Gates gift spurs US schools to update

March 11, 2005

Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, is spearheading a $42 million (£22 million) effort to overhaul America's high schools in response to criticism that they are not preparing students for university education.

The money has been promised by six foundations, with nearly a third to come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The announcement was made at the National Governors' Association education summit, at which Mr Gates lambasted US state governors and education and business leaders for the "obsolete" condition of schools.

"Training the workforce of tomorrow in the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today's computers on a 50-year-old mainframe.

It's the wrong tool for the times," he said.

"When I compare our high schools with what I see when I'm travelling abroad, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow."

The money pledged by Mr Gates and others will go to states that promise to overhaul their high schools.

Mark Warner, NGA chairman and Governor of Virginia, said: "This is an unprecedented collaboration between state government and the philanthropic community. This public-private partnership will lay the foundation for long-term systemic change."

Some responsibility was also placed on universities. The governors agreed that there needed to be better coordination between universities and high schools as to what preparation students need.

Mr Gates argued: "There is more than one barrier to college. There's the barrier of being able to pay for college, and there's the one of (not) being prepared for it."

The NGA proposed common course agreements to allow high-level work in high school to count towards a university degree and mooted financial incentives to help low-income students take advanced-placement exams, which could earn students university credit.

Parents, businesses, community groups and churches were urged to develop ways of making low-income students more aware of what they needed to do to get to university and asked to ensure that they knew what financial support was available to them.

A Manhattan Institute report released last month found that only about half of African-American and Hispanic youth make it to high-school graduation and less than 20 per cent are ready to study at college level.

The US lags behind most other developed nations in high-school graduation rates, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

"Three out of ten students who enter high school do not graduate," Mr Warner said. "Four out of ten who do graduate lack the skills and knowledge to go to college or to succeed in the workforce."

The Bill and Melinda Foundation, operated by Mr Gates and his wife, has already given $733 million to more than 1,500 US high schools for new programmes and improvements.

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