Blackonomics: Gates grants promote smaller schools

Bill Gates recently announced a $51.2 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help start 67 small high schools in New York City. The grants will go to seven non-profit organizations… Bill Gates recently announced a $51.2 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help start 67 small high schools in New York City. The grants will go to seven non-profit organizations that work with New York City’s public school system.

Gates pointed to dismally low graduation rates as evidence of the failure of traditional high schools, a problem that is even worse among poor, Black and other minority students. Gates feels strongly that the answer is not smaller classes, but much smaller schools, and his approach has been shown to reduce violence and increase achievement among various student populations.

Gates says he wants to ‘’create an environment where there’s a strong relationship between the students and teachers,’’ and he doesn’t want students to "get lost" the way they do in larger high schools, especially in urban districts.

"The smaller schools allow teachers and staff to know their students better," Gates says. ‘’When a kid walks down a hall and encounters an adult, that adult will know their name and…be able to talk to them about their progress.’’

A small high school is ‘’the way to take what is really the weak link in the education system—high school—and bring it up to a new level,’’ Gates stated.

Amen to that, my brother! I am a living witness to the reality of moving from a very large high school to a very small one when I was 16 years of age. I moved from an anonymous environment, except for my immediate circle of friends, to a more caring environment of teachers, administrators and students at the small school. It was the best thing that ever happened to me during my teenage years, and had it not been for that small school, and those teachers who cared so much that they would not let me fail, I probably would have been a high school dropout.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with a precious few other organizations, is doing what our local, state and federal governments should be doing. While our president, who adopted Marian Wright Edelman’s mantra, "Leave no child behind," is dropping "smart bombs," Gates is helping to produce "smart children," and I just wanted to say, "Thanks, Bill and Melinda Gates."

Not only can I write about what the Gates Foundation is doing in the field of education, I can also personally attest to its commitment and dedication, having been involved with the Foundation’s Model Secondary Schools Project since 2001. Readers of this column may remember an article I wrote about Cincinnati’s entrepreneurship high school, and most recently about the visit made to the school by Kenya James, the young entrepreneur from Atlanta who publishes Black Girl Magazine. Well, that school is one of eight model secondary schools across the country funded by the Gates Foundation (see The other schools are in Detroit; Rochester, N.Y.; Boston; Compton, Calif.; Cleveland, Ohio; Las Vegas; and East St. Louis, Ill.

Education and health, the two focus areas of the Gates Foundation, are obviously vital to the well being and stability of any people. The United States and the world are blessed to have foundations and organizations whose benefactors make it their business to contribute part of their fortunes to these causes. It is not enough just to know that Bill Gates is the richest person in the world, as Forbes Magazine points out each year. It is more important for him and others like him to make a positive and permanent impact on the lives of the poor, the underserved and the disenfranchised. Many of our super-rich entertainers and athletes could take a lesson from such altruism and philanthropy.

We are proud and appreciative of the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Tom Vander Ark, executive director, education, the KnowledgeWork

October 6, 2003
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