Bill Gates Urges Restructuring U.S. High Schools

Microsoft’s Gates Urges Governors To Restructure U.S. High Schools (WaPo)

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    Bill Gates talking about our public schools. The comedic possibilities are endless.

    Although, come to think of it, the schools already have way too many things in common with Windows…

  2. DC Loser says:

    On a serious note, I think Gates is correct to point out this continuing problem. It’s in Microsoft’s interest to keep the talent pool in this country, and he needs a solid education system to provide the future employees to keep the company going. There’s also the philanthropic bent to this, perhaps the Gates Foundation will put some of its money into innovative education programs in this country, adding to the good work it’s doing with childhood vaccination in the third world.

  3. mike says:

    I think Gates has some great points but before we pour a bunch of money into tech training and cpu’s, it might be better to ensure kids can read and write. If you can’t master the basics then a bunch of cpu classes will not help.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Is Bill Gates the best role-model for education?

  5. DC Loser says:

    Okay Dave, I’ll bite….

    Is George W. Bush the best role model for education?

  6. ATM says:

    Well GWB did go on to get a post graduate degree.

    As for Gate’s money, I do think Gates should spend some of his fortune here in the US. He made most of that money because a lot of Americans invested their money in Microsoft, which was a good investment because lots of Americans bought their software. Wealthy monopolists of past eras returned some of the their fortunes to the communities from which they made their fortunes. Gates has not done so yet for the country as a whole.

  7. McGehee says:

    Is George W. Bush the best role model for education?

    Hm, let’s see. Goes on to be gubnor of Texas, first Republican elected to that job twice. Goes on to be President of the United States. From the looks of what’s happening in the Middle East this week he seems to have been closer to right than a lot of professional diplomats.

    The proof of education isn’t how smart you sound when you’re talking, it’s how right you turn out to be when you’re doing.

  8. Rick DeMent says:

    The proof of education isn’t how smart you sound when you’re talking, it’s how right you turn out to be when you’re doing.

    I thought it was based on how much money you make? Perhaps I’m being shallow.

  9. DC Loser says:

    I’ll just use the Animal House analogy. If Bluto (seven years of college down the drain) becomes a US Senator, then is he a role-model for education?

  10. Eric Tokerud says:

    I believe that what is transpiring is fantastic and very supportive for education. As you look into this scenario I have a couple of questions which are:

    1. Analyzing each grade level – how many students drop out at each grade level?
    2. At which grade level do students first experience the feeling of failure which leads to dropping out of that particular student?
    3. Is it possible to rescue and resuscitate (are there plans) the students when they reach the high school when their skills and confidence are at a low level?
    4. Would the money be better spent at an earlier age to make sure these problems don’t continue?
    5. Is it possible to create a better primary and secondary learning opportunities?

    Prevent the problems and make sure the learners get an incredible start in their education.