Famed computer whiz and philanthropist Bill Gates gave a special shout-out to Fresno Unified at the annual Great City Schools conference, held in Cleveland last week.
After pledging nearly $2 billion to innovations in education, Gates pointed to a program the district started last year as an example of the direction he wants to see schools take.
“Many states, districts and schools now have the data they need to track student progress and achievement, and some are using it to great effect,” Gates said in his speech at the event. “In Fresno, a new data system revealed that students weren’t aware of their college options. So, the district created individualized college information packets for every senior who met the state’s college requirements. The result was a 50 percent increase in the number of students applying to California public universities.”
50%More Fresno Unified students applied to UC and CSU schools outside of Fresno after the packets were sent home.
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Fresno Unified’s college packet program sends high school seniors home with individualized packets with information about the colleges they are eligible to apply for, and connects families with financial aid resources. The packets increased the number of students applying to UC and CSU schools outside of Fresno by about 50 percent.
Fresno Unified’s graduation rate is 85 percent, but less than 50 percent of students meet A-G requirements, which are courses required to get into college.
Kurt Madden, Fresno Unified’s chief technology officer, attended the Council of Great City Schools conference – an event for the country’s largest urban districts – and said he was pleasantly surprised by Gates’ comments.
Many states, districts and schools now have the data they need to track student progress and achievement, and some are using it to great effect.”
Bill Gates at the Great City Schools conference
“The takeaway was there’s no silver bullet, and it’s really about the ecosystem – that learning can be more local. The way you teach and the way you address your kids is different across cities,” Madden said. “The reality is (Gates) does not spend much in California, so it was very significant for him to get up there and say, ‘here’s how we’re going to spend money in the future,’ and then highlight two examples in California – both that Fresno is involved in.”
Gates also gave a nod to the CORE districts, a group of eight schools in California, including Fresno Unified, that have implemented new academic standards and aim to “use more than just test scores” to measure student success.
“We believe this kind of approach – where groups of schools have the flexibility to propose the set of approaches they want – will lead to more impactful and durable systemic change that is attractive enough to be widely adopted by other schools,” Gates said.