Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bill Gates - Education Reform Expert Strikes Again

Once again, billionaire Bill Gates, philanthropist extraordinaire, announces his simplistic solutions for education reform at the Council of Chief School Officers annual meeting (Gates Urges School Budget Overhauls). In his speech, Gates recommends re-aligning school budgets, but then he focuses on specific teacher-related budget cuts like ending tenure (I agree, but for different reasons), eliminating incentive pay for graduate work, and worst of all, creating larger class sizes and reducing the number of teachers.

This article really frustrated me. How can Gates appoint himself an expert on education when he doesn't even take the time to back up his beliefs with research? Focusing solely on teachers is just wrong-headed. Sure teachers can get better, and I am against tenure - I saw enough bad teachers protected not only by the union but by administrators who simply liked them. But teaching is the core competency of education. A lot can be done to improve medical services by improving doctors' skills, for example, but would we undermine them by not rewarding them for keeping up with the profession? 

If we want to improve teaching, let's look at the top performing countries in the recent PISA report from OECD. The top countries view teachers as professionals and spend a lot of money on training them initially and then continuing to improve their skills with professional learning communities. They look at teaching and learning as processes that can be documented, replicated, and measured. 

Let's look at the process of teaching and learn from best practices. Targeting a few specific band-aids and focusing only on outcomes will do nothing to improve teaching and will only alienate those who are doing a great job and not being recognized.

By the way, great teachers are leaving American schools on their own. Several studies have shown that 50% of teachers leave within the first 5 years. This isn't only about pay, it's more about the hostile, bureaucratic, and stifling environment these professionals are working in. 

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