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Bill Gates on ED in ‘08: ‘Mouthing Platitudes’

By Michele McNeil — November 12, 2008 1 min read
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My colleague, Erik Robelen, was in Seattle yesterday covering the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s new strategy for revamping its high school reform strategy. After the formal speeches, the Gates team gathered on stage for some Q-and-A from the high-powered audience, which included the likes of Washington, D.C., schools chief Michelle Rhee and Michael Cohen from Achieve.

Robelen offered up a transcript of Bill Gates’ answer to a question about marshalling political and public will to accomplish a new reform agenda. His answer is long and meandering, but worth reading. Take note that when Gates talks about the education advocacy effort, he’s talking about ED in ‘08 which, by some accounts, had little success in making education a top-tier issue in the presidential campaign. In fact, by declaring that the foundation’s advocacy efforts on global development were successful, Gates acknowledges that ED in ’08 ultimately was not.

We have not found a way to do it. We have not been very successful at it...the problem we tend to run into is that the most influential and well-educated people either have their kids in private schools, or they have their kids in an enclave inside the high school that are called honor’s courses, where the teaching is pretty decent and so, if we go to a school and say, let’s change things here, they say, no way, you’re going to mess our little enclave up. All the kids go through the same front door, but really it’s a separate school inside there that’s allowing us not to be part of that insanity, and so don’t mess with the thing that works well for us. And I do think, if you want to stand up to some of the practices that are not focused on the needs of the students, you need a broad set of parents. I think we’re very weak on this point.
During the presidential election, we had two advocacy efforts. One about global development, and one about education. And we didn’t end up spending the amount of money that we had available for the advocacy because most of what we were causing people to do was to mouth platitudes. … On global development, which I thought was the harder of the two, we actually succeeded because people never even talked about it at all, and we actually got them to talk about it.”