Bill Gates: Budget Cuts Shouldn’t Harm Education
Policy + Politics

Bill Gates: Budget Cuts Shouldn’t Harm Education

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

One of the world’s most successful college dropouts is making the case that even amid deep state spending cuts, schools can improve student performance by focusing on teacher quality instead of paying educators based on seniority and advanced degrees. 

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates spoke at the annual National Governors Association in Washington on Monday afternoon and said that spending cuts need not harm education.

The states face a combined shortfall of $125 billion, and to help balance their budgets, some are making draconian cuts in public education and employees, including, of course, teachers. One recent example: All of the 1,926 public school teachers in Providence, Rhode Island, will be receiving termination notices to help close the city’s $41 million budget gap. (There’s talk that the “best” will most likely be hired back, but events are still unfolding.)

Gates’s main theme on Monday was that the U.S. has been spending more on public education over the past four decades, yet not getting better results. “The per-student cost of running our K-12 schools has more than doubled, while our student achievement has remained flat, and other countries have raced ahead,” Gates said. “The same pattern holds for higher education. Spending has climbed, but our percentage of college graduates has dropped compared to other countries.”

The number of teachers and support personnel has increased from about 40 adults per 1,000 students in 1960 to about 125 adults per 1,000 students today. Gates said states have made costly changes that have not led to higher student performance. Most high school scores in math and reading have been flat since the 1970s.

Gates suggested the states could save money by using only the best teachers. He said schools need to identify those strong teachers and make sure their skills are taught to others. “Compared to the countries that outperform us in education, we do very little to measure, develop, and reward excellent teaching,” he said. The U.S. needs to “flip the curve” and raise performance without spending more, he suggested. He also advised lifting cap sizes on classes and offering financial incentives to teachers to take on more students. 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is partnering with nearly 3,000 teachers in seven urban school districts to change the way teachers are evaluated. The group has installed video cameras in classrooms to capture the teacher and student interaction, and videos from over 13,000 lessons are then analyzed.  The other evaluation test is through structured peer interviews; students are asked questions based on the teachers’ performance. Gates emphasized that there should be a lot of experimentation with technology even in tough fiscal times.

Gates also said he was optimistic that the U.S. could lead the way in education in the future and emphasized that many of the world’s top universities are located here.

Related Links:
Bill Gates’ Big Idea to Fix U.S. Education: Bigger Classes (The Atlantic)
Bill Gates—How Teacher Development Could Revolutionize our Schools (Washington Post)
Bill Gates Talks About Teacher Pay, Class Size (The Washington Post)