Gates Vows Billions to Boost Minority Education

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 21, 2003 | Go to article overview

Gates Vows Billions to Boost Minority Education


Byline: George Archibald, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates is committing billions of dollars to radically redesign failing public high schools into smaller, more academically rigorous institutions in predominantly black and Hispanic communities in which less than half the students graduate.

The goal, says the executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is to double the graduation rate for minority students by the end of the decade and quadruple the number of inner-city students prepared for college.

"Our high schools are the least effective part of the American education system," Tom Vander Ark, who administers the $24 billion foundation, wrote in a commentary to explain the reform efforts.

"This coming September, about 3.5 million young people in America will begin the 8th grade. Over the succeeding four years, more than 1 million of them will drop out - an average of 3,500 each school day," Mr. Vander Ark wrote in Education Week. "Another 1.5 million will muddle through with a collection of credits that fail to prepare them for college, work, or citizenship.

"Boosting elementary achievement and narrowing the gap between white students and students of color will help, but not solve, America's high school crisis," he said. "If we keep building the impersonal tracked high schools, we'll need to expand our prison system."

Smaller is better, as shown by New York City's small-schools movement that started in the late 1970s, he said, adding that national school reform efforts need to take into account "a century of success in private education, particularly urban Catholic schools."

Other "pockets of excellence" pointing the way forward, he said, are "innovative and highly successful charter schools, including Houston's KIPP Academy, the 'Met' school in Rhode Island, San Diego's High Tech High, and the Aspire public charter schools" in the San Francisco Bay area of California.

The Gates foundation has given more than $447 million to school districts, colleges and universities with a mandate to transform 1,032 large high schools to smaller learning centers with rigorous evaluation to gauge their effectiveness, according to spokeswoman Marie Groart. About $139 million have gone to help start 347 high schools nationwide.

Earlier this month, the foundation gave $9 million to the California community college system to create 15 early-college high schools in the state, each having no more than 400 students.

"The new schools will target disadvantaged students who are not succeeding in large, impersonal high schools," the foundation's grant announcement said. "Students will be able to earn either college credits or an associate's degree and ultimately go on to earn a four-year degree."

In January, the foundation gave $5 million to the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund Inc. in New York City for a five-year program to redesign five low-performing schools and start three high schools in economically distressed communities.

The program will be part of school reform efforts of the nation's 45 historically black colleges and universities, the grant announcement said. …

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