A Publication of WTVP

Recently, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates delivered a keynote address to a summit sponsored by the National Governor’s Association. In his address, Gates had some grave concerns on the preparation of an entrant workforce in a 21st century knowledge economy. Included below are excerpts from his address: 

“America’s high schools are obsolete. By obsolete, I mean that our high schools—even when they’re working exactly as designed—cannot teach our kids what they need to know today. Training the workforce of tomorrow with 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. Our high schools were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting—even ruining—the lives of millions of Americans every year. 

“Today, only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship. The other two-thirds, most of them low-income and minority students, are tracked into courses that won’t ever get them ready for college or prepare them for a family-wage job—no matter how well the students learn or the teachers teach. When I compare our high schools to what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations.
“We have one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world. Many who graduate do not go onto college. And many who do go on to college are not well prepared—and end up dropping out. That is one reason the U.S. college dropout rate is also one of the highest in the industrialized world. The poor performance of our high schools in preparing students for college is a major reason the United States has now dropped from first to fifth in the percentage of young adults with a college degree. The percentage of a population with a college degree is important, but so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with Bachelors degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. 

“Today, most jobs that allow you to support a family require some post-secondary education. This could mean a four-year college, a community college, or technical school. Unfortunately, only half of all students who enter high school ever enroll in a post-secondary institution. That means half of all students starting high school today are unlikely to get a job that allows them to support a family. 

“First we have to understand that today’s high schools are not the cause of the problem; they are the result. The key problem is political will. Elected officials have not yet done away with the idea underlying the old design. The idea behind the old design was that you could train an adequate workforce by sending only a third of your kids to college—and that the other kids either couldn’t do college work or didn’t need to. The idea behind the new design is that all students can do rigorous work, and—for their sake and ours—they have to.” 

In upcoming articles, we’ll explore the workforce and education implications of these comments. IBI