High Schools
Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates opened a two-day education summit here yesterday by telling the nation’s governors and leaders of the educational community that the nation’s high schools are obsolete and need radical restructuring to raise graduation rates, prepare students for college and train a workforce that faces growing competition in the global economy. “Our high schools were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age,” said Gates, whose philanthropic foundation has committed nearly a billion dollars to the challenge of improving high schools. “Until we design them to meet the needs of this century, we will keep limiting, even ruining, the lives of millions of Americans every year.”
It marks the fifth education summit hosted by the governors, including their 1989 session that helped generate support for higher standards and greater accountability, particularly in elementary education. That movement ultimately gave rise to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2001, which has given the federal government a larger voice in setting standards for local schools, and which has proved to be a controversial law in many states because of the federal requirements it imposes. Bush has targeted high schools for reform as part of his second-term initiative. Although there is not unanimous support for his proposal among the governors, the attention that he and the state chief executives are focusing on the problem could spur action across the country to reverse trends that government and business leaders say threaten the United States as the preeminent economic power in the world.
Gates and other speakers enumerated a list of alarming statistics to back up their argument that high schools are failing students, particularly low-income or minority children. The United States ranks 16th among 20 developed nations in the percentage of students who complete high school and 14th among the top 20 in college graduation rates. Just 18 of 100 students entering high school go on to compete their college degree within six years of starting college, and the nation has slipped from first to fifth internationally in the percentage of young people who hold a college degree. Math and science education poses a particular challenge, with American students gradually slipping behind the rest of the world between the fourth and 12th grades, starting among the top ranks and finishing near the bottom of industrialized nations.
These problems were first highlighted during the early days of the Reagan Administration. There have been real reforms and our schools are generally more rigorous now than when I was going to school. For example, Advanced Placement courses were a new trend that had yet to reach rural Alabama when I graduated high school in 1984. They’re ubiquitous now. Still, we’ve got a long way to go.