The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today unveiled new directions for its education giving, which include working to double the number of low-income students who complete some kind of postsecondary degree.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today unveiled ambitious new directions for its education giving, which include working to double the number of low-income students who complete some kind of college or post-high school degree.

Efforts also would be made to identify and pay higher salaries for good teaching, help average teachers get better, devise better tests and create a national set of learning standards for high schools.

Bill and Melinda Gates announced these and other plans today to a group of about 100 guests in Seattle that included many big names in U.S. education.

Bill Gates told the group that improving schools is what he and Melinda see as “the best path to equality in America.”

The new initiative will increase the amount that the foundation — already the biggest giver in U.S. education — spends each year to improve the nation’s schools. Foundation officials are not yet saying how much.

The foundation has spent $4 billion on education in the past eight years — half on scholarships and half on its work to improve high schools.

The leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions were there, as well as superintendents of some of the biggest districts in the country, including New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. Advisers to president-elect Barack Obama also were present, as were several people who are rumored to be in the running to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education.

The initial reaction to the foundation’s announcement was positive — not unexpected from a group made up of those who have received Gates grants or that the foundation considers its partners in figuring out how to improve schools.