Bill Gates is one of the leading critics of the American high school. He says the nation's high schools are failing too many students of color, and failing to prepare every student for college.
Gates laid out his concerns at a March 7 hearing before a U.S. Senate education committee.
Gates testified that he is worried about U.S. competitiveness, especially in the areas of math and science. He wants to double the number of science, math and technology graduates in the country by the year 2015.
Gates -- and his money -- drive a lot of the debate over high school reform. The Gates Foundation, which was founded by Gates and his wife Melinda, has an endowment of $33 billion, and has committed to spend $1.7 billion on 1,800 high schools around the country.
Gates wants to redesign today's large comprehensive high schools, particularly those in urban areas. Gates' money is building new smaller schools, and dividing big schools into smaller entities within the same building. One wing might focus on technology, another on the arts.
The Gates Foundation's "3Rs" of high school reform stand for "Rigor, Relevance and Relationships." He says that means students need challenging courses, classes that relate to their lives, and adult role models who will help them succeed.
Gov. Pawlenty shares many of the concerns of Bill Gates, and in fact, quoted Gates during his State of the State speech on Jan. 17, when he talked about education reform.
Pawlenty said high schools need to modernize to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow. He described high schools as a "one-size-fits-all assembly line model" trying to educate students in a high-tech world.
Pawlenty wants schools to better prepare students for careers in math and science, and offer tougher classes and more college preparatory courses.
Pawlenty has also adopted the "3Rs" formula for reform, although his list is slightly different.
Pawlenty's "3Rs" stand for "Rigor, Relevance and Results," instead of the "relationships" piece found on Gates' list.
The governor's proposal for "3R" high schools would give schools an extra $200 per student, starting in 2009, if they meet six criteria.
1. A personal graduation plan for each student;
2. College access programs or pupil support services for students.
3. Rigorous and relevant courses for all students.
4. High-quality teacher and principal leadership.
5. Use of data for school improvement.
6. A requirement that all students take at least one year of post-secondary education while in high school -- either college courses or technical education.
It is unclear, however, if Pawlenty's proposal will get any traction in the Legislature this year, since many lawmakers are more focused on beefing up early childhood education.