America needs a Center for State Education Data to collect student information and identify what works and what doesn’t in our schools, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told Congress on March 7.
The world’s richest man also reiterated his call for an overhaul of the nation’s schools and asked lawmakers to revamp immigration laws to keep jobs from going overseas and to maintain American competitiveness in the new global economy.
“The U.S. cannot maintain its economic leadership unless our work force consists of people who have the knowledge and skills needed to drive innovation,” Gates told the Senate committee that oversees labor and education issues.
Gates, whose charitable foundation has given away more than $3 billion since 1999 for educational programs and scholarships, noted that about 30 percent of U.S. ninth-graders fail to graduate on time. “As a nation, we should start with this goal: Every child in the United States graduating from high school,” he said.
Gates challenged lawmakers to push for higher educational standards and to make more challenging coursework available to students. A federal study released in February showed about a third of high schoolers fail to take a standard-level curriculum, which is defined as including at least four credits of English and three credits each of social studies, math, and science.
Besides higher standards, school leaders also must understand how well their schools and students are performing relative to these standards, Gates said.
“Data collection systems must be transparent and accurate so that we can understand what is working and what isn’t and for whom,” he said. “Therefore, we need data by race and income. I urge this committee to support the creation of a Center for State Education Data, which will serve as a national resource for state education data and will provide one-stop access for education research and policy makers, along with a public web site to streamline education data reporting.”
But it’s not enough just to collect data. “We also need to use the data we collect to implement change, including by personalizing learning to make it more relevant and engaging for students–and thereby truly ensure that no child is left behind,” Gates said.
He also called for an overhaul of the curriculum and pedagogy in America’s schools to better reflect the realities of today’s digital society. “Our current expectations for what our students should learn in school were set 50 years ago to meet the needs of an economy based on manufacturing and agriculture. We now have an economy based on knowledge and technology,” Gates told the panel.
The nation’s schools must take steps to ensure that curricula are engaging and relevant to students’ current needs, he said. A model for this is the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, of which Microsoft is a member.
Gates also called on lawmakers to give more resources and attention to improving the teaching of math and science–knowledge essential to many of today’s jobs. Another recent federal study found 40 percent of high school seniors failed to perform at the basic level on a national math test. On a national science test, half of 12th-graders didn’t show basic skills.
“We simply cannot sustain an economy based on innovation unless our citizens are educated in math, science, and engineering,” he said.