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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 03/ 2/2011

The Bill Gates problem in school reform

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Paul Thomas, an associate professor of education at Furman University in South Carolina, who taught high school English for 18 years.

By Paul Thomas
In his Washington Post Op-Ed (28 February 2011), Bill Gates builds to this solution to education reform:

"What should policymakers do? One approach is to get more students in front of top teachers by identifying the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take on four or five more students. Part of the savings could then be used to give the top teachers a raise. (In a 2008 survey funded by the Gates Foundation, 83 percent of teachers said they would be happy to teach more students for more pay.) The rest of the savings could go toward improving teacher support and evaluation systems, to help more teachers become great."

Gates also includes his own foundation’s survey to give his claims the appearance of evidence-based reform (although he misrepresents even that), but this claim, and the continuing free pass Gates and other education hobbyists and celebrities receive from the media and the public (see the softballs tossed to Gates in an interview at Newsweek, for example), proves to reveal several ironic lessons in education reform:

Wealth and celebrity do not equal expertise. The United States is a celebrity culture, and we revere wealth because we aspire to wealth. Why do we listen to Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz? Because Oprah endorsed them--not because they offered the public credible expertise in their fields. The current education reform debate is being driven by wealth, celebrity, and life-long bureaucrats --- not by the expertise and experience of millions of teachers, scholars, and researchers who have credible evidence about the problems that face our public education system and the likely solutions that would move us closer to the promise of that system in our democracy.

Calls for accountability tend to come from those outside and above that accountability. As I will discuss later, the role of evidence is interesting and disturbing in the claims made by the new reformers, including Gates. A central part of the push to hold teachers accountable is tying teacher pay to evidence, but when these claims are made, Gates and others are never required to show any evidence themselves about their claims. As well, billionaires, millionaires, celebrities, and politicians all exist in lives that are least often accountable for their actions when compared to the vast majority of Americans.

Teaching and learning are not the simple transmission of a set body of knowledge from an authoritarian teacher and to a passive classroom of students. The smoldering charges that our schools are overburdened by "bad" teachers, and thus we need to improve our teaching core, has distracted us from considering first exactly what the teaching/learning process should look like in universal public education system built to support a free people and a democracy.

The new reformers have framed teaching as both the most important element in educational outcomes (although evidence refutes that simplistic claim) and a simple act of transmitting knowledge to a large group of students to raise test scores linked to national standards.

If we need the best and the brightest and if teachers alone can overcome the weight of poverty, then reducing teaching to a service industry contradicts internally an argument that is also easily disproved since both initial claims are false. Teaching and learning are messy, idiosyncratic, and nearly impossible to measure or trace to single points of causation.

The political and corporate elite as well as the general U.S. public simply do not respect teachers and do not value education. The United States, as the wealthiest and most powerful country in the history of humanity, has and can make anything happen we want. We move forward with wars when we decide we should, we bail out failing banks when we feel we should, we make a whole host of celebrities wealthy when we want (and we never hold them accountable for their egregious lack of respect for anything), and we could eradicate childhood poverty and support fully a vibrant and world-class education system--if we wanted to. But we don’t.

Evidence doesn’t matter, but it should. As the first point above suggests, the public seems content with celebrity and wealth, but skeptical of evidence. I have had dozens of experiences offering public commentary on education, citing extensively why I hold the positions I do, but one of the most common replies I receive is, "Anybody can make research say whatever they want." While I empathize with the sentiment, this belief is flawed because it oversimplifies the research debate in the same way that the new reformers oversimplify the education reform debate. The truth about research is that one study is interesting, but that one study proves little.

Once research has been peer-reviewed, while no guarantee, that study gains credibility. Then, as research builds to a body of peer-reviewed research with clear patterns, we reach safe ground for public claims and policy (see this about charter schools, for example). Neither cherry-picking studies to advance an agenda nor being cavalier and cynical about research is conducive to advancing humanity through our greatest gifts as human -- our minds.

Poverty is the unspoken and ignored weight on education outcomes, and while U.S. public education needs significant reforms, education reform will never succeed without the support of social reforms addressing childhood poverty and income equity.

This final ironic lesson from a billionaire holding forth repeatedly on education reveals its problem by the obvious complexity of the statement itself. The sentence is too much for our sound-bite culture that politicians feel compelled to appease. While we revel in making international comparisons to demonize our schools (falsely), we fail to acknowledge international evidence of how to address school reform.

Let me suggest two international approaches we should be considering, both from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (UK)---a compilation of evidence on the impact of poverty on educational success and a detailed consideration of wide-scale social and education reform.

In 2011, U.S. political leaders and the public appear disgusted with a public education system, but this sentiment has been with us since the Committee of Ten declared education inadequate in the 1890s. We must, then, come to terms with two facts: (1) We must drop Utopian claims about education because education is not the sole key to overcoming social failures, but a single element in the larger working of our society, (2) claims of crisis in education are misleading since the problems we are considering (student outcomes and drop-out rates, for example) are patterns that have existed for over a century.

Many are arguing that the new reformers must be valued since they are creating a debate about education and rattling the cage of an entrenched status quo that is failing. I find this argument weak since we have no evidence that inexpert celebrity claims are resulting in a close consideration of what is truly wrong with our schools and what should be pursued to create the world-class schools we claim we want.

In fact, this current round of school bashing and calls for accountability and reform are an intensifying of the exact same failed solutions we have tried for three decades--all the while ignoring the genuine problems and the weight of evidence for what reforms would work

And this leads to a question I have: If Bill Gates had no money, who would listen to him about education reform? No one--the same as who should listen to him now.

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 2, 2011; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  bill gates, gates foundation, gates interview, school reform, teacher evaluation teacher effectiveness  
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Comments

Keep digging in your heels (and attacking Gates/Obama/Bush/Duncan) Valerie Strauss, it's a surefire way to insure ALL the reforms you oppose with be enacted.

From the liberal Ezra Klein:

"If unions are to not just survive, but to actually flourish again, they need to create an identity beyond being a protection service for people who aren't very good at their jobs. For too long they've been defending individuals at the expense of the collective. Every time an incompetent teacher or overly aggressive cop hides behind a union, unions in general become a bit less attractive to everyone else. Next year, when a slew of beloved and decorated teachers are fired not because they were worse than the teachers who kept their jobs but because they were younger, good people everywhere will find themselves that much less sympathetic toward organized labor."

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/03/column_how_unions_can_be_more.html#more

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Valerie Strauss, why keep defending the indefensible?

From Richard Whitmire:

"What struck me about the backlash Rhee experienced in Washington was the cloak of protection everyone afforded the city’s teachers.

Politicians, parents, Washington Post columnists—they were all quick to rush to the defense of beloved teachers, citing their dedication and years of loyal service.

The fact that the District of Columbia ranked as the worst school district in the nation and that similarly poor, African-American children fared far better in other urban districts (as much as two years ahead in learning) seemed not to warrant a mention.

What mattered was that Rhee was questioning their life’s work."

Full commentary at:

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/03/02/22whitmire.h30.html?tkn=LXOFroJ1jb4CCbCbzG7zOxUTDdVZShKaSIC5&cmp=clp-edweek

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I read Bill Gates piece and I think he was trying to say good teachers are good-If that was the case So what? Is that really and educational goal or just a way to keep the conversation about who vs what and how all children can learn at high levels? Unfortunately foundations (rich folks with play money) have done little to advance the cause of systemic change for education for all. Historically they have had their pet projects, yet the foundation world essentially reinforces long standing educational inequity and elitism. Foundations support for black industrial arts education in the south essentially reinforced segregation). No advancement for groups as a whole. Because in reality that is not their goal.
Gates is not asking for a change in how all students who don't have access to rigorous learning experiences can really have access to serious level of curriculum and learning. DC doesn't even have a well articulated curriculum for the good teachers who are good (whatever that means) to follow. And quiet as it is kept teachers are not necessarily curriculum developers. So we just have a tread mill of teachers coming and leaving and striving toward-who knows what really. But Gates knows-good teachers are good- the argument is so circular.

However the picture above the article was something of substance Although nothing was really said about it. The picture caption was of students at Stoddard elementary school. This elementary school has instituted a curriculum that includes highly rigorous online program integrated within the classroom every day for every student. The program is also self paced to support students at their level of learning and I think each student works in it for just 20 minutes a day on it at school and the program is accessible form home for additional support. It includes a language arts and an inquiry based math component. No mention was made of the school's hard work in curriculum of that it has closed the achievement gap between black and white students. But of course the role of high quality curriculum can't and wont be discussed because while a focus on curriculum teaching and learning (the what and how of schooling) empowers parents and emboldens teachers, control of the (good/bad) people discussion (the who) results in power brokers. Unfortunately much of this 'good teachers are reform' is happening at the expense of our children. In DC elementary scores are declining for the first time in years because of the recent teacher treadmill this has created..Schools like Stoddard with stable curricular programs and stable teaching staff can provide a model out of this mess. But a stable focus on improving curriculum, teaching and learning does not serve the interest of reformers who want their people placed in positions of power to run unproven programs for their own largess. How sad for all of our children.

Posted by: rastajan | March 2, 2011 10:47 AM | Report abuse

From Bill Gates:

"We believe in a portfolio of options for public schools, and charters have been among the most successful of school approaches that we have supported. Charter-school networks such as KIPP and YES have achieved impressive results working with students who have historically been underserved by traditional public schools.

Because of the freedom they have, charters can more easily innovate. But it is clear that what makes charter schools successful is not much different from what makes any other school successful: high standards and expectations, college-ready curriculum, and, above all else, effective teachers.

Charters, like other schools, must focus on these key elements in order to provide the quality education that all students deserve."

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-01-25/5-questions-for-bill-gates-the-full-interview/

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 10:58 AM | Report abuse

In Paul Thomas' anti- capitalistic world view, Bill Gates wouldn't have any money to give away. And there would be no water bills.

From Paul Thomas:

"From Yet, questions remain, and I cannot improve upon King’s similar charge from “Where Do We Go from Here?”:

“I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about ‘Where do we go from here,’ that we honestly face the fact that the Movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society.

There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth.

When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s market place.

But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this,

“• You begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the oil?’

“• You begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the iron ore?’

“• You begin to ask the question, ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two thirds water?’

“These are questions that must be asked.”

http://dailycensored.com/2011/01/12/21st-century-segregation-inverting-kings-dream/

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 11:07 AM | Report abuse

More from Bill Gates:

Governments will always play a huge part in solving big problems. They set public policy and are uniquely able to provide the resources to make sure solutions reach everyone who needs them.

They also fund basic research, which is a crucial component of the innovation that improves life for everyone. Businesses and nonprofits, including foundations, play important roles, too. The market drives businesses to solve a lot of problems—for example improving health care in the rich world. But markets don’t serve the poor in some important sectors, like health, because the poor can’t afford to pay.

In those areas, foundations can help drive innovation and take risks that governments and businesses can’t. Once we find solutions that work for the poor, we look to governments and business to take on the large-scale delivery."

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-01-25/5-questions-for-bill-gates-the-full-interview/

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Still more from Bill Gates:

"Although I don’t have a prescription for what others should do, I know I have been very fortunate and feel a responsibility to give back to society in a very significant way. It’s fun and quite rewarding.

I also think that businesses have an important role to play in solving big problems. It’s great to see companies devoting a small part of their top people’s time to solving those problems.

For instance, some pharmaceutical companies have been very generous in having some of their best researchers work on drugs for diseases that mainly affect the developing world. That’s a great example, and I hope more companies follow it."

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-01-25/5-questions-for-bill-gates-the-full-interview/2/

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

17% of charter schools are superior to public, with about 50% the same and the remaining 30+% weaker. But if the key is "freedom"--as the Gates quote suggests--then we need to offer public schools that same autonomy, right?

Two important questions (and I suggest everyone read Gladwell's excellent consideration of Gates in OUTLIERS):

(1) Why have those making calls for reform, such as Gates, all attended and/or chosen for their children schools UNLIKE what they are calling for (for example, student teacher ratios)? Compare the plans for universal public education against the characteristics of elite private schools.

(2) Would the sorts of technocratic and standardized schools Gates is suggesting (driven by tests) be conducive to or counter to the success of the type of elite and gifted person Gates himself is?

The calls for reform by Gates fail logic when placed in the context of these two questions.

I have NO experience or expertise in computers or technology, and I would never be so arrogant as to tell Gates how to run his profession--nor to tell the government to govern his business.

Educators are asking--since educators have NEVER controlled public education--to be afforded the same respect those in power expect us to give them.

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 2, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

How does attacking Gates help move your ideas and policy prescriptions forward?

70% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Bill Gates! Are you content with just sharing groupthink with the other 30%?

From The Pew Research Center:

"Gates is broadly popular across party lines; large majorities of Republicans,
Democrats and independents express a favorable view of him.

Democrats, in particular, have become more favorable toward Gates since 2000; 70% of Democrats express a favorable opinion of Gates, up from 61% in 2000. Republicans’ high regard for Gates is little changed from 2000 (72% favorable then, 75% favorable in March)."

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I think part of the problem here is that the people like frankb1 seems to think teachers have a lot more power than they do to effect much outside of their own classrooms. They can't fix poverty, they usually don't control any funds, they are often told what to teach and even how to teach it despite their own reservations about the programs. There were others with much more power who should be held accountable for the disasters in DC and Detroit rather than going after the teachers. Teachers are not indefensible: what is indefensible is the way leaders refuse to recognize the complexity that is education. There are NO simple answers here and we need input from everyone including the teachers that Bill Gates, et al, seem to have no problem criticizing.

Posted by: witchyrichy | March 2, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

plthomas3: Why have those making calls for reform, such as Gates, all attended and/or chosen for their children schools UNLIKE what they are calling for (for example, student teacher ratios)?

Why did Valerie Strauss send her children to Georgetown Day School, one of the most expensive, exclusive private schools in Washington?

I think Gates knows, as Valerie Strauss surely knows that our public schools are absolutely dreadful.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse

If our public schools are "absolutely dreadful" as you claim frankb1--that 83% of them are superior to the charter schools Gates endorses says what?

The formulas don't add up--just like most of the claims coming from the reformers: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2011/03/an_open_letter_to_bill_gates_h.html#comments

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 2, 2011 12:12 PM | Report abuse


@frankb1: "Keep digging in your heels (and attacking Gates/Obama/Bush/Duncan) Valerie Strauss, it's a surefire way to insure ALL the reforms you oppose with be enacted."

NO! Resistance is NOT futile!

Families will continue to say "NO!" to the bureaucrats, celebrities, politicians, and consultants who think they know what's best for our children.

--> LOCAL CONTROL OF PUBLIC EDUCATION NOW!
--> FEDERAL GOVT OUT!
--> CELEBRITIES OUT!

http://ksdcitizens.org

Posted by: spasticarex | March 2, 2011 12:18 PM | Report abuse

plthomas3: The goal of good commentary/OPed shouldn't just be to vigorously state a viewpoint, put to persuade as well. You do the first quite well, the second not as well.

I agree with much of what you write, but your tone is completely off-putting. Maybe it works in the Daily Censored, I don't think it works in the Washington Post.

Perhaps if you envisioned writing for an audience that was favorably disposed to Bill Gates your tone would be different. Or are you truly just writing for the Valerie Strauss' of the world? There obviously is a niche-market for that.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 12:39 PM | Report abuse

frankb1,

I am a teacher, not a persuader. My commentaries are intended to shake people, to ask that we step back from assumptions and norms. And then I offer evidence and questions and pathways for everyone to consider, wrestle, and conclude on their own. I happen to respect the dignity and humanity of every human and all human intellect/compassion. I also deeply doubt that many of our elites and leaders feel the same. as before peace

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 2, 2011 12:51 PM | Report abuse

plthomas3: As Ezra Klein suggested yesterday (see link below), I think your extreme rhetoric does great harm to the liberal/progressive agenda.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/03/column_how_unions_can_be_more.html#more

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 1:13 PM | Report abuse

You know what, I never really liked Gates anyway.

Posted by: DHume1 | March 2, 2011 1:32 PM | Report abuse

First, Paul Thomas makes it sound as if Bill Gates just the other day jumped up from his Aeron chair and decided to stick his nose into education. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made education (and libraries) the principal domestic focus for its philanthropy. The Foundation has worked many years, spent tons of money, and hired very good people (the current D of Ed deputy assistant secretary for innovation and improvement, Jim Shelton, came straight from the Gates Foundation), made some missteps (ah, the partitioning of troubled urban high schools into "academies" comes to mind), but has gone deep and wide into the improvement of K-12 in this country. You might disagree with the Foundation's focus, methods, solutions, letterhead, and credibility, but they certainly have done enough to make someone's big, fat, "How dare you!" completely undeserved.

What is more interesting is Thomas's use of the Gates's quote on the role poverty plays in educational outcomes. Thomas says, "This final ironic lesson from a billionaire holding forth repeatedly on education reveals its problem by the obvious complexity of the statement itself." The quote did not seem that complex to me. In fact, it seemed an attempt to acknowledge the larger societal factors that teachers and their supporters have said limit their efforts, however stalwart, to maximize educational outcomes. Gates handed over something of a billionaire-flavored olive branch. A small gesture, but a fruitful one I hope. We need something to salve the dynamic where reformers of urban education holler, "Poverty is not an excuse!" and teachers shout back, "I can't remake the world!" Teachers, Bill Gates seems to hear you. On this one at least.

Posted by: gardyloo | March 2, 2011 1:40 PM | Report abuse

When Gates fails as a businessman, for example with the unpopular Windows Vista, he can just release a new operating system. But when Gates fails schools with his education experiments, there are people's lives involved. It blows my mind that teachers are blamed for America's education issues when those controlling education reform are the farthest from the classroom.

Posted by: SupportPublicEd | March 2, 2011 1:47 PM | Report abuse

When Gates fails as a businessman, for example with the unpopular Windows Vista, he can just release a new operating system. But when Gates fails schools with his education experiments, there are people's lives involved. It blows my mind that teachers are blamed for America's education issues when those controlling education reform are the farthest from the classroom.

Posted by: SupportPublicEd | March 2, 2011 1:57 PM | Report abuse

"Why did Valerie Strauss send her children to Georgetown Day School, one of the most expensive, exclusive private schools in Washington?"

Posted by: frankb1

Perhaps because of this:
Georgetown Day School Mission Statement

"Georgetown Day School honors the integrity and worth of each individual within a diverse school community. GDS is dedicated to providing a supportive educational atmosphere in which teachers challenge the intellectual, creative, and physical abilities of our students and foster strength of character and concern for others. From the earliest grades, we encourage our students to wonder, to inquire, and to be self-reliant, laying the foundation for a lifelong love of learning."

In other words, the antithesis of the Gates/Rhee/Wal-Mart/TFA/KIPP version of "education."

Or this: "Georgetown Day School first opened its doors in 1945 as the first integrated school in a segregated city. Governed by a Board of Trustees elected by the parent body and administered by an appointed Head of School, it was founded by seven families who wanted to create a school committed not only to academic excellence and educational innovation but also to a value system emphasizing appreciation and respect for others. Because they wanted children of all races to learn together, the founders established GDS as a school where all would be welcome."

Imagine, a school created to provide an integrated education in a city, the Capital of the United States, mind you, that was still officially and legally segregated. Not only that, with a purpose to foster "respect for others" (not just those with power and money) and "a lifelong love of learning" (as opposted to the test-driven, scripted "education" Gates and his followers would foist on the rest of us).

Compare this to the KIPP philosophy (since modified after I called attention to it in response to a Jay Matthews column, to edit out the language about SLANT and the focus on standardized tests.)

"KIPP Academy Lynn Charter School will create an environment where the students of Lynn will develop the academic skills, intellectual habits and character traits necessary to maximize their potential in high school, college and the world beyond."
"Students learn to be active participants in the classroom by following the SLANT motto: Sit up straight, Listen, Ask and Answer questions, Nod your head if you understand, Track the speaker (i.e. make eye contact), whether that speaker is a fellow student or a teacher."

"Academic Skills - Calculate accurately - Read fluently - Write effectively - Comprehend fundamental knowledge."

"KIPP Academy Lynn will relentlessly focus on high student performance on standardized tests and other objective measures."




Posted by: mcstowy | March 2, 2011 2:18 PM | Report abuse

gardyloo,

I'll take the blame as a poor writer, but my comment about complexity refers to my OWN sentence, not anything by Gates. So I am a bit baffled by your comment. The only quote I have from Gates is at the very beginning.

This--"Poverty is the unspoken and ignored weight on education outcomes, and while U.S. public education needs significant reforms, education reform will never succeed without the support of social reforms addressing childhood poverty and income equity."--is MY comment, not Gates, and I believe it is central and complex, too complex for political use.

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 2, 2011 2:21 PM | Report abuse

From Richard Whitmire:

"What struck me about the backlash Rhee experienced in Washington was the cloak of protection everyone afforded the city’s teachers. ..."

Whitmire is a reform cult propagandist. Quoting him about education is like quoting Chief Justice Roger B. Taney on race relations or Phillip Morris on tobacco and health.

Posted by: mcstowy | March 2, 2011 2:24 PM | Report abuse

frankb1,

Your second linking to a piece on unions makes no sense to me. I live/work in a nonunion state and am not now nor have I ever been a union member. I also am neither a liberal nor a progressive. So not sure why you keep at that.

Not sure how citing evidence is extreme rhetoric either, but please watch the Daily Show clip posted here at TAS about the comments about teachers playing in the media, compare that to my writing, which includes citations, and then explain to me how my work is "extreme" in the context of the unfounded teacher bashing.

I am passionate, but I place that within evidence and careful scrutiny of my FIELD (this is my profession of almost 30 years) so I can't really apologize for that passion. But I do regret that my writing appears to make your considering the content impossible.

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 2, 2011 2:28 PM | Report abuse

plthomas: Think broader. Ezra is referencing intransigence, and the negative effects it can have on progressive movements.

Also, you're an English teacher so I know you understand the role and importance tone plays in critical writing.

Lastly, I am a liberal/progressive so I care a great deal that you are harming an agenda I support.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 3:24 PM | Report abuse

mcstowy: "Why did Valerie Strauss send her children to Georgetown Day School, one of the most expensive, exclusive private schools in Washington?"

You don't think the great teachers and excellent staff (non-union) at GDS had anything to do with it?

If you have $24,000/yr your kid can get an excellent education.

How exactly is GDS an integrated school?

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Thomas:

Sorry for the misunderstanding. You're a fine writer, but the formatting (set off italicized block) followed by your statement: "This final ironic lesson from a billionaire. . ."

Question: Could Bill Gates have said this? Not likely, but he (or whoever writes the op-eds that appear under his name) might well have thought it. I found many parts of his Post op-ed pragmatic, such as the following (which touches on the issue of poverty obliquely):

"We know that of all the variables under a school's control, the single most decisive factor in student achievement is excellent teaching."

So, my earlier post's second graph was, in large part, based on an erroneous reading. Still, I not only got to imagine a world where Bill Gates mind-melded with a former high-school English teacher, but also to to use the phrase "billionaire-flavored olive branch."

The larger issue--poverty and educational outcomes--needs all the comity and nerdogarchical intervention it can get. For half a century, US agencies and NGOs have spread the following good news around the developing world: the key to a improved standard of living, health, diet, gender equality, as well as lower birth rates and infant mortality is one thing--education. Better education for more people. Shiny and universal education.

Why not that singular focus here? And what do educational reform leaders mean when they say, "Poverty is not an excuse"?

Teachers in urban school districts see this as a direct challenge, and an unsustainable one, to take every single child--no matter the home circumstances--to academic proficiency. Results, not excuses. But actually, I think the challenge is more subtle. It's a challenge that asks teachers not to give in, not to lose faith in their capacity to make a signal difference in a young person's life. Poverty is not an excuse for not trying.

I don't really know poverty. I know "growing up without much money," which is the same thing for government statisticians, but different in its way.

Posted by: gardyloo | March 2, 2011 3:42 PM | Report abuse

frankb1 wrote: mcstowy: "Why did Valerie Strauss send her children to Georgetown Day School, one of the most expensive, exclusive private schools in Washington?"

You don't think the great teachers and excellent staff (non-union) at GDS had anything to do with it?
________________________________
I would bet that Georgetown Day has a rich curriculum that includes study in the sciences, social studies and the arts. I also suspect that the teachers there enjoy a degree of academic freedom which allows them to use a variety of teaching methods to reach their students. You can pretty much be assured that those students are not spending all day every day preparing for reading and math tests. I would also bet that they enjoy much smaller class sizes. Let's face it. The top private schools pretty much do the opposite of what Bill Gates suggests. Ask any experienced public school teacher and they will tell you that they would love that kind of freedom to teach the way they SHOULD be teaching!

Posted by: musiclady | March 2, 2011 3:44 PM | Report abuse

mcstowy: "Whitmire is a reform cult propagandist. Quoting him about education is like quoting Chief Justice Roger B. Taney on race relations or Phillip Morris on tobacco and health."

Richard Whitmire, like Ezra Klein, is pretty mainstream/progressive. Both become "reform cult propagandist" when they stray from the NEA/AFT party line.

Whitmire's a veteran newspaper reporter, former USA today editorial writer, author of the book "Why Boys Fail", and immediate past president of the National Education Writers Association.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

How exactly is GDS an integrated school?

Posted by: frankb1

Racially, ethnically, economically, sexual orientation, religion, any way you care to name. That includes both the students, staff and faculty. You don't read well, do you? The school was created for the very purpose of integration and that has not changed. If anything, the definition has expanded to include every conceivable type of diversity. Imagine a Christmas pagent with a Hindu Jposeph and a Jewish Mary, or a Passover assembly where the Exodus story is perfomed by Muslims, Christians and Buddist. Or the Free to be Me Assembly where ALL types of families are celebrated, not just the DOMA kind. Where enough financial aid is available so that each family pays according to their ability. The same is true of Sidwell, by the way. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Thomas Jefferson, in Fairfax for example...

Musiclady: Right on all counts: Music, athletics and the arts EVERY day. NO test prep. ERB's are administered as scheduled, then forgotten. This is the type of curriculum unions have to bargain for in terms of working conditions, otherwise Gates, Walker and frankb1 would have them drilling and killing 50 in a class, except, of course, when they were questioning evolution and climate change and learning about all the black soldiers who fought for the Confederacy.

Posted by: mcstowy | March 2, 2011 4:17 PM | Report abuse

mcstowy: Sidwell & GDS are not integrated economically, there is some financial aid (and a handful of full scholarships) but most of the students are from wealthy families like Valerie Strauss'."

At both tuition is $30,000+/yr. Financial aid awards range from $2,000 to $21,000/yr per student. So that means a minimum tuition of at least $9,000/yr per student.

http://www.gds.org/podium/default.aspx?t=122751

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 4:41 PM | Report abuse

mcstowy: Here's the Georgetown Day School (high school) breakdown by race/ethicity:

American Indian/Alaskan 3
Asian or Pacific Islander 78
Black 190
Hispanic 51
White 698
Total Students 1020

GDS is 63% white, DCPS are 93% black.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Sorry those are GDS elementary & high school numbers by race/ethnicity.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

GDS Student/Teacher Ratio: 8-1
DCPS Student/Teacher Ratio: 13-1

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Free from union constraints, union work rules and other union roadblock, Georgetown Day School can offer a full curriculum that includes study in the sciences, social studies and the arts.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 5:25 PM | Report abuse

frank B
Strauss sending her children to a private school doesn't make Bill Gates Right or unions wrong. Your reasoning is a bit flawed.

Posted by: rastajan | March 2, 2011 5:48 PM | Report abuse

The Bill Gates's problem in education reform is Bill Gates the "Dropout". Just look who is now speaking about education, A CEO WITHOUT A COLLEGE DEGREE. To listen to him willing to reform education is absurd and hypocritical. This is the same Bill that didn,t want to complete a college education, but, now that he is the Billionaire, he wants to become the World's no.1 educator as well??. Only the Dummies are left to trust this Bill's one.

Posted by: lkasina | March 2, 2011 7:05 PM | Report abuse

frankb1, are you actually suggesting that unionized public schools would offer a wider variety of courses if not for unions? I've never seen that argument before. Union members I know around the country, and union publications that I read consistently decry the narrowing of curriculum. I work in a unionized state and school system that offers a marvelously diverse curriculum in all subject areas, and the union has been helpful in negotiating work conditions that support innovation. I think you overreached on that argument - unless you can cite some evidence? Was there a union move somewhere to shut down science and social studies and the arts?

On the main point, Gates has a credibility problem on education. I don't give a rip that 70% of the public likes him. Popularity is not a measure of accuracy or insight. The bottom line is that when Gates talks about teaching and learning, I often don't recognize my own profession in his words. I don't think he understands teachers or schools very well. Most teachers I know find him unconvincing and find his suggestions to be ill-conceived. A critique of Paul Thomas' style or tone won't do anything for Gates' credibility.

Posted by: DavidBCohen | March 2, 2011 7:13 PM | Report abuse

My brother and sister-in-law sent their children to a private school for three reasons. First, both children were early readers just as I was, and the public school had no way of coping besides putting them in first grade and letting them be bored. Second, the private school was much more integrated than the public school they would have gone to. Third, several of the teachers, including the elementary teachers, had Ph.D.s in academic subjects; at the time, state standards offered no guarantee that a public high school teacher had ever taken any courses in the subject s/he taught. And possibly the fourth reason was that my sister-in-law had herself taught in the public schools.

Not all private schools are better than all public schools. But most of them are, simply because they emphasize the subject instead of the process.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | March 2, 2011 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Free from union constraints, union work rules and other union roadblock, Georgetown Day School can offer a full curriculum that includes study in the sciences, social studies and the arts.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 5:25 PM
_________________________
Unions are not the roadblocks to public schools offering a full curriculum. As a 35 year veteran, I can tell you that we used to offer a well-rounded full curriculum. That stopped once the state tests starting having such strong consequences. If you work in a poor school, chances are you are engaged in test prep all day. If you work in a school in an affluent area, then you are able to still offer a full curriculum because test scores typically are higher.

Posted by: musiclady | March 2, 2011 7:41 PM | Report abuse

@frankb

"Free from union constraints, union work rules and other union roadblock, Georgetown Day School can offer a full curriculum that includes study in the sciences, social studies and the arts."

What union constraints, work rules and other union roadblocks are you talking about?

Posted by: traceydouglas | March 2, 2011 8:37 PM | Report abuse

"the general U.S. public simply...do not value education."

This is about the only true thing in this article, except, it's not the general US public, it is actually derided certain subcultures within the public. It's not racial, because there are examples on both sides from every race, but we live in a society that puts academics at the bottom of the social heap. High schools seem to be more about sports and social events than getting into college. I'd drop interscholastic athletics.

I've been sending my kids through the Khan Academy curriculum. Amazing that a guy like Sal Kahn from the anti-socialist side of the world, who probably couldn't get a teaching job due to lack of credentials, can produce so much excellent content. Glad Gates gave him some $$$. With MIT OCW, I can watch Gilbert Strang, the guy who wrote the Linear Algebra textbook I used in school, give his lectures on the subject.

Posted by: staticvars | March 2, 2011 11:52 PM | Report abuse

Didn't Bill Gates spend about $2 billion on his "small schools initiative" before he decided it didn't work? Sure, it was his money to spend, but why are we still listening to his opinion about what works in education? Where is the accountability?

Posted by: bhorn1 | March 2, 2011 11:56 PM | Report abuse

The 'accountability' issue itself is incredibly vexing, especially if student performance on standardized test scores going to carry the bulk of that accounting work...

http://speakingofeducation.blogspot.com/2011/02/teacher-accountability-and-rating.html

Posted by: speakingofeducation | March 3, 2011 12:19 AM | Report abuse

The 'accountability' issue itself is incredibly vexing, especially if student performance on standardized test scores going to carry the bulk of that accounting work...

http://speakingofeducation.blogspot.com/2011/02/teacher-accountability-and-rating.html

Posted by: speakingofeducation | March 3, 2011 12:43 AM | Report abuse

gardyloo,

Thank you, both for your reply and for your thoughtful teasing out of a key issue. The formatting of the piece is mine and I fear I often merge my scholarly writing with popular work and throw people off (we have certain expectations for blogs/Op-Eds, etc).

The poverty issue, I believe, is being USED by the new reformers in two ways:

(1) Create the perception of "no excuses" to trigger the American faith in rugged individualism (which is idealistic and possibly naive, but clearly not supported by evidence); this approach wants to discuss the entire education reform debate in a vacuum, setting aside social factors and discussing education as if any child's life magically disappears once he/she steps into a classroom.

(2) Use the "no excuses" slogan to marginalize detractors as "defenders of the status quo--implying and even directly stating that anyone against the new reformers is FOR schools failing children, especially children living in poverty.

The evidence and even logic show that we need school reform INSIDE a much larger and more powerful addressing of social inequity, especially as that impacts children.

As one point of evidence, look at how PISA scores have been misused to demonize schools in order to mask that Finland, for example, has great schools within a society that allows only about 3-4% of the children to live in poverty (v. 21-22% in the US): http://nasspblogs.org/principaldifference/2010/12/pisa_its_poverty_not_stupid_1.html

Further, there is a great deal of misleading PR about "miracle" schools--which always prove to be less than advertised OR unlike the situations public schools must address (the case with charters that underserve ELL and special needs students).

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 3, 2011 7:11 AM | Report abuse

Paul Thomas states, "Teaching and learning are not the simple transmission of a set body of knowledge from an authoritarian teacher and to a passive classroom of students."

The more we move away from direct instruction and towards other methods such as inquiry-based, discover-based learning, the more the students will suffer. Where is the proof these methods work?

These methods are idealistic and theoretical. They confuse the students because the teacher shifts to only a facilitator. Information must be "discovered" by the student. In practice, what happens is that students end up with incomplete or inaccurate information. Frequently, there is no book - so there is nothing to refer back to.

Isn't the idea to transfer the knowledge, as Paul states? How can that knowledge be be transferred if the kids have to muddle through activities and discussions to even determine what that information is? Then they still must master it.

The more teachers move away from an authoritarian role, the more disciple problems you can expect. In addition, the more confused kids will be as to what their role is.

I have seen these methods in practice. They are dishonest, because the teacher withholds information rather than directly presenting it. The students must in essence play a game of charades before they even "discover" what it is they then need to go learn!

In more affluent areas, parents pick up the slack. What happens to underprivledged kids who may lack an adequate support system?

And why do we call teachers "teachers" if they are not going to directly explain and teach the material?

At least when the teacher is authoritarian and presents the material there is NO CONFUSION what is to be learned.

I think if the teachers want to serve as "facilitators" and have the kids do their job, they should fork over their paychecks to the students.

And they should explain to parents and students that they aren't going to directly teach the class. At least be honest.

Posted by: tina11 | March 3, 2011 8:45 AM | Report abuse

tina11,

Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., & Hyde, A. (2005). Best Practice: Today’s standards for teaching and learning in America’s schools (3rd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

The body of evidence above.

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 3, 2011 9:02 AM | Report abuse

frankb1: "Also, you're an English teacher so I know you understand the role and importance tone plays in critical writing."

frankb1, grab a mirror, read you 100s of posts on TAS, and get back to me. . .

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 3, 2011 9:04 AM | Report abuse

pithomas3:

"Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching"

http://www.cogtech.usc.edu/publications/kirschner_Sweller_Clark.pdf

The limits of these approaches that they cover in this report I saw with my own eyes.

Is k-12 public education really moving in this direction? My oldest will enter college and I put my youngest in a private college prep high school, so I will not personally be affected by this, but it bothers me very much.

This simply WILL NOT work.

Those of you promoting and implementing this are going to completely fail the students.

Posted by: tina11 | March 3, 2011 9:48 AM | Report abuse

It's interesting that this "discover" your own education movement with teachers as facilitators is coming at a time when the public is demanding more accountability from the teachers!

I'm sure that's no coincidence. It will give the teacher's cover to fold their arms and say, "not my problem."

Even the best teachers can't pull off the "inquiry-based" methods. It takes too long to "discover" everything through activities, and there isn't a safety net to make sure everyone has the necessary information. Then the kids STILL need to completely master the material (that they had to "discover").

Throw in some mediocre or lazy teachers (and I've seen plenty of those) and we have a complete disaster on our hands.

Teachers who don't think it's their job to teach!!

Only in America!

Posted by: tina11 | March 3, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

pithomas,

A little quick google search of Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., & Hyde, A. indicates they promote the writer's workshop approach in the Chicago area.

Our district used the 6 plus 1 traits of writing in k-8 and I am here to tell you that the kids CAN'T write!!! The high school incorporates a more traditional approach (thank goodness) and the private school is even more traditional (grammar, vocab, organization of the writing, etc.)

The English/Reading scores of the private high school are extremely high. They do things the old-fashioned way.

I feel bad for the public school students who are not being taught the necessary skills to do well.

These feel-good, idealistic methods may seem good in theory, but they simply don't produce results.

More people need to be award of the lack of direct instruction in our public schools and the idealistic notions behind the methods of "instruction" - if we can call it that.

Posted by: tina11 | March 3, 2011 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Free from union constraints, union work rules and other union roadblock, Georgetown Day School can offer a full curriculum that includes study in the sciences, social studies and the arts.

Posted by: frankb1

Unions don't restrict curriculum. "School reformers" and ignorant school administor, like Michelle Rhee, do. Another advantage at GDS: NO TFA interns.

As to the racial makeup of GDS, I would say it generally reflects that of the DC area, from which it draws it student population. While DC and PG Co. are majority black jurisdictions, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, Mongomery, Alexandria and Falls Church all have white populations of 60-85%. In terms of race alone, which seems to be your only understanding of diversity, the racial makeup of the school is similar to that of the communities from which it draws. But of course race is just one small part of diversity, unless, of course, you're a right wing yahoo who sees everything in terms of race and seeks to pit people of common interests against each other because of it.

Posted by: mcstowy | March 3, 2011 10:48 AM | Report abuse

tina11 and plthomas3:

Your curricular debate is EXACTLY the type of school reform we should be discussion. But it involves research, experience, testing, analysis and evaluation and. like most social sciences, will almost never lead to a simple, final, one-size-fits-all answer. Thats why this type of constructive debate has been lost amid the union-busting and the "school reform" crowd. They have no interest or understanding of these issue and wave that ignorance like a badge of honor.

My oldest son was a victim of the one-size-fits-all curriculum of the Fairfax Co. Public schools. Their insistance on a whole-language only reading program left him unable to decode and encode written words. Only after removal to a private school and extensive, direct sound-symbol tutoring, did he become a marginally competent reader, but not until 10th grade. On the other hand, some student are able to decode/encode at an early age, but are unable to comprehend the words they are reading. A purely p[honics-based approach would not help them. EDUCATORS understand this and create avenues for both type of student to succeed.

By the way, my complaint against FCPS IS NOT directed at my son's teachers, many admitted and understood that my son needed a different approact, but to suggest a change in the (faulty and limited) curriculm chosen by the administators at HQ was to put one's job in jeopardy. THAT's why unions are necessary. They allow good teacher to innovate without risking their careers.

Posted by: mcstowy | March 3, 2011 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Another great article! Keep them coming, Ms. Strauss!

Posted by: jlp19 | March 3, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

tina11,

I have been a writing teacher for almost 30 years (you?), and my students write better or as well as any students I have ever encountered. All workshop, all best practice, all research based.

Direct instruction IN ISOLATION has always failed literacy and we have known this for over 80 years. Direct instruction IN CONTEXT is how to teach.

I notice you didn't READ the book I offered, but it is the compilation of decades of research as the field is PRACTICED. Also, here is another book for you to consider:

http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Grammar-Context-Constance-Weaver/dp/0867093757

Just because a practice is labeled something doesn't mean that is what teachers are doing (many claim workshop but aren't doing what the practice requires). Research shows that classrooms remain HIGHLY TRADITIONAL with literacy addressed in isolated and direct ways, resulting in poor writers. Students learn to write by writing, and by having expert feedback on that writing--not by doing grammar exercises or vocabulary workbooks.

I wonder why you believe the National Writing Project, a thirty-year organization composed of the leaders in the field of writing are wrong? Do you have credible evidence that the field is wrong? Seems a tall order and sweeping claim to make.

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 3, 2011 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Teacher Unions in PA are OUT OF CONTROL.

When teachers are Paid over $90,000 while the average household is only making $64,000 ... AND THE TEACHERS GO ON STRIKE...THAT IS BEING OUT OF CONTROL.

When a straight A student who only asked a teacher to stay after school one time to help her in 12 years was told to tell her parents that he would stay and help her for $100 per hour... THAT IS WHEN TEACHERS ARE OUT OF CONTROL!

When teachers go on "strike"(really a extended paid vacation) for two months then come back and not lose a dime... THAT IS WHEN TEACHERS ARE OUT OF CONTROL!

When teachers continue to get 5% and more raises while we are in a depression and unemployment is at record highs... THAT IS WHEN TEACHER UNIONS ARE OUT OF CONTROL.

The tax payer is helpless to stop the unrealistic raises in benefits these unions are getting .. the taxpayer has no say so... which is TYRANNY!

I realize unions are a good thing... and the auto workers and others have hit hard times and have taken many pay cuts and are paying for medical benefits and many union members have been laid off...but Teacher unions in our area are making unions look bad and have been getting raises all along regardless of the worst economy since the depression ... and these teacher unions have done nothing but demand more more more and have been given more more more to the point that a kindergarten teacher in our area is now making more that a top engineer.

The teacher unions in our area need a dose of reality... I entirely agree with the governor of Wisconsin. There has to be something done about out of control teacher unions.

Posted by: pjkPA | March 3, 2011 7:16 PM | Report abuse

Bill Gates has more money than experience teaching.

I propose to correct this by inviting him to be on a reality tv show where he teaches math in a fair-to-middling ranked public high school for one year. Let's call it, "Teach for America." ;)

After which he can tell us all about it, and even pony up some of his fortune to make fixes.

Posted by: k12newsnetwork | March 3, 2011 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Hang around any public school long enough and you will note that students, teachers, and administrators would love to have more men in the profession -- but why can't they attract them?? Money, I think! Despite what so many think, it is difficult to support a family on a teacher's salary. With these new angry, feelings towards teachers coming out every day -- I doubt many men (nor women, now) will want to take their master's degrees and pursue a careeer in education. Unlike in the private sector, there is no opportunity to make big bucks in education - teachers depend on their benefits for their health care needs and retirment (or more often the benefits from their husbands!). Many bloggers here have no doubt hosted a birthday party or two for their children. After it was over, I suspect they were exhausted. Teaching is like hosting a birthday party non-stop for 7 hours- day after day. Sure it is a great job, but it isn't a piece of cake! Kids don't always do what you want them to-- they don't really want to spend 7 hours sitting at their desks working. They come to school with a variety of problems that they may never share with the teacher-- so teachers don't know why they are acting the way they are. Unlike years ago, many students have divorced parents and must travel between two homes - where there may be no harmony. Away from school they watch TV shows with atrocious language and see videos that encourage bad behavior. to use. I would challenge Mr. Gates to teach at any school for two months, with the same amount of prep time teachers have and the same expectations and see if he thinks any more highly of teachers than he does now.

Posted by: Guest24 | March 3, 2011 8:13 PM | Report abuse

What a great post, Guest24! Right on the nose with birthday party.

If the general public listens to Bill Gates, we are going to be in for some atrocious years.

Anyone who has taught public school knows that any veteran, no matter how good they are, can have good test results and then have poor test results later. So if they have several good years in a row, and then have a bad year or two, or even three, do you still give them merit pay or take it away from them during the bad years? They're still the same excellent teacher.

Secondly, if you look at Bill Gates' high school on greatschools.net, the student to teacher ratio at his old school is 9 to 1. And he wants us to have larger class sizes?

Thirdly, his mom took him out of public school because he was bored and put him in one of the top elite schools where the teachers have incredible freedom to create an engaging and meaningful curriculum. Is his school under the same standardized testing restrictions that public schools are under, and do you really think his teachers would have had the freedom to be as engaging?

This guy is truly selling us a bill of goods.

Finally, why did standardized tests become a way to punish the teacher rather than support?

Standardized testing helps me in no way when I get students who will not try no matter what I try. Every teacher, even the best, get those students.

If Bill Gates wants to hold me to a business model, then shouldn't I be able to choose the customer, that is the student, who is going to help me remain a successful business? I'm not going to spend time with people who make my business lag. But that's not what public education is about, yet Gates and the corporatists want us to think that way.

Posted by: Playitagainsam | March 4, 2011 12:37 AM | Report abuse

pithomas,

Results count.

We can theorize all day about "best practices", but what matters is at the end of the day, can the kids perform?

My private school student can write circles around my public school student (both high school). The private school incorporates grammar, vocab, and specific instruction into the process. The public school student was taught in a very loosey-goosey manner. Students in our district are taught using the 6 plus 1 traits in k-8. According to an 11th grade teacher at the public school, the kids entering high school cannot write well. They lack the structure and mechanics. She actually asked me "what are they doing with the students in middle school? -Their skills are getting weaker and weaker with each group that comes to me." If we don't teach the vocab, how will they have a good vocabulary? If we teach them little if any grammar, how will they write in a grammatically correct manner? If we don't teach them any structure, they will write in a rambling manner. I've seen all of this.

My point is not related to writing specifically - and perhaps such programs are effective when implemented WELL. Rather, I am speaking to the overall movement in education to move away from direct instruction. We've seen this in math and science with the inquiry-based, discovery-based methods.

My point is that they may sound good in theory, but they DON'T WORK. Parents end up filling in the gaps and my question is what happens to students who don't have that kind of parental support or their parents lack the education to perform higher math, etc.?

And the private schools are quite frankly, kicking your rears. And they do things the old-fashioned way. They incorporate MEANINGFUL activities with straight forward direction.

I absolutely believe we will FAIL the next wave of students if we continue down the road of teachers being "facilitators". It won't affect my kids - we're finished with public school - but I think people need to be aware of how students are taught in our public schools. Clearly, many students are not performing well, so where is the debate about these methods??

Posted by: tina11 | March 4, 2011 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I wonder whether parents really understand how differently their kids are taught then they were?

We need to demand the evidence that the methods work and the teachers and schools must be accountable for the results.

They can't fail to lead the students and then blame them too.

Posted by: tina11 | March 4, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, tina11, saying something doesn't make it so.

Private schools are no better THAN public:

http://www.cep-dc.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=document_ext.showDocumentByID&nodeID=1&DocumentID=226

http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006461

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 4, 2011 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Tina11 wrote:

"Rather, I am speaking to the overall movement in education to move away from direct instruction. We've seen this in math and science with the inquiry-based, discovery-based methods....
My point is that they may sound good in theory, but they DON'T WORK."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From my experience, I think this is correct. The problem is standardized testing in public school causes teachers to almost completely stay with direct instruction, especially with mathematics. When instinct tells you it's time for other methods, you hesitate out of fear of wasting time. I'm not certain, but I think private schools have an advantage because of this. That's the problem with top down public school design that doesn't support the teacher, especially the talented ones, to follow their greater instincts. In order to fix this problem in public school, you would need solid training. Maybe the US educational system is not up to this task yet. Maybe that's the problem.

Posted by: Playitagainsam | March 4, 2011 9:25 PM | Report abuse

pithomas,

The private college prep high school that my younger student attends significantly outperforms the public high school my other student attends that is considered one of the "best" schools in the state.

At the private school, the instruction is straightforward, traditional, and no nonsense. The kids know what the material is and they know it's their job to master it.

The private school certainly has an advantage in being able to choose their students due to the fact they have to test in, but my point is that the instruction and methods used vary greatly.

We've moved away from direct education in public school at the expense of the kids. Those teachers who want to defend the practices have no answer for the declining student performance. They are so wedded to the processes, that they can't act in the best interest of the kids.

Looking back, I see these loosey goosey practices were used from elementary through high school in public school. None of them produced results: Everyday Math, 6 plus 1 writing, inquiry-based science, whole language, etc.

I get the feeling discovery-based teaching has been used in math, but fortunately my student has had very traditional math teachers in high school (maybe some of the remaining ones left in the building). My student's performance on the math portion of the ACT was 34. Many of my student's friends floundered in math when they got to high school - in talking with their parents, it looks like discovery-based instruction was used.

How did we get away from direct instruction when that works?

Posted by: tina11 | March 5, 2011 8:27 AM | Report abuse

The defensiveness regarding non-traditional teaching methods is interesting.

If the teachers can create a system where it's not their job to instruct the students, it will be harder to hold them accountable for student performance.

So if the students have to "discover" their own material as well as learn it (so they're essentially teaching themselves), the teacher essentially has no responsibility.

And yet, the teachers clamor for higher pay and greater benefits at the taxpayer's expense while failing to teach the students or shoulder any responsibility!

Great gig - but how do you sleep at night??

Posted by: tina11 | March 5, 2011 8:32 AM | Report abuse

tina11,

You are making a number of statistical/ logic errors:

(1) Generalizing a single, anecdotal example. One private school compared (by observation that would count under your "loosey goosey" label, in fact) to a single public school offers nothing that can be generalized to "And the private schools are quite frankly, kicking your rears."

(2) Confusing correlation and causation. You are ignoring that the private school identified has selection characteristics that are LIKELY the cause of any variation (student characteristics in any school account for about 80-90% of outcomes; look at any year's data for the SAT, for example) when compared to any school that is not selective. To claim that observational and anecdotal descriptions of instructional practices are CAUSING any variation is cavalier and without merit.

Many elite students excel DESPITE the flaws of direct instruction. Virtually all claims that direct instruction is superior uses circular logic (teaching directly to a test and saying that raises a test score is self-fulfilling). Characterizing discovery/ student-centered best practice as "loosey goosey" shows that you have no idea what best practice is.

Obviously, purposeful instruction is superior to careless instruction, but no one is calling for the latter. So:

(3) Creating a false dichotomy and offering flawed definitions of phenomena being discussed.

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 5, 2011 9:33 AM | Report abuse

ptthomas,

When teachers shift the burden of instruction from themselves to students, they fail many students.

It's not rocket science. These methods muddy the water for kids.

My opinions are a function of 13 years of observation. I have no further "dog in the hunt" so to speak - I got my younger student out of a poor situation (public school).

There is simply no justification for not teaching the students - but then calling yourself a teacher and demanding higher pay, etc.

What's going on in public education is a travesty and in my educated opinion, it has much to do with these methods that span the grades and the curriculum.

They all shift the burden to "discover" the information (which used to be taught) to the kids. It is either a calculated shift to avoid responsibility on the part of the teacher or extreme idealism.

Either way, I am appalled by it - and I feel badly for all the students who surely will suffer (unless their parents get very involved).

I am happy to share my observations in the hope that I am shining a light on these practices.

Many kids today can't read, can't write, can't perform basic math, etc. Teachers want to blame the students and the parents but the DIRTY LITTLE SECRET is that the teachers don't teach anymore.

If you are going to take a paycheck from the taxpayer, then it is your duty to transfer the knowledge to the students. That duty rests with you.

Posted by: tina11 | March 5, 2011 10:24 AM | Report abuse

pjkPA said: "Teacher Unions in PA are OUT OF CONTROL.

When teachers are Paid over $90,000 while the average household is only making $64,000 ... AND THE TEACHERS GO ON STRIKE...THAT IS BEING OUT OF CONTROL."

After 23 years, I am making less than $90K teaching chemistry. Had I gone into industry, my salary would be 3-4X what I am earning as a teacher. Still, I love teaching.

"When a straight A student who only asked a teacher to stay after school one time to help her in 12 years was told to tell her parents that he would stay and help her for $100 per hour... THAT IS WHEN TEACHERS ARE OUT OF CONTROL!"

Every teacher I know stays past contract time by at least an hour every day, essentially holding an extra period of review classes that they do not get paid for. If you were told that you had to work an extra hour for tree every day, would you? Would you volunteer to work that extra hour out of the goodness of your heart? You are choosing one example of a bad teacher, when the majority of us are not that way. I even took my own time to put the entire course onto YouTube so that students can also get review at home. My videos are used by students all over the world. Check them out at www.youtube.com/markrosengarten.

"When teachers go on "strike"(really a extended paid vacation) for two months then come back and not lose a dime... THAT IS WHEN TEACHERS ARE OUT OF CONTROL!"

We are not paid for the summer. We are 10-month employees. Despite this, we usually spend our summers doing unpaid curriculum development work or taking courses to keep us up to date on best practices. I recently had a couple of days off for the President's Weekend and I spent it rewriting my course. I spent about 20 hours that weekend working on it. Do you spend 20 hours of your own time doing prep work for your job on a four-day weekend?

"When teachers continue to get 5% and more raises while we are in a depression and unemployment is at record highs... THAT IS WHEN TEACHER UNIONS ARE OUT OF CONTROL."

I have not seen a pay increase of more than 3% in salary in more than 15 years. The most I ever got was 4.5% and that was in the early 1990's. This year we got a 1.7% increase in salary, most of which went to paying for an increased contribution towards health care.

"The tax payer is helpless to stop the unrealistic raises in benefits these unions are getting .. the taxpayer has no say so... which is TYRANNY!"

Raises in benefits? We are paying for our health insurance by an increasing amount every year, our retirement system is in great shape and is not costing the local taxpayers much of anything. People complain that teacher's salaries take up most of a district's budget. Uh...yeah! Teachers are the major resource in...EDUCATION.

The middle class is being pitted against the lower middle class so that the upper class can sneak out the back door with all our money and not be held accountable for the wholesale theft of a nation.

Posted by: gadjitfreek | March 5, 2011 11:39 AM | Report abuse

tina11 writes: "Many kids today can't read, can't write, can't perform basic math, etc. Teachers want to blame the students and the parents but the DIRTY LITTLE SECRET is that the teachers don't teach anymore."

So please tell us why people have been saying this exact same thing for over 100 years? Thus, "anymore" suggests there was a time when things were different. . .but there is no time in the past 120 years when people weren't saying the exact same thing.

In the 1890s, a similar lament was voiced by the group known as the Committee of Ten:

“When college professors endeavor to teach chemistry, physics, botany, zoology, meteorology, or geology to persons of 18 or 20 years of age, they discover that in most instances new habits of observing, reflecting, and recording have to be painfully acquired by the students—habits which they should have acquired in early childhood.”

And some evidence from school/teacher bashing in the 1950s, incorrectly labeled as a golden era of teaching by Rhee:

http://dailycensored.com/2010/12/02/the-education-celebrity-tour-legend-of-the-fall-pt-ii/

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 5, 2011 11:51 AM | Report abuse

As I said,

The DIRTY LITTLE SECRET is that today's teachers do not teach. They don't view it as their responsibility to transfer the knowledge to be learned from themselves to the student.

This is simply wrong.

Dance around this all you want, but it is the core reason the kids are not performing.

Posted by: tina11 | March 5, 2011 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Nope, tina11, your assertion is false. Yes, schools too often do fail students, but for the exact OPPOSITE reasons you have created.

I recommend this:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A50758-2003May13.html

Posted by: plthomas3 | March 5, 2011 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Where is the "accountability" for...
> the CIA and other corrupt
govt. & Wall Street-affiliated players
involved with international drug smuggling
for decades (!)
-- deliberately inundating
communities & specific neighborhoods with heroin,
cocaine, meth, pills (MDMA/ecstacy), etc.
It is a documented fact that the CIA
& corrupt elements of the U.S. govt.
& freemasons have been involved in large-scale
heroin distribution operations and also
involved in the deliberately induced
crack cocaine epidemic targeting black neighborhoods (for the purposes of social undermining & political-economic control).

Where is the "accountability" for...
> The 'entertainment' industry
flooding our youth with heinously toxic,
cognitively poisonous VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES
and GANGSTER-THUG GLORIFYING music/videos
that promote
crime, substance abuse, disgusting conduct,
mistreatment & violence against women,
anti-educational achievement,
anti-positive values, anti-professional careers,
anti-healthy, responsible behaviors !

Where is the "accountability" for
self-proclaimed edu-profiteer BILL GATES & MICROSOFT
in producing & promoting VIOLENT, PATHOLOGICAL VIDEO GAMES, including first-person shooter games,
such as HALO !!!??? --
which, unfortunately, too many of our country's
children, our country's students heinously waste
too much time messing around with,
messing themselves up with --
instead of healthfully, smartly & beneficially using that time for... productive experiences, studying, exploring/learning, participating in sports, teamwork, creative arts music, outdoor activities & nature, significant time with friends & family, engaging in community service !!

Where is the accountability for VIACOM
& other media corporations
(eg. instead of the "BET" channel being utilized
for positive, inspirational, educational
or meaningful programming --
it has mostly
broadcast the worst sociopathic, demeaning,
undermining junk -- promoting
gangsterism & exploiting our vulnerable youth
with pernicious mind-killing crap.

FACT! --
Where is the "accountability" for Wall Street
& elite financiers,
such as MERRILL LYNCH and OPPENHEIMER,
previously the MAIN INVESTORS & SHAREHOLDERS
owning majority stock in the company
that produced the 'GRAND THEFT AUTO' video game
as its main product !!!

Also, what about the corporate soda-pop
& junk food pushers targeting children ?!

The reality is that ethical, caring, dedicated
public school teachers have been the
'good samaritans' courageously
teaching with tremendous effort daily
to educate & constructively help chidren --
to transcend, overcome hardship,
to cultivate wellbeing & achievement --
despite the grotesque obstacles
& destruction foisted on us by
irresponsible, unscrupulous, rapacious and
duplicitous corporate execs. & financial elites,
(societally-sabotaging/damaging,
corrupt oligarchs, such as Goldman Sachs,
J.P.Morgan/Rothschild scamsters et. al.
who've caused millions of chidren & families to be homeless.

Posted by: honestaction | March 5, 2011 6:52 PM | Report abuse

No dice, pitthomas,

Teach the material, and your a** is covered.

Very simple.

Not interested in your excuses or reasons for not transferring that information.

Glad you can't impact my kids.

Posted by: tina11 | March 5, 2011 9:11 PM | Report abuse

No dice, pitthomas,

Teach the material, and your a** is covered.

Very simple.

Not interested in your excuses or reasons for not transferring that information.

Glad you can't impact my kids.

Posted by: tina11 | March 5, 2011 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Don't talk about "high standards" if you are going to allow principals to ridicule (and fire)teachers who 'flunk too many students.'

'High standards' and 'high graduation rates' simply are in opposition to each other and the graduation rate side of the equation has been winning out for too long.

Posted by: hrobert02 | March 6, 2011 11:53 AM | Report abuse

The discussion between plthomas3 and tina11 is fascinating. I remember a similar one I had with a prof some 25 years ago...

That being said, the bottom line now just as it was back then, is what is the goal of education, and thats where things get murky.

Posted by: ronamundson | March 8, 2011 1:07 AM | Report abuse

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