Press Room




Bill Gates
ASU-GSV Summit
San Diego
April 20, 2016

Good afternoon. I’m excited to be here today because I believe the people in this room have the potential to do something amazing together.

In the last decade, education technologies have worked their way into thousands of schools and colleges with the promise of revolutionizing education. Many of you have played a role in planting these seeds, and there are some amazing advances and fantastic products in the marketplace today.

But I think most people would agree that we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible. There is so much more that technology can do to improve teaching and learning.

There are a lot of good things happening in U.S. education.

  • Common standards that define excellence . . . excellence anchored in important things like succeeding in college and getting a good job.
  • A deeper understanding of what teachers need to help students thrive.
  • And unprecedented access to higher education.

But we also face some serious headwinds.

High school graduation rates are at an all-time high. Yet, the majority of American students are graduating unprepared for what lies ahead.

Only 12% of African Americans and 25% of Hispanic students are ready for college when they graduate.

Even among white students, only half are graduating from high school ready to pursue a postsecondary credential.

Nearly half of all students who start a postsecondary program won’t earn a credential within 6 years.

And, demographic changes in both K12 and postsecondary demand new thinking about how we educate the most diverse student population in American history.

In public schools today, more than half of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. And English language learners are the fastest growing student population. [2X faster than the general student population]

In Postsecondary, 40% of students are over the age of 25. And one-in- three are the first in their family to go to college.

This is the “New Majority” you’ve all heard about.

Students like Lakeisha Crum, a senior at Betsy Lane High School in Eastern Kentucky. She’ll be the first in her family to go to college.

Shawn Lee, a student at Rio Salado College in Arizona. He returned to college after dropping out decades ago and finding himself stuck in a series of low-paying jobs.

And Hajira Attah, who graduated from high school with a 1.7 GPA. She is now a junior at Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina with a 3.6 GPA and her eyes on graduate school.

I’ve traveled to dozens of public schools and colleges over the last decade and met hundreds of students like Lakeisha, Shawn, and Hajira.

They are the reason our foundation invests more in education than any other cause in the U.S. – because it’s the best lever we’ve seen for giving every person a chance to make the most of their lives.

Technology isn’t a cure-all. It can’t replace great teachers or the impact that a teacher-student connection can have on learning. But digital solutions that enable educators to better target the individual needs of students can contribute to the significant gains necessary to help students succeed.

A quality education is the most certain path to economic security – and by 2025, two-thirds of all jobs in the U.S. will require a postsecondary credential.

If we don’t significantly improve college readiness and completion, people with a high school diploma or less will be relegated to low-wage jobs that are inadequate to support a family.

And employers will find it increasingly difficult to hire qualified workers. Based on current trends, U.S. colleges and universities will produce 11 million fewer degree holders than our economy will require over the next decade.

This is not the future we want for our children. And it’s not the future we want for the country.

Today, a lot of money and effort in EdTech is focused on education models that promote job skills and career advancement outside the traditional education system.

Understandably, entrepreneurs and investors want to focus on opportunities where there is the least amount of friction and the greatest likelihood of financial success.

It’s a lot easier going directly to consumers than it is to convince educators, school districts, and institutions to adopt new courseware, platforms, and tools.

But we believe there is an opportunity to help the most students – especially low-income, minority and first-generation students – by working creatively with the system.

According to GSV, the U.S. market for digital instructional materials in K-12 will grow by $1.1 billion over the next five years – a 50% increase.

The Postsecondary market will grow even more – $1.8 billion more by 2020. In fact, over the next five years, the demand for digital instructional materials will increase at twice the rate of the print market. And that’s just in the U.S.

Globally, the opportunity is even greater, especially in places where growth is creating demand for educated workers.

Last year, funding for EdTech companies in China doubled. Most of this investment was focused on tutoring and test prep, but it indicates a thirst for learning that the existing system isn’t meeting.

I think we’re likely to see similar growth in less-developed Asian and African countries in the years ahead.

I’d like to spend the next few minutes talking about what our foundation is doing to help accelerate the impact of education technology on learning outcomes.

There are three big things we’re focused on:

  • Helping innovators build deeper and more engaging solutions that enable educators to personalize learning for students.
  • Establishing an evidence base of what works.
  • And increasing institutional awareness and adoption of proven digital solutions.

The Big History Project is one example of what engaging, interactive courseware can look like. It’s a teacher-facilitated interdisciplinary online course for high school students that covers – quite literally – 13.8 billion years of history.

The great thing about Big History and other high-quality digital courseware is that it fosters a passion for inquiry and exploration. It helps students think critically and broadly. And it works as well in a high-poverty inner city high school as it does in an elite private school.

Hundreds of teachers helped us develop and test lesson plans for Big History – and more than 1,200 schools are now teaching the course.

We’ve also seen some great innovation in new instructional models for K-12 math. New Classrooms, a New York-based nonprofit, built a fundamentally different approach to teaching middle school math.

For one thing, the content is a lot more engaging for students than traditional math textbooks. Each day, students get a daily learning plan based on an assessment of their work the previous day. They learn at their own pace and master each concept before moving to the next. Teachers also receive daily guidance that helps them provide instruction targeted to each student’s needs.

It seems to be working. One study showed that second-year academic gains far exceeded student performance in regular classrooms.

In literacy, one reading and writing product I like a lot is ThinkCERCA, because it also meets kids where they are and gets them engaged. Basically, ThinkCERCA is software for essay-writing. It requires students to read challenging texts, identify important details, and present their claim, evidence, and reasoning.

Early research shows that students who use the program are making significant gains in reading and writing compared to other students.

One thing that would accelerate more of the innovation we need is deeper engagement with teachers in product design and testing. Schools across the country are full of purchased materials and software programs that teachers don’t actually use.

Teachers can help developers build products for specific use cases that represent real needs. Plus, teachers can be a real force in driving demand for products since they rely a lot on word-of-mouth from other teachers.

In higher-ed, there is exciting progress in digital courseware for remedial programs and core “general education” classes like psychology and biology.

Outdated approaches in both of these areas is a big reason so many disadvantaged and low-income students don’t complete their degree.

For example, more than half of community-college students have to take and pay for remedial courses – even though they don’t receive credit for them. For students already facing long odds and limited financial resources, these low-quality programs are one of the biggest obstacles students must overcome.

Over the last seven years, we have invested more than $50 million helping institutions and states redesign remedial education. A key part of this is working with providers such as EdReady, New Mathways, and Quantway Statway to build digital courseware that enables students to learn at their own pace. When institutions use these programs in gateway courses, we’ve seen completion rates double.

A few years ago, we also funded a $20 million challenge to develop digital courseware that personalizes learning for the challenging general education courses.

We asked the winners – companies like Acrobatiq, SmartSparrow, and Lumen Learning – to team up with “early adopter” colleges to ensure that their products reflected the needs of educators and students.

SRI just published a two-year evaluation of adaptive courseware, and their research shows that switching from a lecture format to blended courseware has a positive impact on student learning and course grades.

Another area where technology can make a big difference is student planning and advising. This is especially important for low-income, first-generation students who may not have mentors in their lives to help them choose the right major, select courses, and keep on track for a degree.

Hundreds of colleges and universities are now using these integrated planning and advising systems – known as iPASS – to help more students stay in school and graduate.
EdTech is a noisy, complicated space right now. There are hundreds of EdTech products to choose from. It’s hard for anyone to know which ones work, which ones integrate well with other products, and which ones have the best teacher satisfaction.

For EdTech to mature, we have to start focusing more seriously on learning outcomes as the measure of success.

Online sites like Graphite and EdSurge are helping educators learn about personalized learning tools and sort out the best products in every category. But we also need more and better evidence of what works.

One partner we’re working with, LEAP Innovations, is doing a great job connecting developers with schools and teachers and using well-designed trials to evaluate new products that personalize instruction in the classroom.

I’m a fan of this approach because it helps product developers understand what’s effective, and it helps teachers and districts make smarter decisions.

If buyers in this market are able to discern quality better, the whole market will begin to function more effectively. But we need your help moving toward this evidence-based approach.

  • For investors, it means taking a longer-term view and encouraging a greater focus on impact.
  • For entrepreneurs, it means partnering more closely with educators to understand how your product is being used – and hiring researchers to evaluate its efficacy.
  • For district leaders, it means using more pilot and evaluation processes, and insisting on data interoperability standards that enable EdTech products to be integrated and used more effectively by teachers to pinpoint student needs.

But even the best solutions backed by strong research won’t be sufficient to accomplish the kind of change we need.

Schools and colleges also need help upgrading their infrastructure. They need to redesign the classrooms. And educators need training and support.

These are big challenges. But it’s exciting to see the enthusiasm of many early adopters in both K-12 and higher-ed who are beginning to produce evidence of what’s possible and hopefully widespread in the decade to come.

Summit Public Schools launched an initiative called Base Camp that is cultivating teams of teachers and principals from a variety of schools and districts to explore and adopt innovative instructional approaches, tools, and platforms.

Organizations like Next Generation Learning Challenges are helping build a culture of collaboration among innovators, educators, and administrators to accelerate development, testing, and adoption of innovative learning solutions.

And a growing number of schools are exploring personalized learning. One study of 62 schools that primarily serve low-income students and students of color found that after two years of personalized learning instruction, students made significantly greater gains in math and reading compared to similar students at comparable schools.

I’m a big believer in the potential of education technology. But it’s a tough market. You understand that better than anyone. And we all know how hard it is to move the needle in education. But I’m an optimist. An impatient optimist – but an optimist.

People thought President Kennedy was dreaming when he said in 1961 that he wanted to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. NASA beat the deadline by six months.

People thought we couldn’t eradicate smallpox. We did, and now we’re on the verge of eradicating polio too.

People once thought the GI Bill would ruin higher education. It built a middle class.

Imagine what’s possible if the people in this room put their minds to solving the very real and significant challenges we face in college readiness and completion. At the end of the day, I believe success will come to the innovators who focus on the needs of the New Majority . . . who put educators and students at the center of product design . . . and who invest in research to understand what work.

We’re here to support you because we believe in what you’re doing – and because we want to work with you to close the equity gap in American education. Thank you.


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