The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent billions of dollars exploring the idea that smaller high schools might result in higher graduation rates and better test scores. Instead, it found the key to better education is not necessarily smaller schools but more effective teachers.

Some people might cringe while recounting how much money the foundation spent figuring this out. But the foundation's new CEO, Jeff Raikes, smiles and uses it as an example to explain that the world's wealthiest charity has the money to try things that might fail.

"Almost by definition, good philanthropy means we're going to have to do some risky...

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