Bill Gates to billionaires: Donate, donate, donate!

Bill and Melinda Gates (photo by Kjetil Ree)

Bill and Melinda Gates, together with Warren Buffet, were on the Charlie Rose show last night to make a big annoucement: they’ve asked America’s billionaires to make a moral commitment to donate half or more of their fortunes to charity. Fortune has estimated that up to $600 billion could be at stake if the 400 wealthiest Americans go along with the “Giving Pledge” concept proposed by Buffet and the Gateses.

Buffet pledged back in 2006 to donate at least 99 percent of his money — now estimated at $47 billion — to charity, with much of it being distributed through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation, which supports the work of The Hechinger Report, focuses on improving global health, global development, and U.S. education.

On the subject of U.S. education, Bill Gates, Sr. recently sat for an interview with his son — the Microsoft founder — at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. (I previously blogged about their conversation, and the question I asked Jr.,  here.) The interview can now be seen in its entirety here on the 92nd Street Y’s blog.

This is what Bill Gates, Sr. had to say about American education (starting at 27:50 in the video for those who wish to skip ahead):

“With all the greatness of this country, we have ended up with a lousy public education system. And there are so many countries in this world that are doing a better job of educating their children than this very sophisticated, intelligent, democratically operated place.  And it needs a lot of change, the most fundamental element of which is to figure out a way to change the relationship between the school system and its teachers so that there is more incentive brought to bear on the person who is teaching in our public schools — and thereby … liv[e] up to the notion of being a profession and attracting more people so that skills are rewarded, and so that we know what teachers are really doing a good job for their kids and who is not doing as good a job…  It’s a fundamental problem, it’s going to take a lot of time to move away, but things are happening… There are cracks in the dike. We’re beginning to see different things happen…”

Indeed, lots of new things are happening on the education front — from important research on teacher effectiveness (funded in large part by the Gates Foundation) to teacher contracts that could significantly alter how teachers are compensated and earn tenure.

To continue the conversation begun by Bill Gates, Sr.: in what concrete ways could or should “the relationship between the school system and its teachers” change? We welcome your thoughts.

Justin Snider