Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mr. Gates Unleashes the Parasites

Over at's blog, they posted a speech by gazillionaire education reformer Bill Gates. Mr. Gates, as you may know, runs around giving seed money to his pet projects, which are then dumped on taxpayers in perpetuity. One of Gates' signature issues was small schools, which he later decided was not such a good idea after all. Oops. Too bad we closed and renamed every high school in the Bronx.

It was rough sitting through twenty minutes of Gates. For the first ten, he discussed the progress we've made against disease, and released a bunch of mosquitos into the crowd to demonstrate just how many of them wouldn't get malaria nowadays. After the talk of mosquitos, Gates discussed the other problem that, in his view, was ruining the world--teachers.

Gates clearly knows very little idea about what he's discussing. The situations regular public school teachers deal with are various, and the notion that experience plays no part in dealing with what comes up is preposterous. Nonetheless, he's firmly convinced by something he read somewhere that teachers do not improve after three years. Personally, I've got 24, and the way I handle a possible incident in my classroom is much different than the way I would've handled it twenty years ago. In fact, I don't remember the last noteworthy incident in my classroom. As a newer teacher, they occurred on a fairly regular basis.

Of course, unscripted incidents don't occur in Mr. Gates' world. When Gates speaks of improvement, he means only rising test scores. I think my experience helps with that too, but Gates says it doesn't, and he has more money than I do, so I must be wrong. Nonetheless, the notion that test scores are all we deal with is idiotic, as is the notion that just anyone can control 34 city kids at a time. Gates then derides Master's degrees, as they also fail to increase test scores. Perhaps he's right, but less educated teachers, frankly, are not what I want for my kid. Of course, they're not what Gates wants for his kids either, who wouldn't attend public schools on a bet.

What is Gates' answer to the daunting problem of test scores? Well, we need merit pay, of course, and KIPP schools Why? Well, when he visited a KIPP school, the teacher ran around the class, made sure everyone was participating. It was amazing! He'd never seen anything like it! Clearly the answer is to increase the school week by 50% and eliminate unions. Also, no more raises for teachers after three years. We could just replace them and make the used ones work at Walmart. Jobs like that will ensure a bright future for all the kids he cares so much about.

The notion that public school teachers do not run around and engage kids is about as preposterous as any Gates set forth, as is the notion that such behavior is extraordinary. I do it every day. Still, since I can't be fired at will by Michelle Rhee, I'm part of the problem. After all, if I could be fired for writing this, there'd be fewer voices against Gates, and that's what democracy is all about, isn't it?

It's telling that Gates speaks of public school teacher retention, but neglects utterly to examine KIPP in that respect. It's interesting that the KIPP population, consisting 100% of kids with proactive parents, is compared directly to public school, which takes absolutely everyone. Even more interesting, Gates failed to note the dropout rate at KIPP, or the fact that those who leave are not replaced.

Sorry, but it's a hell of a lot easier to control and maintain a class under a private school or KIPP environment, and I don't think for a minute Mr. Gates, self-styled expert, could handle my kids or my job. For one thing, he just stood there lecturing, and failed to differentiate instruction for the folks who each paid 6000 bucks to listen to him.

It's nice to have billionaires, whose kids wouldn't attend public schools on a bet, running around stating what they think should be done about public education. Gates, of course, has no idea why the Nassau schools five minutes away from NYC do as well as KIPP without union-busting, or kids and teachers working preposterously long weeks. I could tell him, if he weren't already so in love with Jay Matthews. In fact, he thrilled the audience by giving them free copies of Matthews' book about KIPP.

Personally, I heard nothing new or surprising from Gates. His description of the KIPP classrom sounded like no big deal at all. I've watched his "reforms" in action, and aside from much-enhanced PR and larger-scale rigging of stats, there's just not a whole lot to jump up and down about. We can do better for our kids, and it's unfortunate that their futures are, to whatever extent, in the hands of trigger-happy galoots like Bill Gates.

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