What We Do

K-12 Education

Strategy Overview


We aim to ensure that all U.S. students graduate from high school prepared to do college-level work.

our goal:

to support innovation that can improve U.S. K-12 public schools and ensure that students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college.

The Challenge

At A Glance

Only 25 percent of U.S. public high school graduates have the skills needed to succeed academically in college, which is an important gateway to economic opportunity in the United States.

Most of the country’s K-12 public school teachers lack access to the tailored feedback, high-quality instructional materials, and support they need to do their best work and continually improve.

Together with our partners, we work to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared to do college-level work.

Our K-12 Education strategy is led by Vicki Phillips, director, and is part of the foundation’s United States Program.

To learn more about our approach and strategy:

For generations, education has been the springboard to opportunity in America. But today, other countries are catching up with and even outpacing us. The times have changed—our schools need to change with them.

We live in a globally connected, information saturated world. To thrive, our students need to learn in and out of school, in person and online, together and independently. Students need learning experiences that meet them where they are, engage them deeply, let them progress at a pace that meets their individual needs, and helps them master the skills for today and tomorrow.

Teachers need the feedback and professional growth opportunities they want to help their students succeed instead of generic, one-size-fits all solutions that don’t help them grow as professionals.

The stakes are high. Limited opportunity for too many young people results in dramatically lower life prospects for them and a worse quality of life for all of us.

The Opportunity

By focusing on the common goal of improving education through innovation—and by building on and sharing effective tools, strategies, and standards—educators, school leaders, and nonprofit partners across the country can transform U.S. public education.

Our Strategy

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committed to ensuring that all students in the United States have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education. We have two programs that work in concert toward this goal. Our K-12 Education program aims to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college, and our Postsecondary Success program aims to dramatically increase the number of young people who obtain a postsecondary degree or certificate with labor-market value. Areas of intersection include practical approaches and policy strategies to better align K-12 standards with expectations in college-level courses.

Pittsburgh Carmalt PreK-8, a science and technology magnet school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, emphasizes state learning standards in its curriculum.

We invest in programs with a common aim: to strengthen the connection between teacher and student. To that end, we work with educators, policymakers, parents, and communities to expand and accelerate successful programs and identify innovative new solutions that can help unlock students’ potential.

Thanks to the efforts of many of our partners, school districts across the country now have clear standards and expectations for teachers and students. We support the development of fair and reliable methods of assessing teachers and measuring student progress, including giving teachers personalized feedback they can use to better tailor their teaching to students’ individual needs.

Areas of Focus

In each of our areas of focus, we share research, insights, and tools with states, school districts, and other partners to help them improve teaching and learning. We also work to foster greater collaboration so effective programs can be expanded and valuable insights and ideas from specific states, districts, and charter management organizations can be broadly shared.


Teachers are vital to student learning. They want to help their students succeed, but often don’t get the feedback and support they need to do so. Fair, thorough evaluations empower teachers to keep learning and growing within the profession by targeting their strengths and areas for improvement. Thousands of teachers and dozens of researchers collaborated on the Measures of Effective Teaching project—a research study that has helped us better understand what great teaching looks like, and the types of measures that can provide a fair assessment of teaching aimed at helping every teacher be their best.

The Measurement of Effective Teaching project enlisted thousands of teachers to have their classes videotaped and evaluated by experts as well as students.

Teachers deserve professional development opportunities that they help shape, give them the support they need when they need it, and enable them to collaborate and share best practices. We’re working with school districts across the country to create more personalized, scalable solutions to teacher learning that can be adopted quickly and broadly. And we’re helping support new leadership opportunities for accomplished teachers without having them leave the classroom.


More than 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards for student learning. The standards offer a roadmap of clear expectations for college readiness, deepening what students need to know at each stage of their schooling. We’re working with our partners to help these standards become part of the fabric of schools around the country and will support ongoing efforts to ensure they are understood and implemented effectively.

Classroom materials based on the Common Core State Standards can deepen students’ understanding of key concepts and skills and more fully engage them in their learning. With our partners, we’re working with teachers to design materials that help students work together to tackle problems and promote facility with concepts rather than rote memorization. Teachers know their students best—they need to be at the center of creating and refining curriculum and instructional materials that meet students’ needs.

With clear expectations for what to learn, the measures that gauge students’ understanding must be useful and accurate, to ensure those who graduate from high school are prepared to succeed at the college level. We’re particularly focused on providing students and their teachers with more rapid, useful feedback to inform their learning all along the way. The combination of more transparent and useful data and clearer expectations for students can help educators’ flag young people’s needs early and often, so their path to college and careers is a smooth one.


Students deserve learning experiences tailored to their needs and that make the most of teachers’ time with students. Ninety-five percent of 12- to 17-year-olds already go online on a regular basis. They use social networks, and create and contribute to websites. Our work is focused on taking full advantage of the kinds of tools and technologies that have transformed every other aspect of life to power up and accelerate students’ learning. We need to do things differently, not just better.

We’re investing in a new generation of courseware that adapts in sophisticated ways to students’ learning needs. We’re also supporting game-based learning that generates rich data about students’ progress and challenges them with exactly what they need to learn next.

Online learning tools can allow students to progress at their own pace. (Photo ©  AZFOTO/Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli)

Blending face-to-face instruction with digital tools allows students to learn independently and at their own pace, freeing up time for teachers to give students more individualized attention and to focus on more complex tasks. Allowing students to progress to new levels of learning as soon as they demonstrate mastery of a topic rather than moving forward based on the number of hours spent in a classroom provides students with customized pathways to achievement, enabling them to be successful every step of the way.

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