"Radical" Bill Gates Favors Education That Succeeds

Bill Gates is worried about education. In his presentation at the Ted conference this week, he outlined how fuzzy math accounting practices at the state level are hiding fiscal disaster that will ravage education budgets.

"Really, when you get down to it, the guys at Enron never would have done this. This is so blatant, so extreme," Gates said of state governments' accounting practices generally. "Is anyone paying attention to some of the things these guys do? They borrow money -- they're not supposed to, but they figure out a way -- they make you pay more in withholding to help their cashflow out, they sell off the assets, they defer the payments, they sell off the revenues from tobacco."

"It really is the young versus the old to some degree. If you don't solve what you're doing in health care, you're going to be deinvesting in the young," Gates said. "With the kind of cuts we're talking about, it will be far, far harder to get these incentives for excellence or to move over to use technology in the new way."

In this report from ABC News, Bill Gates' ideas on education are called radical - because he favors following an evidence based agenda to improve results instead of just doing what the unions want.

The value of measuring effectiveness is clear when you compare teachers to members of other professions - farmers, engineers, computer programmers, even athletes. These professionals are more advanced than their predecessors - because they have clear indicators of excellence, their success depends on performance and they eagerly learn from the best.

The same advances haven't been made in teaching because we haven't built a system to measure and promote excellence. Instead, we have poured money into proxies, things we hoped would have an impact on student achievement. The United States spends $50 billion a year on automatic salary increases based on teacher seniority. It's reasonable to suppose that teachers who have served longer are more effective, but the evidence says that's not true. After the first few years, seniority seems to have no effect on student achievement.