Business leaders have been trying to play the hero and solve education problems for a long time. Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, H. Ross Perot, Louis Gerstner, Walter Annenberg, Bill Gates. Sometimes they see it as their extracurricular activity after their pile of wealth is getting too tall to see over and they want to leave their mark on society. Their choice of eduphilanthropy is a wonderful one, but they tend to range between two extreme categories. (1) hopelessly naive, charging like a bull in a china shop (2) careful, thoughtful, and successful in bringing about change.
So far, Bill Gates is the former category. (Click on continue for why).
The biggest problem with the BMGF (why personalize this?) is that they don't appreciate the value of real research. They pay lip service to research, but look at who and what they fund. I don't want to name names, but most of these are not serious social scientists seeking causal explanations, but "policy" researchers who are more advocates and aggregators of others' research than producers of knowledge themselves. Fine people, but not the ones you want to render judgment on the effectiveness and impact of multi-million dollar interventions.
The "evaluation" research (e.g. of the Gates Millenium Scholarship program), seems to be more outcomes tracking than any serious attempt to compare those outcomes to what would have happened to the awardees had the program not been available.
I have a great deal of hope that BMGF will evolve into a more questioning, research-savvy operation, but for the sake of the children who could benefit from their philanthropy, I hope it happens sooner rather than later.
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