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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Seven Reasons Why Rich Philanthropists Fail at Making Systemic Changes in Education

Seven Reasons Why Rich Philanthropists Fail 
at Making Systemic Changes in Education
Recently at least a dozen media outlets reported on the failure of Bill and Melinda Gates foundation’s effort to improve the quality of education in selected schools and districts.
For example, check these links
Why are so many?
Naturally, not because it is about failing schools – this topic has become boring for the most of the media (same old, same old, nothing changes).
The attraction, of course, is the name – Bill Gates, one of the reaches persons on the planet – and the amount of money basically lost for nothing.
First, as a person of science I would like to point out that a failed experiment is not a failure – if it is being used for the following analysis of what went wrong, why, could it have been prevented, why hadn’t, how to fix it, and what to do not to repeat it in the future.
At this point, though, it is not clear if such an analysis will be performed, or if it will, what will be the level of rigor.
The more important point, though, is the fact that this is not the first time a rich businessman was trying to improve education on a large scale and failed, and not the last time, either.
Another big example of the past failure is an experiment backed by Mark Zuckerberg and detailed in the book “The Prize”, by Dale Russakoff (
The example of the future failure is the Ms. Lauren Jobs’ initiative “Transform the American High schools” (
Of course, there is no problem at all to improve education of students in a small number of selected schools, that is literally no brainer; the strategy is very simple:
1. Find and hire good teachers – there are always good teachers who would be happy to work in a special school.
2. Ask them (teachers!) what the need and do the best to accommodate their requests.
3. Gather and build a good support team of professionals: administrators, specialists, etc.
4. Provide the resources.
But the claim Ms. Jobs does, which is to transform all American high schools – will not be fulfilled. She still may be able to transform some American high schools, but no more (
Why do all those rich and accomplished people fail when they try to reform education?
There are multiple reasons for that to happen. I would like to list the most important ones.
1. Arrogance.
I don’t mean the feeling of self-confidence which every accomplished person should have and has. I mean the unsupported belief that “If I managed to become rich I will manage to solve anything”.
It is not their fault, actually, that the riches are so arrogant. Theatrical people have a saying: “It is a crowd who plays the King”, and a similar phrase: “Followers make Leaders” (from Al Shugart) is a part of a business wisdom (and fairy tails: The Emperor's New Clothes). Of course, not everyone agrees with these statements, but they provide a very good insight into the reasons why rich and accomplished people feel invincible.
Because everyone around them believes in that! And this belief from everyone around makes them – the rich – to believe even more in their own ability to manage anything. It is basically the same affect we observe when parents constantly tell their children: “you can do anything!”. Well, they don’t. This is a good attitude, but when this attitude is not countered by a realistic expectations and reason, it may (and will) lead to a crash and a disappointment (which is not the end of the world, of course, one important feature of every successful person is how he or she deals with their failures).
2. This brings us to the second reason.
Outside of their business activities (where they have to deal with competitors), and outside of their circle of their peers (friends who are also rich and accomplished), rich and accomplished people are surrounded by the crowd which (almost) never challenges their views and opinions. It does not mean that the crowd bluntly flatters the rich (but that happens, too). It simply means that when the choice depends on them, subconsciously rich people (as we all do) tend to keep connections with the people who have similar views. Hence, when a rich person says: “I got this idea, what do you think?”, most of the time he or she hears back; “Great!” or “Nice”, or “Smart”, with some of “Maybe we just try to twist it a little?”.
Since for a rich person all his/her projects outside of the main business are some sort of pet projects, one does not feel the need to manually build the “team of rivals”.
3. A successful business manager is not an accomplished professional in the area he or she supports by pushing for his or her pet project. Hence, he or she relies on the opinion of the professionals in the field. But in every field, there are different groups with different views and approach to the development of the field, and they compete with each other for attention and for the funds. It is absolutely natural for a manager to limit his or her communication with only people who already express similar views. In result, his or her team represents only one possible school of thoughts. There is no challenge. And without challenge, the risk of choosing the direction which will lead to a dead end is very high.
4. Rich accomplished managers tend to solve social problem using technocratic means. They operate (subconsciously) on the premise: “I know what to do, I just need people who will do it and be good at that”. And they transfer this way of thinking on all human practices, including politics and education. They do not see the difference between managing warehouse workers and teachers or populace. But there is a difference, and it is big. Warehouse workers operate based on the instructions developed for them by an expert in the filed (an engineer, logistics professional, etc.). Teachers operate based on their own beliefs, their beliefs represent their professional foundation, and then, on the top of that, the content knowledge, group managements, etc. comes into a play. The best what a technocratic approach can do is to force teachers into imitating activities which would look like an improvement by the indicators developed by the manager (we do what we are paid for), but without any real improvement in the final outcomes of the teachers’ work.
BTW: even the business world has examples of a technocratic mismanagement leading to a crash of a big a seemingly unbeatable company (e.g. Motorola; for a while its employees were getting bonuses for having a patent, and the number of patents skyrocketed, but the result is that the inventor of a cellphone now is playing catch, just trying to survive).
5. The technocratic approach to managing human practice works when the structure of the said practice is very well known. In that case a manager basically builds a complicated version of a conveyor belt. This approach basically assumes that the science on which the human practice based is very well developed. This explains why rich accomplished people like such projects like exploring the outer space, other planets, or eradicating some disease or all of the diseases (
But there is no such thing as a science of education. It simply does not exist. There is a scientific field! But it is not yet a developed science; it is in its alchemy state and is still waiting to become chemistry. But no educator in the team around a rich philanthropist would say: “Look, we don’t really know what we do, and if it will be successful. There is no science which would tell us that our strategy will work. We basically just are using heuristic (a.k.a. reasonable guessing).” I think there is no reason to explain WHY no one says that (
6. In result, no rich and accomplished philanthropist makes any investments into the development of the science of education.
7. The circle is completed. The next failure is ahead of us.
The first step a rich and accomplished philanthropist should make in order to eventually achieve some systemic and systematic positive changes in education is starting building the “team of rivals”. 

There is a wide spread, commonly assumed misunderstanding that the quality of the projects selected by philanthropists depends on the quality (professionalism, motivation, experience, ...) of the author's of those projects. 
That is wrong.
The quality of the projects selected by philanthropists depends on the quality (professionalism, motivation, experience, ...) of the judges selecting those projects. And no one - not a single
philanthropist - has a SYSTEM in place which would assess the quality of the decisions made by the judges.There are no clear and specific criteria, and no followup analysis of who made the decisions, what decisions were made,  and how did it play out later - at least in the open (despite declaring the openness in the functioning of their foundation).
In 1823 Russian diplomat and writer Alexander Griboyedov wrote a play "Woe from Wit"
Every Russian school student had to learn the monologue of the main character of the plain, which begins from he question: "And who are the judjes?" (translation may vary).


Thank you for visiting,
Dr. Valentin Voroshilov
Education Advancement Professionals
To learn more about my professional experience:

A copy of a note from the main page.

am not an idiot or a reckless person. The reason I can allow myself writing what I think, even if that is perpendicular to commonly adopted and conventional views, is that my financial situation is sufficient and stable. Of course, as a normal person, I wouldn't mind making more money, or being involved in more interesting projects (as described in my generic resume). But I do not have to pretend to be someone I'm not to make my living. 

This is a so lazy strategy - “We, philanthropists, call on all the innovators, come to us, apply for a grant - but follow all this restrictions we put in place, we will chose those who jumps the best through all our hoops”.  Want to do something really visionary? Create a team of professionals who would be traveling across the country seeking the actual talent - teachers who actually do an extraordinary job. Like an art treasure hunt, or like baseball scout do.

Another visionary project would be - saving the pockets of high intelligence. Americans are getting dumber and dumber. Not just less informed, not just more ignorant, but they are loosing their ability to reason. Maybe AI will eventually make this ability obsolete, and  robots will treat people like their pets. But I wold rather formed an institution solely responsible for study human intelligence and the ways to boost it on a mass scale, or at least to prevent its massive decline.

So, I call on anyone close to Bill Gates - don’t be shy or scared - make him read some of my publications about him, and about education.

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