Thursday, March 03, 2011

Mr. Gates, you, sir, are no teacher!

“To flip the curve, we have to identify great teachers, find out what makes them so effective and transfer those skills to others so more students can enjoy top teachers and high achievement.” --Bill Gates in the Washington Post Feb. 28, 2011

Bill Gates - Interviewphoto © 2010 OnInnovation (via: Wylio)

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Dear Mr. Gates,
I am an assistant professor from one of the many places across the country where we create and train new teachers, and you, sir, are no teacher.

Your advice to fix a system that is horribly broken is pretty simplistic. Let’s see, just find out what makes great teachers effective, hmm. We hadn’t thought of that! Well, duh, of course we have! however, I would disagree that there is a discrete and replicable “skill set” waiting out there to be discovered by colleges of education everywhere. As a professional educator, I would teach the heck out of that skill set if I knew it was the silver bullet to make education better. Teaching is more than can be distilled into a checklist--To Make a Good Teacher.

And why is the only reason we want good teachers is to have high achievement? What does high achievement mean when it is based on some dumb test that asks our students to recall 20th century information for 19th century school systems?

“To this end, our foundation is working with nearly 3,000 teachers in seven urban school districts to develop fair and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness that are tied to gains in student achievement.” --Bill Gates

How many people at your foundation are educators, Bill? For the US initiative, just one, Vicki Phillips. Hmmmm so what do these other non-teachers, non-educators know about fixing the problems? Oh, right they have knowledge because they went to schools 20 or 30 years ago. Or they think they can apply a business or economic model to schools. I have news for you--our schools are not just knowledge factories. We cannot turn away the “defective” students because the economic model says to. We are really the only country left who at least tries (I know that we don’t always succeed, but at least we try!) to educate ALL of our children, not just some of the privileged ones.

This page about Measures of Effective Teaching at the Gates Foundation web site really doesn’t say anything, so apparently the Gates Foundation does not have the answer either.

What makes an effective teacher? Lecturing, not lecturing, using technology, not using technology, using textbooks, not using textbooks, using hands-on manipulatives, group work, individualized work? A little bit of all of that and a whole lot more is what my college of education strives to give our graduates. We make them compassionate, knowledgeable champions for the students they teach (who will not be in urban areas like the ones your foundation studied). We give them as much support and help as we can by offering field experiences, student internships, and professional development. What we don’t do is drill and kill them to death on test-taking strategies. We give them the tools to bring both the art and science of teaching to their classroom.

I believe, Mr. Gates, that I am trying in my classes to teach the next generation of teachers to be thinkers, to be advocates for their students, and to use technology and anything else they can find to motivate students. I might not be making a profit, but I am making a difference!


Dr. Laurie Fowler
Assistant Professor


Kay said...

Thank you for your encouraging words. The news in Indiana is more discouraging every day with the state leaders intent on turning over public schools to private corporations. I'm still trying to figure out how someone is going to make a profit off our students.

Laurie said...

Thanks, Kay, for your comment. I have also gotten some responses on my Facebook page, too. This is a hot topic! I know what you mean about people trying to make a profit off of our students.


Tracy Watanabe said...

Nicely said, Laurie. Powerful post. Thank you.

Kind regards,
Tracy Watanabe

Ron Amundson said...

The preliminary report at the MET page has textual discussion and data... but the two are at odds with one another. I fear politicians will only look at the text, and not the less than convincing data which supposedly supports it.

tikno said...

Your encouraging words is nice. But... just think that what has been done by Bill is another "not-bad" project for education.