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Billionaires Respond: 'If I Were Education Czar'

by Susan Ohanian I don't 'do' cable --or any other TV, for that matter--so I can only tell you that something called Squawk Box describes itself as: the ultimate "pre-market" morning news and talk program, where the biggest names in business and politics tell their most important stories.

Okay, then,a confab of billionaires dumping on public education comes as no surprise.

This CNBC Squawkbox features three smug, rich old men mouthing self-serving nonsense about public schools: Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway CEO; Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway vice-chairman; and Bill Gates, on education in America. Here's Gates (Thanks to Anthony Cody for this transcript.

Gates: One piece of good news is that charter schools are doing a very good job of educating kids in the inner city. Where typically dropout rates are very, very high, and very few kids go to college. The good charters have overcome that by using long school day, long school year, a different way of working with the teacher, amazing results have taken place. You̢۪re absolutely right, we haven̢۪t moved the needle for most students. Charters are only a few percent, so we have to spread those best practices in order to get real change.

CNBC: How do you do that in the public school system?

Gates: It's not easy. School boards have a lot of power, so they have to be convinced. Unions have a lot of power, so teachers have to see the models that are working, because although change may be scary, they want to be part of a successful model. So we need more pilot programs, more dialogue, to get all the entities, government, school boards, unions, moving towards a more intensive education process.

[Warren Buffett then suggests that people of all income levels in every community ought to send their children to public schools so everyone is invested in their success.]

Gates: Absolutely right. You want in every community the top people to be aware of the dropout rate, why is it that these inner city schools do such a poor job. This is the issue for the country in my view, that in terms of country-wide success and individual opportunity, the promise of our country, this is the most important issue, and we're not making as much progress as I̢۪d like. In fact, of all the foundation areas that we work in, I'd say this has proven to be the most difficult.

CNBC: Why is that?

Gates: There are some entrenched practices. It̢۪s a very big system, with over $600 billion a year being spent. It's a system very resistant to change. The best results have come in cities where the mayor is in charge of the school system, so you have one executive, and the school board isn̢۪t as powerful. So New York City made real progress. In Chicago, they're making real progress, but those are really the only cities where the mayor has a strong role.

Go to CNBC and listen to the Berkshire Hathaway vice-chairman explain that although it's popular among "the elite" to say that McDonald's offers "the wrong kind of food, he sees McDonald's as "one of the most successful educational institutions in the United States." He explains the ritual of getting his breakfast where people have "learned to smile at people."

— Bill Gates





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