Happy Birthday, Bill Gates: Education Innovator and Disruptor

Jeffrey Simons

Happy Birthday, Bill Gates: Education Innovator and Disruptor

By Jeffrey Lee Simons

Some people wouldn’t think that a student who dropped out of Harvard after less than 2 years would make much of himself. In the case of Bill Gates, they’d be wrong. Gates went on to found Microsoft and become one of the most successful, wealthiest people in the world.

And while everyone knows about his role in the personal computer revolution that literally changed the way the world works, not everyone knows about Bill’s roll in the education revolution, including advances in online education.

Bill and his wife Melinda run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which according to the Economist is the largest transparently operated charitable foundation in the world. That foundation is making one of its goals the improvement of education. The foundation supports the Common Core Standards, which are an attempt to standardize student learning in public school grades K-12 across the US. Along with their partner, the Pearson Foundation, they are developing online courses that are aligned with Common Core standards in reading and math.

But more than that, the Gates Foundation is supporting education oriented projects, surveys, studies, teacher town halls and documentaries like “Waiting for Superman.” In 2010, the foundation was spending over $700 million a year on US education alone.

The foundation worked with over 3,000 teachers and the American Federation of Teachers on a research project called “Measures of Effective Teaching” to find out what is actually working and what isn’t.

In October, Bill and Melinda wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing teacher reform, and how to give teachers what they know they need to succeed... and what they don’t know that they need to succeed. (You can read that article here.)

One of Bill’s most important contributions in the arena of online education has been his vocal and financial support for fellow online education innovator and disruptor Salman Khan and his Khan Academy. His glowing praise for Khan helped break down resistance and put this breakthrough education innovator on the map. After he talked about the Khan Academy at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2010, Silicon Valley and the national media took notice, and money began pouring in.

So is it ironic that this Harvard dropout is one of the leaders in the revolution in education, or does it actually make sense?

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to get to work. He didn’t need the traditional educational model to succeed. In fact, during much of Bill’s school years, he was also pursuing educational opportunities and working on his own, outside of the traditional model.

Perhaps that puts him in a perfect position to look at an educational system that is not serving the needs of its constituents or living up to its potential, and figure out how to transform, disrupt and innovate it.

Happy Birthday, Bill Gates, and keep up the good work!

Guest blogger Jeffrey Simons has been in advertising since the mid-80’s, when faxes were “new technology” and portable computers were the size of suitcases. Now, as Storyteller-in-Chief for his own social media consultancy, JL Simons Marketing & Advertising Consulting, he gets to tell true stories to interested readers for deserving brands. 

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