This quote comes from yesterday’s New York Times column by Joe Nocera — his account of an interview with Bill Gates on Education.
It seems a bit odd to me, and often I can’t really tell how much of what Nocera writes is his overly optimistic interpretation of what Bill Gates says, and how much of it is really what Gates now believes. Based on what Gates and his foundation have said and done in the past, it appears to me that Gates might have made some important shifts, but I can’t tell for sure. Here’s another excerpt:
While Gates does not dismiss the need for test scores — “you do have to know whether equations are being learned,” he said — he views them as the least important in terms of helping teachers improve. A test score, he said, “is not very diagnostic. You usually give them at the end of the year, so they don’t help you during the year.” Far more important, he believes, are the peer teachers, who are paid with the foundation’s money and whose job is to work with teachers on the nuts and bolts of teaching.
And that’s the final point. In business, employee evaluation systems are aimed at improving employee performance. Yes, sometimes they lead to an underperformer being fired, but that is really not their primary purpose.
Teaching has never really had the kind of sensible evaluation system that business takes for granted. Seniority used to be all that mattered. Now, test scores have become dominant. Neither system has had as its goal getting teachers to improve what they do in the classroom. That is what Gates is trying to change.
It certainly hasn’t seemed to me that Gates has been emphasizing teacher development and de-emphasizing the role of test scores in the past (see The Best Posts Responding To Bill Gates’ Appallingly Clueless Op-Ed Piece; The Best Posts On The Gates’ Funded Measures Of Effective Teaching Report; Gates Foundation Minimizing Great Tools For Helping Teachers Improve Their Craft and Videotaping teachers the right way (not the Gates way).
To his credit, though, he did come out against publicly listing teacher rankings — though it was after many other people had already done so.
What do you think — is Gates really shifting, or might I be reading too much into this interview.