National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Official Transcript: Bill Gates, Co-Founder Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Address at the 10th Annual National Charter Schools Conference, June 29, 2010

Jun 30, 2010, 11:39 ET from National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

CHICAGO, June 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Well, thank you, Nelson, for all your great leadership over the five years.  I'm excited to be here.  I'm a big believer in the work you do.  When I was trying to picture the audience and what it would be like, I decided, well, you're involved in charters.  And I tried to imagine that everybody here, like Don Shalvey – Don is a pioneer of the movement, and now he's a part of the brain trust at our foundation.  So if you['re] like him, I was confident we'd connect through our mutual admiration.



But then I realized it would be pretty unusual to have 4,000 Don Shalveys all together.  The room might just explode with all the energy.  So there's only one.  I should say thank you, Don, for everything you've done to help students seize their opportunities.

This whole movement is making great progress.  You should feel great about your dedication to innovation that helps young people achieve their opportunity.  Our foundation admires the work you do.   We've made the primary focus of our education's work here in the United States helping with education.  And it's a big challenge, but a very, very important challenge.

When I speak about our Foundation's work in education, one of the questions I get all the time, and sometimes even in a sort of accusatory tone is, "Is it true that you support charter schools?"  Well, I love that question because I like to answer yes, we are guilty as charged.  [Applause.]

I've had a chance to visit a number of charter schools.  One of the most memorable visits was a few years ago in Houston, Texas – [applause] – where Melinda and I got to see both KIPP and YES work there.  And we were amazed by what we saw, and we'd agreed that those schools were good enough that we'd feel great sending our kids to those schools as much as any school, private or public, in the country.  [Applause.]

The results that high-performance charters like KIPP and YES are getting are astounding, especially when you compare them to the schools nearby.  The graduation rate in Houston independent school district is under seventy percent, but at these charter schools, over 95% graduate, and over 90% go on to college.

Sitting in the KIP classroom – and yes, classroom – show me that the statistics alone don't capture the magic of what's going on.  The atmosphere was totally different than what I'd experienced in my high school years or in any classroom I'd been in.  The teacher was constantly on the move, scanning the room for students who weren't engaged.  He was finding creative ways to get everyone to participate.  There was a very high level of energy.  At times, I felt like I was at a pep rally instead of in a math class.

At the end of the day, I asked one of the teachers what they liked about their work, and he said the key thing was that by teaching there, he could be sure his students had all teachers who were effective, all teachers who cared about that student, and that in the future grades, particularly there, where there was a charter high school, that throughout their education, everything that that teacher worked on would be reinforced so that his hard work would end up making a difference in those students' lives.  And it's seeing examples like that that reinforce the essential role that you're playing and make us want to allow all students to have an experience of that quality.

Charter schools are especially important right now because they are the only schools that have the full opportunity to innovate.  The way we educate students in this country hasn't changed in generations, and it isn't meeting the needs of today's fast-changing society.  

A college degree is now almost a requirement for most well-paying jobs, and yet a third of school students never graduate from high school, and half of those who do graduate have to go on to take remedial course with very high dropout rates.  And, of course, if we look at these statistics for the inner city or minorities or low-income, we see the inequity jumps out in an even stronger way.

Now, these [core] results are despite the fact that over the last thirty years, society has invested substantially more in schools.  Now, there's been an increase in the average salary.  There's been an increase in the number of adults.  And so it's very disappointing that, on balance, public schools with those additional resources have not been able to get better results.

So our school system is desperately in need of brand-new approaches, and actually, testing and improving those approaches out.  And that's one thing that charter schools do best.  For example, if you want to try doing something that's heavily online; if you want to try something thematic that draws students in in a cross-disciplinary way -- something unusual like construction or aeronautics or Outward Bound; if you want to do something that blurs the boundary between high school and college, all of these things are possible in the charter environment.

If you want to extend the school day or even the year, if you want to enroll boys only or girls only, if you want to try out novel ideas for how you evaluate teachers and help them improve and how they work together, those things can be done in charter schools.

This notion of trying new things out in education makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and I can understand why.  You know, they're worried about will the new [audio missing] what they should learn, and therefore, lets them proceed at their own pace.  And that shows the teacher exactly where that student is.  It gives that student encouragement.

This is just in an early stage, and there's a lot of learning, software development, to be done, but the early results show great promise.  Now, the students are scoring higher than on tests in the wealthy neighbor [audio missing] [and] part of our Foundation's education strategy.

Now, the way that we're working with charter schools has changed.  You know, I'm sure that people have heard that the way we're funding charter schools is different.  And it's true -- we are looking at helping the charter movement in new ways.  Over the last decade, we invested in increasing the number of charter management organizations that have proven that they could scale.  Charter schools were still a new idea.

And it was very important that this idea of high-quality replication really being proven out so that we would have many significant, large networks of successful schools.  Now there are a number of those and they have strong track records.  And it's very important that we get both the government and local philanthropic support so that financial constraints are not holding back the expansion.

When we have great charters that feel that they can develop additional capacity, nothing should stand in the way of that -- not charter limits, not facilities problems, not financial restrictions.  And so given how important that is, we will be strong advocates in helping in new ways.

Certainly, on the political front, getting rid of the caps where there has been good progress; making sure the funding, which has not been equal, that that is changed; and finally, that there are facilities that are available, and that doesn't become this huge distraction and a problem that holds charters back.

On the facilities issues, there are many solutions.  Often there are buildings that should be made available.  In some cases, new buildings need to be created, and so we've gotten in involved in helping on the financing end so that charter schools can get larger loans at significantly better rates.  And so that support in terms of allowing full-speed growth is still very important to us.

But our key strategy has shifted, and it's now a major focus on effective teaching.  We're focused on making sure that the very best practices out there -- because there are a lot of really amazing teachers -- that those are understood and those best practices are spread, and that means that our methods in terms of recruiting, trading, evaluating, and giving people a chance to improve throughout their career.

We're also focusing on rigorous standards, curricula, and assessments that will help teachers focus students on what they need to learn.  And we're involved in helping to think through these next-generation models, where once you have great online material at different levels of school, what does that mean?  What does it mean to be technology enabled?  The technology alone can't motivate the student, can't bring them into the right type of learning environment.  

But it can play a very important role, particularly as you get into the higher grades, and particularly as you've got the student understanding why they should learn and they're motivated, the role of that material can become stronger and stronger.  And so you're critical partners in piloting and scaling these things.

One example of an effort on teacher effectiveness is the partnership we have in Los Angeles called the College-Ready Promise.  This includes 85 schools belonging to five different charter organizations.  And they're thinking how they evaluate teachers and help them improve.  And we believe this is a very challenging and important area.

You know, sometimes when people think of evaluation, they think of the extremes of, you know, if your test scores aren't good, you lose your job, or the other extreme of you just compute your seniority, and no matter what, how well you do in your job, you know exactly what you're going to get paid.  And there's simply nothing in your personnel file about your strengths and weaknesses, and a plan to remediate where you do have weaknesses.

What we have to find is, through a variety of things, where test scores are part, video observation, peers helping out, even getting feedback from students about, was the material relevant?  Is the time used well in the classroom?  Bringing these different data points together and understanding the people who do these things best, that's really the way forward.

And so this college-ready promise is part of an overall strategy.  It includes a career ladder so that the master teachers can feel a sense of achievement independent of their specific seniority, and that they're incented to help other teachers do what they do so well.

And so we expect this, which is one of four intense locations where we're working on teacher effectiveness.  We expect a lot of good lessons to come out of this.  And it's very important that the teachers involved in these projects really feel it did help them improve.  And when it comes to evaluation systems and improvement systems, the great unknown makes a lot of teachers reluctant to get involved.

And only by having these examples that have worked well, where they were not capricious, where the overhead was modest, where you could tell that the teachers were getting better – only by having those examples and teachers talking openly about those will we be able to spread that throughout the field; and not just the charter field, but throughout all schools.  

The relationship should be more direct, not just publishing the results, but also working with these district schools.  Part of that can be a – pro quo, where they're cooperative on these facilities issues as you're taking some of your excellence and trying to help them out in areas where they have particular challenges. This type of collaboration is challenging, requires the districts to participate as well, and it takes a shift in perspective, a willingness to not see it as a competitive, zero-sum gain.

In a few places where this has happened, notably in New Orleans, there have been significant benefits.  Since Hurricane Katrina, the charter presence in that city has increased by about sixty percent, and the city's improvement on test scores has grown more than three times faster than the rest of the state.  And some of that comes out of the cooperation between the charter sector and the public schools.

So I am optimistic about education.  At times when I looked at these budget challenges, I look at the resistance to change [audio missing] contribution and be very successful.  That can only achieved through public education.

So it's an important goal, and we can give every student, no matter where he or she lives, no matter who their parents are, that kind of opportunity.  And when we do achieve that, we will have the people here to thank for a lot of the key reasons that happen.  We'll look back, hopefully not more than a decade from now, and see the change that took place, and we'll be able to say that your high-performing charters started those changes and made a huge difference.

Thank you.


The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ( is the national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement. The Alliance works to increase the number of high-performing charter schools available to all families, particularly low-income and minority families who currently do not have access to quality public schools. The Alliance provides assistance to state charter school associations and resource centers, develops and advocates for improved public policies, and serves as the united voice for this large and diverse movement. More than 1.5 million students attend nearly 5,000 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

SOURCE National Alliance for Public Charter Schools