For Gates and Buffett, the Deity’s in the Details

As I write in the San Jose Mercury News today:

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett want the world’s billionaires to donate half their wealth to charity. If they’re successful with just their American peers, they’ll raise about $600 billion — an amount U.S. public schools spend in a single year. And therein lies a problem.

The problem is that one of their chief goals, shared by many of their billionaire peers, is to improve American education – an institution whose ultimate outcomes have not improved in four decades despite the infusion of trillions of additional dollars.

Buffett blames some of our educational woes on a “distorted” market system that rewards great investors ”with sums reaching into the billions,” while it “rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes.”

But the problem is not that our market system is distorted, the problem is that education isn’t part of it.

If we want educational excellence to be replicated and scaled up the way it is in other fields, we have to structure it as we have structured those other fields. Make it possible for the greatest educators to become billionaires, make it necessary for the worst to find different work, and let the former be separated from the latter through the countless choices of individual families.