From the beginning, Bill and Melinda wanted their foundation to be a learning organization; one that evolves and course corrects based on evidence. We want to get continually smarter. One of our greatest areas of learning has been our work in K-12 U.S. education.
We are firm believers that education is a bridge to opportunity in America. My colleague, Allan Golston,spoke passionately about this at a gathering of education experts last year.
However, we’re facing the fact that it is a real struggle to make system-wide change.
For too many students today, the bridge to a prosperous and fulfilling life is obstructed and uncertain. In 2015, the ACT Condition of Career and College Readiness study revealed that only 40 percent of students met three of the four college-readiness standards across English, reading, math, and science. And performance was much lower for students of color.
That statistic reads like part of a bad word problem, but it is real. It is really tough to create more great public schools.
However, I’m optimistic that all students can thrive when they are held to high standards. And when educators have clear and consistent expectations of what students should be able to do at the end of each year, the bridge to opportunity opens. The Common Core State Standards help set those expectations.
We’ve begun to see signs of improvement in student performance in some of the states that have embraced the Common Core. Kentucky, the first state to adopt the standards, is a prime example.
To implement the Common Core, Kentucky engaged the community and worked with parents, teachers and school leaders to build an interconnected system of standards, teacher feedback and support, and measurement over time. As a result, Kentucky has increased from 27 percent to 33 percent students meeting three out of four ACT benchmarks for college readiness since 2011. The same metric nationally has remained flat since 2011, so a 6 percentage point increase is a sign of real progress.
Deep and deliberate engagement is essential to success. Rigorous standards and high expectations are meaningless if teachers aren’t equipped to help students meet them.
Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.
This has been a challenging lesson for us to absorb, but we take it to heart. The mission of improving education in America is both vast and complicated, and the Gates Foundation doesn’t have all the answers.
But every tough lesson only reinforces our commitment to teachers and student success.
All teachers and students should have access to learning materials of the highest quality. But far too many districts report that identifying or developing Common Core-aligned materials is a challenge, meaning that teachers spend their time adapting or creating curriculum, developing lessons, and searching for supplemental materials.
One of the best parts of my job is getting to hear from educators. And no one knows teaching like teachers. So, we’re doubling down on our efforts to make sure teachers have what they need to make the most of their unique capabilities.
Digital content and tools that provide support for lesson planning – including LearnZillion, Better Lesson, and EngageNY – are providing millions of teachers with an increasingly attractive alternative to traditional textbooks.
We’re supporting a partnership with EdReports.org, the Consumer Reports of K-12 curriculum, to provide free and open-access teacher-led reviews and evidence on instructional materials. This will increase the capacity of educators across the country to seek, develop, and demand high-quality, aligned instructional materials.