Letter to Bill Gates

The Rand Corporation recently released its findings on the effectiveness of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation intervention in reforming education. The key part of the reform was data management. The report essentially finds the effort was did not improve teacher effectiveness, or student outcomes. It did create a more hostile environment. Mr. Gates has admitted his efforts did not work. I have included a link to the Conservative Townhall publication. Right after No Child Left Behind was enacted, most teachers knew the data management with punitive measures would not work. I initiated a letter writing campaign to President Bush to include teachers in forming education legislation.

To give Mr. Gates credit, he publicly admits his error. He still has a commitment to improving education and is asking for input. The contact page on the K-12 Foundation website did not operate correctly. I also believe a written and mailed letter still has more impact than an email.

The mailing address for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is below:

PO Box 23350
Seattle, WA 98102

Mr. Gates:

I am a recently retired public-school teacher and a candidate for the local Board of Education (BOE). This is the first time some members of the BOE will be elected in the district. Previously, all members were appointed by the governor. They then chose the superintendent. We had an unelected group choose a leader, unelected, to lead over citizens to whom he had no accountability. Does this sound like the United States?

 I acknowledge and applaud your interest in the education of our students. I appreciate your admission that data management in education does not work.  This admission needs to be made at the Federal, State and local level before our education system can change. In every performance, there is the performer, the audience and the opportunity or condition for the performance. Imagine what a very sick audience member would say about an academy award winning movie? No Child Left Behind (NCLBA) changed the relationship between teacher/student/administrator. Student test results were used to rate schools, but these tests had little influence on the academic career of the student. Teachers therefore had more invested in the student result than the student. The relationship went from the teacher being a mentor/coach to, being a task master. Administrators became the task masters of teachers with the power over the teacher’s career. No wonder disciplinary issues proliferated.

NCLBA made attaining a statistic more important than humanity. Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) proudly announced an 87% graduation rate, yet the local community college, where many BCPS students went, reported over 50% of incoming students needing to take remedial math and English classes before taking credit classes. Many students were being released into the adult world unprepared and unaware. It is no wonder the percent of college students graduating in 4 years dropped, student debt rose, and overall graduation rates dropped. Schools are narrowly focused on graduation as an-end result and not as simply the beginning. These policies have disempowered students. Exploring, making choices and experiencing the wins and losses of those choices is vital for functioning.

Much of education is the agenda of policy makers. Much of the conversation around education reform is focused on “schools” and teachers. In 1979, Herb Brooks became the manager of the US Olympic Hockey Team. To win, he did not take courses on how to be a better coach nor did he have professional development with his coaches. He saw the key to victory was to improve the fitness of the players and the mindset of their game strategy. We need to improve our students. This will mean placing their success in their hands and end the fallacy of the superman teacher. Our students should not be rescued.

There are no failing schools, just failing policies; or as an eminent professor wrote, ” Not Bad Schools, Bad Students.” Neurologists clearly demonstrate the negative effects of poverty, trauma and anxiety on developing brains. Some even postulate that these effects cannot be altered, yet there is the never-ending assault on teachers to “close the education gap”.  This idea is similar as holding dentists accountable to their patients’ level of tooth decay. The assault on teachers is through news media, politicians and increasingly from students. Teacher turn-over is enormous. What would the government do if the attrition rate of doctors was equal that of teachers?


I teach at the US Naval Academy part-time. Most of the students are public school graduates, and they are remarkable people. This is evidence that something must be working, and I suggest it is not the curricula but the family and community from which the Midshipmen come.  Education is the result of a relationship. Empowerment is fundamental to successful relationships. This is the context we need to create and promote. It is simple but not easy. 

In running for the local Board of Education, I listen to many politicians say they will fix education. I assert that the politicians are the reason education is in the shape it is.  In looking for what is next, I suggest you focus on the opportunity to perform and not the performer. A simple analogy: a Mercedes is a fine car and one that is known for performance. A Ferrari is known as a performance car. But what if the race was the Baja Desert? Even the high performing car with a professional driver would fail. If we want to improve educational outcomes, we need to focus on better students and improve the opportunity to perform. Schools are not separate from the community. Teachers don’t need fixing.



Edward Kitlowski

Director USNA Pipes & Drums


This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *