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Posted at 3:23 PM ET, 02/28/2011

Bill Gates talks about teacher pay, class size

By Daniel de Vise

This afternoon I am turning College Inc. over to K-12 education to report on a morning interview with Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft and, through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, probably the most important philanthropist in education.

Gates, 55, famously dropped out of Harvard in 1975 to launch the company initially known as Micro-Soft, writing code that made the personal computer accessible to hobbyists and regular folks. He is a product of an upper-middle-class family and an exclusive Seattle preparatory school, whose women's club used proceeds from a rummage sale to purchase computer time for Bill and his friends.

Lately, Gates has been advocating paying teachers based on classroom performance instead of seniority and ending costly investments in class-size reduction, two of the more provocative topics in public education. We spoke in his foundation's Washington office shortly before a speech to the National Governors Association.

Gates's central point is that the nation is spending more than ever on public education and not getting better results in return. Per-student spending has more than doubled in the past four decades, yet math and reading scores haven't significantly improved. Performance is essentially flat on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only national test of reading and math with data that goes back to the 1970s.

Many education leaders would say that Gates's criticism is unfounded. While NAEP scores are flat, scores on many state tests have risen over the past decade, to great fanfare. Test scores in both Maryland and Virginia have risen substantially in that span.

Gates contends that those gains are probably largely a result of new-test phenomenon: Test scores almost always rise under a new test, as students and teachers familiarize themselves with the test and the material it measures.

"Whenever you have a new test, people learn what's in that test over the first three or four years," he said. "The fact that doesn't show up on NAEP at all is a bit damning."

Most of the new money pumped into public education has been spent on new teachers. For every 1,000 students, public schools employ 125 adults, an 8-to-1 ratio, comparable to the student-faculty ratio at Swarthmore College.

The number of instructors per 1,000 students has more than doubled since 1960, from 40 to 85.

Gates contends that the K-12 education industry has been steered for five decades by a misguided belief that the way to higher performance is smaller classes. Many states pursued class-size reduction initiatives in the 1990s. California, an example I covered as a reporter, reduced average class size from 30 to 20 in kindergarten through grade 3 in the mid-1990s, at a cost of over $1.5 billion a year.

Over the years, though, the research community has more or less confirmed that class-size reduction doesn't yield significant performance gains. The most expensive education reform is among the least effective.

Gates proposes ending class-size reduction experiments, lifting caps on class size and offering good teachers financial incentives to teach more students.

"If you look at something like class sizes going from 22 to 27, and paying that teacher a third of the savings, and you make sure it's the effective teachers you're retaining," he said, "by any measure, you're raising the quality of education as you do that."

Now, as any public school parent knows, class sizes across much of the nation aren't particularly small. In fact, average class size in self-contained classrooms has barely changed over the past decade, from 20.9 students in the 2000 academic year to 20.3 students in 2008, according to federal data.

Why doesn't more teachers translate to smaller classes? Many of the newly hired educators are not, strictly speaking, classroom teachers. They are math and reading specialists, mentor teachers and testing experts, hired primarily to raise test scores and as a direct result of No Child Left Behind, the federal law that requires public schools to demonstrate "adequate yearly progress" through reading and math scores.

One alternative to raising class sizes is to assign some of those teachers to classrooms.

"I'd bet you some of those specialized roles don't add value," he said. " ... We should have a general skepticism about those jobs."

Gates's other, equally provocative target is teacher pay. He is openly critical of the current teacher compensation system, which awards pay increases almost entirely according to seniority. Teachers are evaluated -- but "99 percent get the high rating," Gates said. Few teachers earn poor evaluations, and fewer still are rewarded or denied money according to those evaluations.

Gates advocates awarding pay raises according to effectiveness, not seniority. He said he is "aghast" that the present system offers essentially "no encouragement to improve." In our interview, he termed the current compensation model "a crazy thing."

In an op-ed piece published today in The Washington Post, Gates reasons that "we have to identify great teachers, find out what makes them so effective and transfer those skills to others".

The No Child law has spawned enough metrics to measure the performance of every teacher in the nation on the math and reading gains of students. But Gates contends that using test scores alone is too narrow.

"The test score is not as good as it should be in telling the teacher how to improve," he said in the interview.

Gates advocates using videos of teachers' lessons as tools to help drive improvement, along with interviews of peer teachers and even students to gauge a teacher's effectiveness. The Gates foundation is working with seven urban districts toward "fair and reliable measures" of teacher effectiveness, he writes in the op-ed piece.

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By Daniel de Vise  | February 28, 2011; 3:23 PM ET
Categories:  Public policy  | Tags:  Bill Gates, Gates Foundation, Gates NGA speech, Gates class size, Gates teacher pay  
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Comments

A couple of quick points:

Since 1960, not only have most school districts added reading and math specialists, they have also added speech, art, music, p.e., kindergarten teachers. and special ed teachers. (We had none of these when I was in school in the 60's.)

Schools and teachers are mandated to teach subjects and address issues that public schools in the 60's and earlier did not have to contend with: i.e. drug education, family life. In my school many of the parents are deployed...so there is a deployment group that meets with the counselor. A divorced parent group. We have anti-bullying sessions in the classroom. As teachers we are expected to be aware of potential sexual abuse and the wrong parent doesn't take the child home.

There are security guards stationed in the foyer of the school...and I'm sure they are not there becuase the school division had some extra money they needed to spend.

Bill Gates needs a dose of reality...not just a walk through...but real get-your-hands-dirty constant exposure lesson.

We can argue as to whether or not all of these "extras" are necessary...but the last thing most teachers wanted was to have more added to their plate....point the finger at state and federal legislators as well as school administrators...not teachers.

Posted by: ilcn | February 28, 2011 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Carrots and Sticks

How about tying teacher merit pay for superior performance to teacher dismissal action for unsatisfactory performance? Given that only 10% of the teachers are truly superior and probably another 10% are undoubtedly unsatisfactory, let's try rewarding the top, get rid of the bottom, and then let the remaining 80% continue to keep their jobs.

And so it goes...

Posted by: packard1 | February 28, 2011 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Ah yes. Fire the bottom 10% of the teachers. What could be simpler? And surely, there would be no disagreement on who these people are.

Posted by: dane1 | February 28, 2011 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Puhleeze!

"Gates's central point is that the nation is spending more than ever on public education and not getting better results in return. Per-student spending has more than doubled in the past four decades..."

This makes Gates appear to be an idiot. He's not. But he is a good PROPAGANDIST. This line of "reasoning" is pure deceit.

Of course per-student spending has more than doubled in the past four decades --the cost of living has increased ten-fold during this time.

Regardless, Bill Gates is no friend of education or learning or teacher effectiveness. His foundation is at the cutting edge of efforts to privatize education. Together, local community, state, and federal education spending is about $1 Trillion annually. Big Business has been trying to get their teeth into our public schools since vouchers became part of the rhetoric in the 80s.

And, Bill, just because you attended school, that gives you zero credence as an education expert. I've used software longer than you attended school, but I make no claim that such use provided me with expertise to tell you how to write code.

Oh, --the union-bashing in Wisconsin? Just a small part of the effort to privatize our democracy. Since the 1980s it's been CORPORTATE-CAPITALISM vs. DEMOCRACY.

Guess who's winning.

Time for We, the People to stand up against the effort by the oligarchy and plutocracy to own everything.

Posted by: gundersonrogers1 | March 1, 2011 1:02 AM | Report abuse

Doesn't anybody remember the famous 1966 Coleman report? Seemingly only the socioeconomic status of families made much of a difference in school achievement. So gather all the advantaged in a single school to produce the best results. Trying to homogenize classrooms of any size won't work. Special education mainstreaming comes at a cost to other students. Requiring teachers to babysit unprepared students in the name of education doesn't work either. Private schools seem to work best because they don't have to put up with all the nonsense that local politics imposes on teachers in public schools, not to mention educating a largely economically advantaged population. Private school teachers who want to teach accept lower salaries to do so in these places. I wonder what Mr. Gates has to say about the Coleman Report's findings. Hmm . . . the expertise of billionaires seems limitless.

Posted by: JackN | March 1, 2011 1:25 AM | Report abuse

It has been suggested that our current system offers no encouragement to improve.

Posted by: jralger | March 1, 2011 6:03 AM | Report abuse

(Part 1)

Bill Gates just keeps singing the same old tired refrain, and the song isn’t wearing well.

In his Post piece yesterday, there are plenty of facts that Gates might have related to readers, but he chose not to do so. So, either he’s unaware (which seems very unlikely), or he deliberately chose to misinform the public. Like conservative supply-siders who keep insisting against all evidence that tax cuts pay for themselves, and the Tea Party “patriots” who misrepresent what’s in the U.S. Constitution, this disregard for the truth has become standard operating procedure for the corporate-model “reformers.”

Gates is redundant in saying education costs over the past forty years have increased, but achievement has “remained...flat.” He makes not a single attempt to explain that testing mandates and special education requirements and increased child poverty and higher populations of limited-English-speaking students have driven increased costs. But why make a problem more complex when it’s easier (though dishonest), and it fits your politic agenda, to simply blame teachers? Any assessment expert knows achievement gains (and Gates refuses to acknowledge them) obtained from a testing pool as demographically-altered as that in the U.S. means that something positive is happening in schools. But not to Bill Gates.

Gates makes the pitch that education budgets will have to decline. To squeeze more blood from the turnip, we will have to get “more achievement for less money.” He dismisses the research on small class size achievement gains to employ the Michelle Rhee canard that, “It is astonishing what great teachers can do for their students.”
[Note to Bill: Rhee lied...repeatedly.]

I’m curious as to why big corporations and banks and hedge funds are always demanding more tax cuts, and incentives, and give-aways from taxpayers, especially since they off-shored millions of jobs and broke the economy. Why don’t they just hire and develop “great leaders?”

Posted by: DrDemocracy | March 1, 2011 6:52 AM | Report abuse

(Part 2)

Gates makes the argument that the success of our “21st-century economy” is dependent on teachers and on student test scores. Corporate-model “reformers” adore this argument, perhaps because they think it absolves them of their corruption and incompetence, but there just isn’t any evidence for it. The World Economic Forum just dropped the U.S. from 2nd to 4th in its competitiveness rankings for 2010-11.

Why? The reasons are compelling: weak auditing and reporting standards for business, shaky corporate ethics, big budget deficits, and unsustainable public debt. And the cure for these problems is to use a volatile, invalid evaluation system to identify “great teachers” and make them do more? Seriously? There are people who actually believe this nonsense?

Bill Gates and people who surround him are sometimes accused of being “smart.” When it comes to education, though, it seems they take stupid pills.

We need a public education system that is far less focused on testing, and uses it diagnostically. We need public schools dedicated to developing democratic citizenship. We need public schools that integrate inquiry and curricula, and that sustain a diverse republic. And just maybe we need educators who grasp the significance of the neural development of children, and who understand, as Gerald Edelman wrote, “that imagination and tolerance are linked; that we are at least all brothers and sisters at the level of evolutionary values.” Democratic ones too.

Bill Gates is quite possibly a "smart" man. But he doesn't appear to be a very honest one.

Posted by: DrDemocracy | March 1, 2011 6:54 AM | Report abuse

Gates would do better teaching white teabaggers why Asian students almost always perform better than their own - even with the same teacher.

In Asia, teachers and education are respected and honored and not "socialism" and "communist" scapegoats for poor parenting, respectively.

Posted by: areyousaying | March 1, 2011 7:09 AM | Report abuse

Class size is irrelevant if parents don't push students to learn. Here in Mexico, the average class size in high school is 44. Some students still learn and produce well in spite of this because their parents grab them by the ear when they come home from school and make them do their homework and additional study before they can play X-Box, watch TV or surf the net.

Posted by: areyousaying | March 1, 2011 7:13 AM | Report abuse

Asian parents do several things that allow their children to embrace the role of student:

* They manage their children's time outside of school.
* They assume the role of educator after school hours.
* They teach their children that being a student is both fun and rewarding (with the help of their children's educators).
* They have a genuine respect for educators.

More here:

http://www.greatschools.org/parenting/teaching-values/parenting-students-to-the-top.gs?content=481&page=3

Posted by: areyousaying | March 1, 2011 7:23 AM | Report abuse

When Bill Gates has spent at least 5 years teaching in a school district with high poverty, ESL students, high mobility, and a minimum of 30 students per class, then he might have some credibility. Most education critics have never spent more than a year in a classroom. Honestly, shut up until you actually experience some success on the job. Until you have actually done the work, then you do not know anything. Every teacher in a America knows that until you have spent years in a classroom doing the actual job, then you can't possibly know what it entails.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | March 1, 2011 7:32 AM | Report abuse

The teaching methods of inquiry-based learning and discovery-based learning used in so many schools are not effective. With the teacher only serving as a facilitator, the student must "discover" the information to be learned as well as learn it. This is simply not practical.

Where is the proof that these methods work? And how did the teachers shift the responsibility of teaching to someone besides themselves when they are being paid to do the job?

We need to go back to direct instruction of the basics: grammar, spelling, vocabulary, computation, basic writing organization,etc. that are not taught anymore.

I bet that Sasha and Malia are taught the old-fashioned way! Good old fashioned lectures coupled with efficient, meaningful activities where they can apply what they have learned and develop critical thinking skills. However, in too many public schools they have done away with the instruction!

With direct instruction coupled with control of the class room, we can certainly raise the class sizes and impart much more knowledge onto the student.

Of course the teachers want fewer students. That means more teachers!

Posted by: tina11 | March 1, 2011 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Bill Gates is no one to listen to on education, didn't he just get done failing with his small schools initiative? And didn't Tennessee just prove that merit pay does not improve student achievement? The reality that he is a great computer geek and a crappy education expert has to set in some time for him, doesn't it?

Posted by: postmichael | March 1, 2011 9:44 AM | Report abuse

so-called "flat" test score results do not account for the increase in child poverty, homelessness, the massive influx of ELLs in many districts, mobility and the mainstreaming of many special ed students.
it may in fact be a victory to have not *lost* ground given these factors, which were unheard of decades ago.
that is not a cop-out for accepting the status quo but a look at the issues facing educators. should they be accountable and held to a standard that at least tries for improvement year over year?
of course. but apples-to-tires comparisons do little to shed light on this important topic.

Posted by: FloridaChick | March 1, 2011 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Bill Gates..."said he is "aghast" that the present system offers essentially "no encouragement to improve.".....
__________
What an erroneous, B***S**T statement! Teachers not only are encouraged to improve, they HAVE to improve by constantly taking more coursework, inhouse or through graduate work; they attend endless numbers of workshops throughout the year - many of them in COMPUTER-RELATED areas - and on topics such interdisciplinary education, differentiated education, accommodations for the special needs child, current trends in reading methodologies, on and on and on. If a teacher does NOT keep up with current learning, he or she does not get to keep her certification, and does not get a raise.

The coursework mentioned above does more than acquaint teachers with current trends; teachers are forced to interface with colleagues from other schools, challenge their current thinking, and give up many extra long hours to increase their professional knowledge.

The above applications apply to teachers who maintain state credentials as required by the various public school systems; the quality will vary from state to state, usually having to do with budgets and an educated populace. It is no accident that
Maryland, Virgina and Massachussetts have some of the top public schools in the nation.

Now, if Bill would like to comment on Private Schools, there is a whole different ball game; Private schools have small classes (which he doesn't think we need), generally pay their teachers poorly and with limited benefits, and do not usually require the stringent upkeep of current coursework. Why do teachers teach in private schools? Might it be because they have small classes, supportive parents and students who are not disruptive?

Get real Bill - and anyone supporting him in some of his outrageous statements.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | March 1, 2011 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Why should anyone even listen to Bill Gates? His expertise is in computers and business not education. If I want advice about computers or running a multi-billion dollar company, I'll ask Bill. As far as I know, he has no background in education. (maybe he should spend a year in a classroom like Tony Danza before pontificating about education)The only reason anyone listens is because they think that he might start handing out money. Stick to what you know Bill.

Posted by: rerchr | March 1, 2011 11:00 AM | Report abuse

When you encounter a classroom where a majority of students have never read an entire (non-children's) book, it is apparent that the problems with education are in the culture, not just the classroom.

Posted by: writinron | March 1, 2011 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Some excellent common sense from Bill Gates.
Hey, only 30% of our 8th graders are proficient in math, and by grade 12 it's about 20%. About the same for reading and writing. Over 70% of our colleges have been forced to offer remedial math, reading, and writing classes.
Our schools are not doing the job.
Instead of wasting time on test-prep a large percentage of the time, let's concentrate on the curriculum. Most state standards are a hodgepodge of unrelated factoids that have no real meaning. We are producing kids who are sometimes good guessers on standardized tests. Do they actually learn anything?
Not in a lot of cases.
We also need to have an alternative plan for the students who do not want to learn, and for the trouble-makers who spoil it for the kids that do. Until teachers have the right and the ability to create a calm, orderly learning environment, and students come to class with a desire to learn, not much will change. A little common sense for change!
Rick Fisher mathessentials.net americasmathteacher.com

Posted by: mathessentials | March 1, 2011 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Why does no one bother to look at the comparisons between public and private/religious schools? The reason public schools cost so much more is the massive bureaucracy, you do not have that in the private sector, yet the kids in the private and religious schools score higher on all standardized tests because the money goes directly to the education of the children. Government involvement in our schools was a huge mistake and nothing will change until we put our schools back in the hands of parents and local communities.

One more point, the children that do the best, better even than private schools, are those that are homeschooled. Every study done in the past 10 - 15 years shows these kids score in the 90th percentile in all subjects on standard tests and consistently score higher on SAT's and other college entrance exams. They are also better prepared socially for College than public school kids. The closer to home, and the more involved parents are, the better the kids do.

Posted by: FLChristyB | March 1, 2011 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Correction:

When you encounter a classroom where a majority of COLLEGE students have never read an entire (non-children's) book, it is apparent that the problems with education are in the culture, not just the classroom.

Posted by: writinron | March 1, 2011 11:12 AM | Report abuse

If there are 85 teachers for every 1000 students and 125 employees for every 1000 students, that means there are 40 NON-TEACHING POSITIONS FOR EVERY 1000 STUDENTS!!! That's what needs to be addressed. That is a ridiculous amount of overhead. That's where the money is going. You'd think a computer genius would see that just as plain as day.

Posted by: forgetthis | March 1, 2011 11:36 AM | Report abuse

There have been several comments about private schools.

I have a student in public high school, and one in private high school. The public school is considered one of the "best" in the state and the private one is a college prep school where the students score much higher than even the good publics.

First, there are more students per class in the private school.

Secondly, there are no "fluff" classes offered at the private school - there are a few art and music classes offered before school or in place of homeroom, but most classes are only in the core academic areas.

Next, the curriculum at the private school is VERY traditional - grammar, vocab, etc.

The teachers TEACH - no "inquiry-based" guessing games. The coursework is presented and the students must work hard to master it.

They won't HESITATE to discipline any kid who steps out of line.

There are NO bells and whistles in the building. The kids have what they need - modern labs and computers - but nothing fancy that is not educationally necessary.

On the other hand, at the public school, the teachers don't regularly TEACH, the district spends money out the whazzo on fancy facilities, there are literally 100's of non-academic courses offered complete with state of the art cooking labs, the school doesn't regularly control the kids, the kids spend alot of time on fluffy hands-on activities and the teachers occasionally politicize what lectures that actually give and show politically oriented movies (Monsanto is evil, etc.)

Which one of these environments do you think the Obama girls are in????

NO WONDER OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS STINK AND WE'RE BROKE. GET BACK TO BASICS AND BACK TO ACTUALLY TEACHING KIDS!!

Posted by: tina11 | March 1, 2011 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Correction:

When you encounter a classroom where a majority of COLLEGE students have never read an entire (non-children's) book, it is apparent that the problems with education are in the culture, not just the classroom.
==========================

When you have COLLEGES offering full scholarships to students with weak scores and skills because of their minority status and turning others away or requiring them to pay outrageous sums of money even though they were more qualified, you know there are problems with the education culture.

Posted by: tina11 | March 1, 2011 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Follow the money:
-What budget that barely existed in the 1960's now accounts for substantial percentages of school budgets (taxpayer dollars)???
-What industry that makes billions off education could lose substantially if more teachers are hired (& class sizes kept the same)?
-What company dominates the computer networking and operating system market?
-If there were fewer teachers and larger classes wouldn't you need more computers and software to supplement instruction?

You don't have to look far to see what's going on here. It's embarrassing that the press and educators are fawning over Mr. Gates words, however well-intentioned they may be.

Posted by: Pete Shrike | March 1, 2011 1:37 PM | Report abuse

There's an awful lot of tinfoil hat in these responses. I've read Gates' piece a few times now, and there's nothing in there to warrant the kind of knee-jerk reaction visible here. What's so outlandish about what's proposed in his statement? It all seemed quite reasonable to me. Many of the responses here are passionate, emotional arguments against things he never even said. I don't see any reason to believe that there's any ulterior motive on his part. We as a nation aren't doing a particularly commendable job of educating our population overall. I don't think that's an indictment of teachers. It's an Indictment of a system that we, as a nation, have constructed. We should be examining that system, the same way we'd examine any that isn't doing what we want it to do. The solutions we arrive at might not be what we expect coming out of the starting gate, but by all means we should at least undertake the effort to find solutions.

Posted by: mcshaffer | March 1, 2011 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Look - there just isn't a lot that is new in this report. The quality of the teaching is what drives student learning and test scores, duh. HOWEVER, we do not know how to identify good teachers. We do not know how to measure good teaching. We do not know how to teach mediocre teachers to be good teachers. This will take years of observational studies of good teachers and mediocre ones in order to figure out what the difference is. It's not that teachers aren't working hard, it's that nobody (including the teachers themselves) really understands what makes a good teacher good!

Posted by: campbell373 | March 1, 2011 3:51 PM | Report abuse

The irony is that Bill Gates wasn't engaged enough at one of the best universities in the country, if not the world, Harvard, to stay in college himself. I would think they would have some of the best and most credentialed professors anywhere...maybe that is what he is gauging his educational reform ideas on...if his exclusive private education at Harvard wasn't good enough for him, certainly the rest of us in public schools are just bilge water...pretty elitist, to say the least.

To Tina11...all private schools do not have large classes.

Posted by: ilcn | March 1, 2011 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I admire Bill Gates a lot. He has changed the world in technology and now doing good work for the society. However, I do not agree with his comments on schools and teachers etc. The issue is lot more complicated and he does not have the expertise to make these kind of remarks.

Posted by: ak1967 | March 1, 2011 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Tina11:

If your child's teachers are relying solely on problem-based or inquiry-based teaching methods, they're way off the mark. Properly instituted inquiry-based activities are designed so that students will draw upon what they've already learned and identify what more they need to know to solve a problem, rather than having all the answers spoon-fed to them. Following a series of more traditional lessons and study, the teacher poses a question or presents a problem that requires more than a simple "yes," "no," or cut-and-paste response. Students must determine what data or details are actually relevant--a crucial skill in this age of hyper-mis-information. They must apply scientific method, justify their conclusions, compare and contrast their findings, and exercise teamwork (a skill valued by many employers) and organizational skills along the way. Teachers are there, monitoring the active learning processes (not just the answers on a ditto sheet), spotting errors or strengths in reasoning or skill development--often across the curriculum--answering questions and guiding the students, and then adapting their subsequent lessons accordingly. It's not a predictable, automatic task; it actually requires an observant, thoughtful, and responsive teacher. It's about children taking some responsibility for their own education, rather than sitting on their ever-fatter butts and receiving nothing but passive lectures that the teachers memorized years ago.

When used as part of a lesson plan (rather than the entirety of it), this sort of experimentation actually leads to a deeper understanding of subject matter and enrichment of transferrable learning skills--at all ages. It's an active experience that engages students and leaves them with more than memorized textbook passages.

This type of exercise is not exactly new, and not unsupported. The Academy of Sciences, the Harvard Mathematics department, and the Smithsonian Institute are just some of organizations that recommend inquiry-based learning or endorse it outright. It's most definitely more relevant to the 21rst century and shouldn't be an obstacle to learning...if it's done right.

Posted by: EdgewoodVA | March 1, 2011 7:54 PM | Report abuse

" we do not know how to identify good teachers. We do not know how to measure good teaching. We do not know how to teach mediocre teachers to be good teachers."
When I was in school, I can tell a good teacher from a bad teacher after a couple of classes. I had less than a handful of very very good teachers. The rest are a waste of my time since I knew more than they did.

Posted by: AT_MD | March 1, 2011 9:22 PM | Report abuse

All these round and round too PC to handle the truth stuff.
Reasons why our schools are horrble:
We have horrible parents who have no idea how to raise kids.
We have people who think the Tiger Mom method is horrible, but yet, it is perfectly acceptable to raise un-employable, no skill, zero attention span, let the kid figure it out for themselves method.
There is no consequency for failing. The governement will take care of you. Better yet, get a union job.
We said students are not learning because they weren't fed at home. Now all kids are fed, they are still not learning.
We said the school buildings are falling apart, I see brand new school buildings in bad neighborhood, kids are still not learning.
We will blame everthing just so long no human beings are blamed.
If teacher unions actully believe in what they claim and actualy give a d*mn about teaching, they should weed out the bad teachers themselves (which will not happen in my lifetime). The unions can spin, but the fact that they force states to re-hire absolutely horrible teachers with back pay complete discredit them.

Posted by: AT_MD | March 1, 2011 9:37 PM | Report abuse

EdgewoodVA,

You stated, "Properly instituted inquiry-based activities are designed so that students will draw upon what they've already learned and identify what more they need to know to solve a problem, rather than having all the answers spoon-fed to them."

In our district, this method of instruction is used in the honors (not sure about regular) science classes. So the first Biology, Chemistry, Physics. So it's going to be hard for students to draw upon information already learned when they're first being introduced to the subject. There are no textbooks for the classes and as far as I could tell, little instruction or direction.

I'm not advocating spoon feeding, but we need to clearly present information to kids. Then give them opportunities to apply it and take it a step further. It also ensures the information they have collected is factual.

I think the problem is that these methods are not implemented well. There may be teachers who can "guide" students well using these methods, and there may be others who simply are not capable. So going back to a more traditional approach ensures that ALL students are presented with the information they need to LEARN.

A quick phone call to a major research university indicated that college level Chemistry, Physics and Biology are NOT taught this way.

I think these methods are being taught to secondary education majors and they are very idealistic. Because the burden shifts to the student, too many students could fall through the cracks if they don't "discover" the right information or draw the right conclusions from the activity. If the teacher doesn't then take responsibility for being sure the "got it", the kid is going to do poorly. Students end up with some, but not all the information. Or they're a little fuzzy on some things, but think they've got it down. It becomes a GAME. And that's what I don't like - it seems dishonest.

Our district utilized for awhile a program called "everyday math" developed by the University of Chicago. Really "cool" but SERIOUSLY impractical. They stopped using it because it wasn't producing results. I looked at it when my kids were in elementary and I made sure my kids picked and MASTERED one method of computation - because I knew it would be necessary for future success in math. The "lattice method" - seriously - what egg head thought that was a good idea? Neat, sure - but not remotely realistic.

So it doesn't matter to me if an egghead at Harvard thinks this is a good idea. The proof is in the pudding. Are the kids learning?

I absolutely believe they learn best when it's the TEACHER'S job to clearly and carefully present the material. If they want the kids to teach it AND learn it, they should give their paychecks to the kids.

Posted by: tina11 | March 2, 2011 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Oh and another thing, Edgewood, these same teachers who only "guided" in class where happy to tutor any kid for $50 per hour.

So they didn't teach it in class (or even if the student went to get help during a free period) but they taught it directly if you paid them.

That is just unethical.

Posted by: tina11 | March 2, 2011 9:36 AM | Report abuse

ilcn,

You stated that not all private schools have larger class sizes.

My point is that when we employ traditional instruction and control the classroom, it's not necessary to have small class sizes (especially at the high school level - I'm all for smaller class sizes in elementary).

The underlying reason for the push for smaller classes is that it requires more teachers!!

We all know there are 100's of students in some college classes. And the kids who want to learn, do.

Posted by: tina11 | March 2, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Most of the money in public schools, does not go to the majority of students. One student with special needs may require expenditures of over 100,00 in one year. The student may need a nurse, a parapro, and a teacher assigned to just him or her. Does that student deserve a quality education? People are complaining about how much money is being spent, but a lot of money is concentrated in special education. The public needs to decide if educating all students is worth the cost.

Posted by: tiredofteacherbeatings | March 2, 2011 11:44 PM | Report abuse

There are also complaints about lack of discipline in the school. According to the rules if I have an ED student who attacks another student, we cannot punish him for his disability. If I have a student who yells out in class because he cannot control himself, isn't that what mainstreaming students is all about? I have many students with disabilities who work hard and are not a disruption and I have students without disabilites who are disruptions, but with the idea that every child can learn and can graduate from high school in 4 years ask the politican what they expect to happen in public education.

Posted by: tiredofteacherbeatings | March 2, 2011 11:49 PM | Report abuse

Have any commentators really looked at the NEAP data explorer, and contrasted it with high stakes state testing? Its not rocket science to see that states are pouring tremendous amount of money into testing tools that seem for the most part pretty useless.

The test results seem more or nearly as dependent upon sociological factors such as parents education, race, and language than what may or may not have occurred in the classroom.


Posted by: ronamundson | March 4, 2011 12:48 AM | Report abuse

"Teachers are evaluated -- but '99 percent get the high rating,' Gates said. Few teachers earn poor evaluations, and fewer still are rewarded or denied money according to those evaluations."


This is CLEARLY an administrative issue NOT a teacher issue if he feels these evaluations don't ring true. After all, we teachers do not evaluate ourselves!!

Once you've been in education long enough you learn that more attention needs to be given to the lack of leadership in education. If Bill Gates were actually an educator, he might have a clue. I'd like to see this guy teach my Intervention class for one week. ONE WEEK, DUDE... those 20 kids would eat him alive. Then I'd like to see him last even one day with Intervention at 30-35 kids.

Good lord... every teacher knows what a difference class size can make... particularly with ELD and remedial/support classes.

It's so easy to take jabs at teachers and blame them for everything that is wrong with education. I wish he would redirect his attentions onto the lack of leadership.

Here in California one needs only 3 yrs of teaching experience before getting an admin credential... and then you can just take a test to get it. Everything starts at the top. I have seen so much disorganization due to inexperienced or corrupt leadership... people who couldn't hack it in the classroom and went into admin thinking they'd escape work... or people drunk with power who value power more than actual leadership.

I say invest in better leaders and higher standards for admin positions... and for more leadership training across the board to all staff... and don't forget the department heads who get absolutely NO LEADERSHIP TRAINING whatsoever.

Please Bill Gates... if you're going to swing your $$ about... do your homework!

Posted by: ttme0514 | March 5, 2011 1:29 AM | Report abuse

ttme0514: HEAR, HEAR!!!

Thank you!

Posted by: EdgewoodVA | March 7, 2011 5:41 PM | Report abuse

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