Bill Gates Visits KY Schools, Praises State’s Education Commitment, Progress

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and now a philanthropist focused on some of the world’s biggest problems, quietly visited schools in Eastern Kentucky in November. His wife and partner in this work, Melinda, accompanied him.

What he said after that visit is big news: education reform in Kentucky is working. It’s big news not only because he said it, it’s big news because it’s true and is backed up by facts.

He didn’t come with any new public policy agenda, but paid attention to what we know is the most important factor in student success: the adults who teach them. And, of course, on the students.

In a blog post dated Jan. 5 of this year, he described his visit to Floyd and Pike Counties giving credit where it is due. In fact his title of his post is, “How the Tough Got Going in Kentucky.”  He wrote that he found positive teachers and administrators focused on the kids, and using new ways to ensure they learn.

He also referenced Kentucky’s long commitment to education reform dating back to the Kentucky Education Reform Act, which included additional financial investment, particularly in low-income areas.

He said, “What’s happening at Betsy Layne (High School) and other Kentucky schools show what’s possible when students are held to high standards and good teachers have the opportunity to become great. A longtime partner of our foundation’s education work, Kentucky is reaping the rewards of many years of investment in education reform. It set a high bar for what all students should know so they can be prepared for college or enter the workforce.”

He also noted that a recent reform included a professional growth and effectiveness system with the goal of making them more effective. And, he said, teachers told him the system has been an opportunity to get better, not a means of punishment, which many had feared.  Teachers now observe each other and share ideas.

What strikes me is that Gates is not ideological one way or other in his comments.   He didn’t call for privatization of public schooling, nor did he defend everything about public education.

He is highlighting what works. And, he came to Kentucky to do that!

Take in the good news about Kentucky’s schools. More kids are learning at high levels and graduating from high school. More needs to be done, but we are on an upward trajectory, and we should make adjustments, not start over.

For more information on what Bill and Melinda Gates found, go to the blog site:, and read an editorial about their visit in the Lexington Herald Leader at

Gates published a second blog post about an interview with students, highlighting one young woman who will be the first in her family to go to college.  He and Melinda were also interviewed for the “Bobcat Broadcast.” A video of that chat is available at the web site, too.





About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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