In the year that I have had this blog, I have never posted the same article twice.
I posted this one yesterday, and I am posting it again, to draw attention to some curious statements made by Bill Gates in the course of an interview. I am not picking on Bill, but drawing attention to his assumptions. What he believes matters a great deal because his billions, in tandem with federal policy (which he shapes) has a large impact on tens of millions of students and their teachers. His influence is multiplied yet again because almost every other foundation follows his lead, assuming that he knows best because he has the most money.
Yesterday I posted the interview (below) to draw attention to the fact that his favorite technology startup is one that his foundation started, though that was not mentioned. It is inBloom, the new tech company Gates funded with $100 million, in partnership with Rupert Murdoch, to collect confidential student data, which may be used by vendors. The vendors will use the data to design and market new products, based on their access to children's names, address, grades, test scores, disabilities, attendance, suspensions, etc. in 2011, the US Department of Education loosened the restrictions on the federal privacy act (FERPA), allowing this release of data without parents' permission. The decision to release the data is in the hands of state education departments, not parents.
Today I call attention to two other noteworthy points.
In this exchange, Gates asserts that the foundation has figured out how to make the average teacher as effective as those in the top quartile. He neglects to mention--maybe he doesn't know--that the implementation of these ideas has not produced this result anywhere. Gates' ideas about teacher evaluation have been adopted in most states because the federal Department of Education made them a condition of Race to the Top and a condition to receive waivers from NCLB. Gates does not acknowledge that these test-based have created massive snafus, in which the district's Teacher of the Year was fired because she was "ineffective" the next year, nor that these Gates-funded evaluation systems are inaccurate and demoralizing. In short, his new Big Idea has already failed, but no one has told him. Maybe they are afraid to tell him.
The question:
"During your SXSW speech, you held up a vial of the polio vaccine as an illustration of the power of innovation to solve a problem by redefining it. What's the big win in education that's similar in scope?"
Gates' answer:
"The foundation's biggest investment, even bigger than what we're doing to enable technology, is in creating a personnel system for K-12 teachers that lets the average teacher move up to be as good as the top quartile. Instead of just being in isolation and getting no feedback, you can be videotaped, you can have a peer evaluator advise you on your performance. When we combine that with student surveys and principals' feedback, we can help teachers learn from the best."
In this next exchange, the interviewer politely points out that so far none of Gates' big ideas has been transformative. His response is to say that works for one group doesn't work for another, which is a good critique of almost everything Gates does. Another way to read his answer is that he still does not know how to transform the K-12 system; what works for highly motivated adults is not what works for extremely heterogeneous youngsters whose motivation is diverse.
The question:
"The performance of independently run public charter schools has been mixed. Breaking up large schools into smaller ones has yielded few improvements. There is little robust data about the impact of laptops, tablets, and other technology on graduation rates or test scores. Do we know enough about what works and what doesn't to undertake large-scale interventions?
Gates' answer:
"These are complex questions, in part because students are heterogeneous. What works for one student won't work for another.
"I'll give you an example. The students who go to Western Governors University [an online, not-for-profit university that is on Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies list in 2013] are older, in their late twenties, early thirties. They have a career goal in mind. They are fairly motivated to finish, and the curriculum is very oriented toward credentialing them for a higher-income occupation. So the persistence you see in that self-selecting group is quite phenomenal. They have very low dropout rates. But you can't just say, "That course material and structure must work for all 18-year-olds." In fact, we know it absolutely does not. That population has a less clear idea of why they're at school, and they have other distractions."