Don't invest in schools. They are black holes.
Invest in teachers and students.
Also, teaching is not a transferable skill set. It is an art. Get it?
Bill Gates: It's the Teacher, Stupid
BURLINGAME - Bill Gates on Monday released his first annual letter from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The former Microsoft chairman was encouraged by buddy and big donor, Warren Buffett, to start penning his thoughts on philanthropy.
In the letter, Gates was measured in his assessment of the foundation's progress. In one of its biggest endeavors, high school education (over $2 billion spent so far), he wrote: "Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students' achievement in any significant way."
One reason: lousy teachers.
Gates, naturally, has looked at lots of data and a new area of interest for him is teacher effectiveness. He started with a data point: "Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school."
On a call with journalists, Gates pointed out that both experience (as measured by years on the job) and master's degrees (which carry great weight in teacher hiring) show no bearing on whether someone will be a great teacher or a mediocre one.
Gates didn't say whether the tenure-based pay system and job security favored by unions plays a role, but he wants to figure out a fix. "We need to identify effective behaviors [of great teachers] so we can transfer those skills to other teachers," he said. "It is amazing how little [a] data-driven approach to teacher effectiveness has been taken."
Only 71% of American children graduate high school in four years; Gates wants to bring that up to 80% by 2025.
The letter covers the foundation's wide-ranging efforts in infectious diseases, agricultural innovation and education. Yet Gates assures he won't over-reach: "If foundations worked on half as many causes the depth of experience and impact would be greatly improved," he wrote.
Gates encouraged other foundations to donate more of their endowments to education than the government mandated 5%. "Needs are more acute now than ever," he said.
But if this year's stock market declines further, he'll be realistic. "I've told people here that if the market is as bad as it was in 2008, we would not increase our funding. We have just as much uncertainty as anyone else. But I'm an optimist in the long run."