Learning from Bill Gates

When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was first launched, its founders asked a fundamental question:

“How can we help the most people, with the greatest effect on their lives, for each dollar spent?”

It’s interesting to observe the thinking of someone putting in their own money to solve a problem.

In his book, “Here’s My Plan to Improve our World – And How You Can Help”, Bill Gates wrote:

“If you want to have a big impact, you need a leverage point – a way to put in a dollar of funding or an hour of effort and benefit society by a hundred or a thousand times as much.”

ROI Considerations

As a steward of his foundation’s resources, Gates’ concern is ROI – return on investment. He’s looking for a massive ROI from a timely insertion of resources at a strategic point of leverage.

Like investors, education decision makers are also looking to inject resources so as to maximize impact. In assessing ROI related to curriculum choices, they will ask:

“Where is the strategic point of leverage where we can invest precious dollars, and precious classroom time, and what will the ultimate return on our investment be?”

A strategic point of leverage exists in the opportunity to help minority children at a young age.

A program that can successfully close the achievement gap by boosting the reading proficiency of minority children (one of the most vexing problems in education today) can deliver massive ROI.

According to the Center for American Progress, if the US were able to close the educational achievement gaps between native-born white children and black and Hispanic children, the economy would be 5.8 percent larger in 2050. That’s massive ROI!

The key is program quality, that is to say, the program must work. Price is also important, but secondary to quality results. In fact, according to a RAND Corporation study, the features associated with more successful programs tend to be costly and more money may need to be spent to obtain greater benefits. In terms of ROI, a low price does not necessarily mean the best deal.

Another consideration is how much classroom time needs to be devoted to any new program. Programs expressly designed with classroom efficiency in mind will have a qualitative advantage as classroom time (a precious resource) is maximized.

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