Gates ignores own history in keynoting charter schools meeting in Chicago

Less than four years after he abruptly abandoned what had been called the "small schools model" for urban school reform, Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates touted charter schools as the next way to save public education, as reported from Chicago on June 29, 2010. Gates keynoted the national meeting of charter school supporters in Chicago one week before he is scheduled to keynote the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers in Seattle. The AFT convention is scheduled to begin on July 7, 2010.

According to a report in "Chicago Breaking News"


Bill Gates rallies charter school leaders in Chicago (June 29, 2010 9:30 PM) By Bonnie Miller Rubin

Rallying the faithful, Bill Gates told a national audience of teachers, business leaders and policymakers in Chicago today that the charter school movement "is the only place innovation will come from," while exhorting them to set the bar even higher if they are to reach millions of youths shut out of quality schools.

Charter educators must identify and shut down low-performing schools and replicate the best ones to have the broadest impact, he said.

The entrepreneur was the keynote speaker on the opening day of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools conference, which attracted more than 4,100 participants to McCormick Place to focus on school choice, touted by reformers as a way to close the achievement gap for poor minority children.

Typically, charter schools have more autonomy to control curriculums, spending and staffing than traditional public schools. While they receive public money, they are run by independent boards and usually operate without unions, which tend to oppose their growth.

Advocates herald the movement as nothing less than a "new civil rights campaign," but others say it is not a panacea. As the conference opened, the Institute of Education Sciences -- the research arm of the Department of Education -- released a study that found the quality of charter schools varies widely and many do no better than neighborhood schools.

The best results were achieved in large cities such as Chicago, where poor families don't have many educational options.

At a time when about a third of U.S. students drop out of school, Gates said the future of the country depends on "great public education."

More than 1.5 million students attend nearly 5,000 charter schools in the U.S. In Illinois, 75 new charter schools opened in the past five years, for a total of 106 campuses, according to the charter schools alliance. Growth has been particularly steep in Chicago Public Schools, where charter enrollments went up by almost 19,000, to 35,836, in the last school year, according to the alliance.

Key priorities charter advocates now include lifting "caps" on charter growth and closing the finance gap for charters, which are often funded at lower levels than traditional public schools.

Gates cited the KIPP Foundation, created by Gap co-founders Doris and Donald Fisher, as a success story. KIPP, created in 1994, now operates 99 schools nationwide, including middle schools in Gary and North Lawndale, where they will also add an elementary school this fall.

The 69 North Lawndale fifth-graders started school at least one year below grade level in math and reading. When they graduated from 8th grade in 2009, all exceeded the state average in achievement tests and graduated to college prep high schools, said April Goble, executive director of KIPP/Chicago, who spoke at the conference.

"But finding and keeping good teachers ... is a continual challenge," she said.


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