This Sunday’s “Parade Magazine” has an interview with Bill Gates titled What I’ve Learned About Great Teachers.
It’s primarily designed as a puff piece for the “Waiting For Superman” movie, and I was pretty surprised at the shallowness of some of his comments.
For example, here’s one:
The Gates Foundation has learned that two questions can predict how much kids learn: “Does your teacher use class time well?” and, “When you’re confused, does your teacher help you get straightened out?”
How incredibly simplistic.
What in the world is the first question going to mean to a student, and what kind of helpful information is that really going to elicit. How about asking the student to describe what goes on in the classroom and identify common positive characteristics. I think the second question might have some potential, but it would really have value if you wanted to learn what exactly the teacher does when a student is confused. I can think of a number of ways “straightening out” a student is not necessarily going to result in greater understanding, though it might lead to greater “compliance.”
For what I think are genuinely useful ways to elicit student input, you might want to check-out My Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers).
Gates goes on to say this about Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers:
She points out that, on average, charter schools don’t do better than other public schools. She’s right. But it’s a strange point to make: “Hey, they’re as bad as we are!” The fact is, we’re failing those kids. Ms. Weingarten represents the teachers’ union, but say there was a students’ union. Might they ask that the dropout rate be lowered? Might they stay at the negotiating table until it was below 50%? We ought to ask kids whether they think the status quo is working.
How disingenuous. I think one point Ms. Weingarten is making is that charter schools are not the magic bullet to fixing education, and that there are bad and good charters and non-charters alike. And Gates, and “Waiting For Superman” just skip over all the other problems with charters (including “creaming”) and instead focus on challenges in non-charter schools.
I also wonder how much the Gates Foundation is actually putting into groups who are working with students to organize themselves. In looking over the website, I certainly didn’t see it listed as a priority area. Is that really his primary method of attack on teachers unions — that if students were organized in a union they would have a different agenda?
What do you think — does the interview seem to you to be as weak as it seems to me?
And thanks to Kenneth Libby for the tip on the piece.