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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

BIll Gates Puts his 2 Cents in the Pot (ok, a little more than 2 cents)

We all remember Bill Gates from Microsoft and now his charity work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation has been the biggest player by far in the school reform movement, spending around $200 million a year on grants to elementary and secondary education.

Well now the foundation is spending millions to influence how the federal government distributes $5 billion in grants to overhaul public schools. Read the article Bill Gates makes big push on education reform to learn more.

The catch is that the foundation believes in paying teachers based on student test scores, among other measures of achievement; charter schools that operate independently of local school boards; and a set of common academic standards adopted by every state. (To me, as an instructor and a professor, I can't disagree entirely with those points...although, I think that pay needs to be based on a combination of factors that can include test scores but also should include other outcomes)

However, as much money and effort that is being put behind the reform, we've seen similar efforts before. To really reform schools, we need a national imperative like the space race to get students, teachers and parents all on board concerning the value of education. We need a "stop everything" mandate like "we will have an oil free economy by 2015" now that would be a Big Harry Audacious Goal and it just might work. Short of that, I see little hope of meaningful reform.

On a related note, their is an increasing call for reform in Teacher Education programs. As one article notes, the "administration is calling for an overhaul of college programs that prepare teachers, saying they are cash cows that do a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the classroom." From what I've seen a need for more technology education, a better understanding of educational research and more focus on instructional design is definitely required within these programs. Read the complete article Education chief: Overhaul teacher training

However, when people talk about "pay for performance for teachers" I always wonder if it will end up like the "pay for performance" of Wall Street brokers who get bonuses no matter how much jeopardy they place their company or themselves or the country. Not sure "pay for performance" is the universal answer to educational reform.It did keep our financial markets from doing anything but work in the favor of the few and not the many.

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Clark said...

Karl, this article backs up the point about the problems of a one-dimensional focus for incentives.

I'd suggest, that, worse, test scores aren't measuring the important skills (cf Jonassen on relation between school problems and real world needs, Downs and others on competencies vs knowledge, etc).

I've argued that our 'man on the moon' project should be an entire K12 curriculum online (which *would* be a set of common academic standards), but overall, I worry a bit when someone can wield this much influence based upon his wallet. Just because he knows how to flog software (triumph of marketing over matter), doesn't qualify him as an educational expert, and here it may be politics trumps policy.

I agree with reform in Teacher Ed programs, but if it's not coupled with other reforms, it still won't work.

It's complex, and like so many situations there are solutions that are simple, obvious, compelling, but wrong. We need to go to the mat with this, not toss off homilies. Thanks for the pointers!

Karl Kapp said...


You make excellent points, this is not educational reform based on the facts but based on dollars. And that doesn't work as indicated in the article you provided in the link (great article by the way.)

Again, I agree that reform efforts must work hand in glove with each other and that is a long difficult process. However, when we are overrun by technology, innovations and from other countries, perhaps that will be the wake up call.

Thanks for the comment.

colleen said...

Thanks for this blog. Not quite sure how I found it as i was blissfully clicking. So glad I did. I am concerned about 2 things when we talk about reform. One is - lets keep it moving... talk is cheap, but it can also be static. We need action. Even if we make the absolute wrong move- it may be easier to correct it than it will be to talk about this for another 10 years while tenured teachers continue to burn out, education continues to carry dead wood and our society suffers.
Secondly, I am also a university teacher and education consultant and I can not echo your idea enough to revamp or step up the teacher training programs...especially in regards to technology. Our students are now more versed than our faculty on technology...and more obsessed as well. We really need to channel that enthusiasm about the electronic devices and CMC and plug our methods into them so knowledge can be gained 20 fold. This is not a project that can wait another 10 years to discuss. As we decide to reflect on ALL the options, pop culture is using technology to fill our kids heads with the default.