Bill Gates and his charitable foundation have been working to reform the public education system for years now. The result? Utter failure and a hint of despair (WSJ):
"It's been about a decade of learning," says the Microsoft co-founder whose Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is now the nation's richest charity. Its $34 billion in assets is more than the next three largest foundations (Ford, Getty and Robert Wood Johnson) combined, and in 2009 it handed out $3 billion, or $2 billion more than any other donor. Since 2000, the foundation has poured some $5 billion into education grants and scholarships.
"But the overall impact of the intervention, particularly the measure we care most about—whether you go to college—it didn't move the needle much," he says. "Maybe 10% more kids, but it wasn't dramatic. . . . We didn't see a path to having a big impact, so we did a mea culpa on that." Still, he adds, "we think small schools were a better deal for the kids who went to them."A decade of learning. And just what is it that Bill Gates has learned over the last decade?
Asked to critique these endeavors, Mr. Gates demurs: "I applaud people for coming into this space, but unfortunately it hasn't led to significant improvements." He also warns against overestimating the potential power of philanthropy. "It's worth remembering that $600 billion a year is spent by various government entities on education, and all the philanthropy that's ever been spent on this space is not going to add up to $10 billion. So it's truly a rounding error."
This understanding of just how little influence seemingly large donations can have has led the foundation to rethink its focus in recent years. Instead of trying to buy systemic reform with school-level investments, a new goal is to leverage private money in a way that redirects how public education dollars are spent.
Oh good grief! The man has learned nothing but thinks he has learned that there simply isn't enough money being thrown at the problem. It begs the question whether there ever could be.
Bill Gates has billions of dollars in his foundation and yet it does him no good because he's coming at the problem all wrong. He's trying to fix something that isn't broken. He is operating off the flawed premise that public education is a.) meant to educate (defined as, what?) and b.) can actually fulfill that objective in a state of calculational chaos.
What is Bill Gates's problem-solving methodology?
"I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts."
Great news, Bill! The work has been done for you, the research already funded, the basic facts laid out and a real solution comes with it all. The best part? It won't cost you a penny!
Here's your homework assignment, Little Billy. Happy reading!