I just watched a thought-provoking 20-minute speech by Bill Gates where he outlines a couple of the most important problems his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is working on. The first is malaria, the second is the quality of education in the United States.
The disparity in the quality of education between high-income areas and low-income areas is astounding. As Gates states, "If you’re low income, even if you graduate high school, you have less than a 25% chance of ever completing a college degree. If you’re low income in the United States, you have a higher chance of going to jail than you do of getting a four year degree."
He then highlights KIPP, a successful school effort in Houston, and outlines some of his ideas on how to improve the quality of teachers. He also talks about some of the counter-productive measures that have been recently taken, namely that in many teachers' contracts it is stipulated that the principal can only visit their classroom once per year, and advanced notice must be given. Another is that in NY, you can not factor in teacher performance data into tenure decisions. Crazy. But, Gates says he's an optimist and thinks we can make dramatic improvements.