What blows Bill Gates’ mind about U.S. education — and not in a good way

One of the cool things about Bill Gates’ website, The Gates Notes, is the feeling that you’re looking over his shoulder at what he’s reading, and eavesdropping on his conversations.

Of course, it’s intended for public consumption, so it’s not “BillG” in his most unvarnished form, but it’s a good way of keeping up with what he’s doing and thinking about.

The latest example is a conversation between Gates and Thomas Friedman about a new book co-authored by Friedman called “That Used To Be Us,” about American competitiveness, which Gates reviewed here.

The full version will go online tomorrow, but in a preview, Gates shares his thoughts on the surprisingly high dropout rate among people seeking degrees for highly skilled careers.

“We owe it to every American to make it pretty darned easy to make it through that system. We are failing to really look at why people aren’t getting through, why we have the highest dropout rate. We’re about middle of the pack in terms of people who start going for a degree,” he says. “And it’s been this hidden tragedy of this dropout level that I think only in the last five years or so are we even looking at. I was stunned when I first found out about it. It kind of blew my mind.”

There’s also a funny moment at the end of the preview, as the two talk about how their discourse stacks up vs. the presidential primary debates.

“Obviously it’s much more entertaining to watch Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich go at each other,” says Friedman.

“Than to watch you and I,” agrees Gates, as they crack up.

“How many hits are we going to get?!” says Friedman.

  • http://www.seattlegardenideas.com/ Marie Mckinsey

    I guess what cracks ME up is that Gates himself is a college dropout. 

    • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ MHazell

      I see what you did there.

    • http://WiredPen.com/ kegill

      Was a little surprised that Todd didn’t make this point in his post. :-)

  • Billg

    The other humorous thing is how wrong Friedman is about what drives the economy. Those two are the last people I would want in charge of teaching my kids.

    • Anonymous

       How is Friedman wrong?

    • Billg

       Also on education, Bill is a very smart guy, but he appears to have no clue as to what is wrong with the US education system. And from what I can tell, it’s not that we don’t have more Charter schools, or school coupons for poor kids. It’s that we don’t value teachers in the first place. Second, we don’t track those kids down and refuse to pass them along in their grades. If we spent 1/4 of the money we are willing to spend to lock them up when they cross the law on teaching them BEFORE they got out of hand, we wouldn’t have to lock them up…. ok maybe if they became bankers we would but at least we’d know where to find them.

  • Jules

    the problem with secondary ed is that it’s run more for the benefit of teachers and academics than for students. Some more radical ideas are to banish “certification” of teachers – just let anyone who is good at teaching math teach it. That’s what John Gatto (teacher of the year in NYC) recommends… I can imagine the screams from the teachers unions. Also schools dont teach all that much that is actually useful outside of academia – life skills such as starting a company, using your initiative need to be there via real life experiences , outside of the classroom. the future of ed is 20% classroom and 80% experience – yachting (nav, math) , orienteering , visiting factories etc .