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Bill Gates’s new straw man – teacher seniority…

May 25, 2011

Article - Ravitch Bill Gates

Diane Ravitch has another good piece out in the Daily Beast.  In the article she references a piece in the NYTimes this weekend which I failed to catch and post on.  The article talks about who is behind the efforts in Indiana to get rid of seniority based layoffs.  Excerpts below but please take the link and read the article:

A handful of outspoken teachers helped persuade state lawmakers this spring to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies. They testified before the legislature, wrote briefing papers and published an op-ed article in The Indianapolis Star.

They described themselves simply as local teachers who favored school reform — one sympathetic state representative, Mary Ann Sullivan, said, “They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.” They were, but they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For years, Bill Gates focused his education philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation’s education policies. To that end, the foundation is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.

Back to Ravitch who is writing about the article in the NYTimes talking about Gates:

As I showed in my recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School SystemGates is one of a small group of billionaires that is promoting privatization, de-professionalization, and high-stakes testing as fixes for American public schools. I called this group “the billionaire boys club,” which includes Gates, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

The Times article documents how Gates has put almost everyone concerned with education policy in his debt: advocacy groups and think tanks of left and right, education journals, public television programs, leaders in academia, local school districts, and state education groups. In addition to what is reported in the Times, Gates has significantly influenced the policies of the U.S. Department of Education, especially its signature program “Race to the Top,” which encourages more privately managed charter schools and recommends that states judge teacher quality by student test scores.

Gates appears to mean well, but he has obviously—and repeatedly—gotten bad advice.

About a decade ago, he decided that the biggest problem in U.S. education was the size of high schools, and he proceeded to spend $2 billion to persuade school districts to downsize their high schools. He told the nation’s governors that the American comprehensive high school was “obsolete.” Districts lined up to get grants from his foundation to break up their high schools, and more than 2,000 of them converted to small schools, with mixed results. Some fell into squabbling turf wars, some succeeded, but Gates’ own researchers concluded that the students in large schools got better test scores than those in his prized small schools. So in late 2008, he simply walked away from what was once his burning cause.

It is very interesting to me that no one ever talks about this major failure by Gates’s group, it is like he silently wants it to just go away.  Had I not read Diane’s book, I wouldn’t have even known about it.  As I have now written about many times; people with deep, deep pockets want to change education as we know it.  They want to literally destroy unions and job security with no regards for our students’ lives.  Gates now thinks higher class sizes and getting rid of seniority are the secret formula to successful schools, 10 years ago, as evidenced above, he thought large high schools were the problem.  Who knows what is next.  I have learned tons of valuable teaching information and strategies from veteran teachers, we need veteran teachers to be with our students, people who don’t recognize that fact have obviously not spent much time in schools.  More from this article below, it is really a must read:

Gates seems not to know or care that the leading testing experts in the nation agreethat this is a fruitless and wrongheaded way to identify either good teachers or bad teachers. Student test scores depend on what students do, what effort they expend, how often they attend school, what support they have at home, and most especially on their socioeconomic status and family income. Test scores may go up or go down, in response to the composition of the class, without regard to teacher quality. Students are not randomly assigned to teachers. A teacher of gifted children, whose scores are already sky-high, may see little or no gains. A teacher of children with disabilities may be thrilled to see students respond to instruction, even if their test scores don’t go up. A teacher in a poor neighborhood may have high student turnover and poor attendance, and the scores will say nothing about his or her quality. But all will get low marks on state evaluation systems and may end up fired.

So far, the main effect of Gates’ policy has been to demoralize millions of teachers, who don’t understand how they went from being respected members of the community to Public Enemy No. 1.

As a nation we now have a toxic combination of a failed federal policy—No Child Left Behind—which made testing the be-all and end-all of schooling, and Bill Gates’ misguided belief that teacher quality can be determined by student test scores. In the years ahead, American students will undergo more and more testing, the testing industry will fatten, and the quality of education will suffer. To save their necks, teachers will teach to bad tests, school districts will drop the arts, and shrink the time available for subjects like history, geography, civics, science, and foreign languages to make time for more testing. And there will be more cheating scandals as test scores determine the lives and careers of teachers and principals, and the survival of their schools.

What is most alarming about the Times article is that Bill Gates is using his vast resources to impose his will on the nation and to subvert the democratic process. Why have we decided to outsource public education to a well-meaning but ill-informed billionaire?

Great question Diane!  Why have we decided to outsource public education to an ill-informed billionaire?  Let me take a guess at that real quick:  This has happened because today MONEY is king, if you have it, you can make the rules.  We see that in how our corporate executives run their businesses, they shoot for the next earnings season, not building true shareholder wealth.  It is the same in all areas of society today, we have become a “must-have-now” culture.  Gates has deep pockets, organizations are sprouting up all over to take his money and advance his educational philosophy.  This won’t change unless he is discredited, that is, if the press can hold these people accountable to these measures when they inevitably fail.


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