Moving with the speed and aplomb that has characterized Bill Gates’ business ventures, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation already is making its presence felt since it launched its education initiative in March.
In just a few months, the foundation has distributed some $21 million of the $100 million it has committed to support technology leadership programs for school principals and superintendents. In addition, the foundation has given another $1 million to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) for the creation of an educational technology research center.
On May 31, Mississippi became the seventh recipient of a State Challenge Grant, a program that eventually will provide $100 million to support leadership development programs for school principals and superintendents. Mississippi’s $1.1 million will pay to send more than 300 school administrators to the state’s newly created Technology Academy for School Leaders.
North Carolina ($2.95 million), Rhode Island ($1.28 million), Texas ($6.3 million), Florida ($5.5 million), Illinois ($2.25 million), and Indiana ($1.8 million) also have received funds under this program, and all other states are encouraged to apply.
The grants support ongoing projects that demonstrate broad-based leadership and support. For example, the $6.3 million grant made in Texas will go toward the state’s Technology Leadership Academy to expand a program that already has provided training to more than 400 Texas superinten- dents.
“We’ll make grants to every state that meets our guidelines of demonstrated leadership development programs that contribute to improvement of the whole education system,” said Tom Vander Ark, education executive director of the Gates Foundation. “We believe that technology can play a significant role in that type of improvement.”
Vander Ark, the former superintendent of the Federal Way School District in Washington, said he heard the same thing over and over again when quizzing educators, parents, government officials, private industry, and others to determine the best way to invest the foundation’s money: Leadership is the key to using technology to transform education.
“Managers ensure consistent results within a known framework,” said Vander Ark. “Leaders, on the other hand, change things that need to be changedand we’re living in a time of dramatic changes to the basic rules that define the scope and purpose of schools.”
Vander Ark listed four primary ways in which schools have changed and continue to evolve today:
• Students are being held to new, higher standards of achievement;
• Technology has become accessible to almost all students;
• Children come from more diverse backgrounds; and
• The private sector has realized that for-profit education has huge potential.
“Schools are having a hard time adjusting to those changes,” said Vander Ark. “Part of the problem is that they’re simply not designed to help all kids be successful. They are much better at sorting out the bright, compliant kids who will go on to postsecondary educations and into the professions.”
Leaders are needed to work with all students to help them achieve, and the Gates Foundation believes that technology can play a crucial role in that process.
“Technology offers a wonderful new world of opportunities in school design and curriculum development,” Vander Ark said. “The problem is that for 20 years, we’ve just layered technology on top of the old design in a very thin layer. Then, when we haven’t even tied in technology training for classroom educators, we’ve reached a point where we just haven’t deployed technology in a way that can make a difference.”
New ed-tech research center
To help school leaders make that difference, the Gates Foundation also donated $1.05 million to ISTE on May 23 for the creation of a national ed-tech research center, called the Center for Applied Research in Educational Technology (CARET).
An internet-based technology and education research portal, CARET will provide educators, superintendents, and policy makers with up-to-date, research-based information on teaching and learning with technology. The portal will be a tool for classroom instruction and educational practice as it emerges nationally and, eventually, globally.
“The CARET project will translate research language into plain English, so that valuable knowledge can be put to use helping all students achieve,” said ISTE’s chief executive, John Vaille.
“With CARET, educators will have access to research for planning, procurement, and implementation of technology in America’s schools,” said John Cradler, president of Educational Support Systems, a partner in the development of the web site. “CARET will also help to determine areas needing further study in the field of [ed-tech] applications.” n
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, P.O. Box 23350, Seattle, WA 98102; phone (206) 709-3100, web http://www.gatesfoundation.org.