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March 16, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Will It Ever Be Possible For A Teacher To Trust Bill Gates?

I posted Gates Foundation Makes Its Move In California — And It Looks Like Somebody Is Giving Them Good Advice a couple of months ago, and I still believe what I wrote.

However, I’ve just got to say that every time Bill Gates speaks in public, he makes me question whether I should….

Rolling Stone just published an interview with him.

Here’s an excerpt:


Come on, Bill. Perhaps you should read The Best Articles Pointing Out That Our Schools Are Not Failing.

Do many of our schools face lots of challenges? Yes. But we’re doing a pretty good job and, as all research points out, many of our challenges relate to issues outside the schoolhouse walls. That doesn’t mean we can’t do better, but it seems to me a slap in the face to teachers when you make a blanket statement like that…

I thought it was interesting that his interview came on the heels of his appeal to teachers to help defend the Common Core Standards — where he says that there is no voice “more important or trusted” than teachers.

I hope, as his Foundation sort of been saying in their pivoting (which I wrote about in the first link at the top of this post), that this idea of no voice being more important or trusted than teachers will hold true in future Gates Foundation funding decisions — and not just when they want to get educators to support something the foundation has dreamed up on its own and had decided to push.

Ironically, The New York Times just published an article headlined Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science.

Here are some quotes from that piece — see if you see any similarities to what’s happening in schools:

“For better or worse,” said Steven A. Edwards, a policy analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money.”

….Yet that personal setting of priorities is precisely what troubles some in the science establishment. Many of the patrons, they say, are ignoring basic research…

Fundamentally at stake, the critics say, is the social contract that cultivates science for the common good…

August 24, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Bill Gates’ Employee Evaluation Process

We all are familiar with Bill Gates’ efforts to bring his business acumen to our nation’s schools, particularly by implementing new teacher evaluation programs.

Well, how has that worked out at his old business, Microsoft?

At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called “stack ranking.” Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees. The system—also referred to as “the performance model,” “the bell curve,” or just “the employee review”—has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor. …

Read more about its destructive effects at Slate


May 19, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

What Bill Gates Didn’t Say About Videotaping Teachers In His TED Talk On Education

Bill Gates announced his multi-billion dollar plan to videotape teachers in his TED Talk earlier this month (see The Best Of “TED Talks On Education”). As part of his talk, he highlighted videos of teacher Sarah Brown Wessling, who just wrote a post in The Huffington Post about it.

One portion of her piece, in particular, caught my eye:

If we want video to be an effective tool for teacher growth, here are some ways to help shore up enthusiasm.

• Keep evaluation and exercises for growth separate. As soon as evaluation becomes part of this process, the process changes. Teachers are far more likely to go into compliance mode, fearful of making mistakes. And when fear prevails, authenticity loses. So, instead, make the purpose of using video very clear: for self-reflection and growth.

This is the same point I made in The Washington Post in Videotaping teachers the right way (not the Gates way).

I don’t think Mr. Gates is too clear on that, though….

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts & Articles About Videotaping Teachers In The Classroom.

May 8, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Complete Unedited Versions Of Last Night’s TED Talks On Education (Including Bill Gates & His $5 Billion Boondoggle)

You can see last night’s PBS Ted Talk On Education here. However, those talks were edited down from their originals.

Here is where you can see the full unedited versions (including a written transcript) of the talks by these speakers:

Ramsey Musallam: 3 rules to spark learning

Malcolm London: “High School Training Ground”

Pearl Arredondo: My story, from gangland daughter to star teacher

Geoffrey Canada: Our failing schools. Enough is enough!

John Legend: “True Colors”

And I’ve embedded Bill Gates’ full talk (You can get the transcript here) on his plan to videotape every teacher in the United States — at a cost of $5 billion:

Here’s my Washington Post piece on what I think of his idea:

Videotaping teachers the right way (not the Gates way)

January 25, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Bill Gates Endorses Merit Pay & Says We Need To Measure “Value Being Added By Colleges”

Now that the Gates Foundation thinks they’ve figured out how to evaluate teachers (see A Beginning List Of The Best Posts On Gates’ Final MET “Effective Teaching” Report), Bill Gates apparently has decided to endorse merit pay based on those measures (I, at least, hadn’t heard him support it before, but maybe I just missed it).

Gates writes about “measurement systems”
being the key to solving the world’s problems in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Of course, there’s plenty of evidence showing that merit pay is harmful (see The Best Resources For Learning Why Teacher Merit Pay Is A Bad Idea), and it certainly hasn’t received a positive review at Microsoft.

Also, in that article, Gates says we need to measure “value being added by colleges.” Value-added — where have I heard that phrase before?

May 23, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

Surprising — At Least To Me — NY Times Interview With Bill Gates On Education

Source: via Larry on Pinterest

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.

April 7, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

Bill Gates Seems To Think Teaching Is Like Writing Computer Code

In an interview with NPR today, Bill Gates:

said if Microsoft didn’t have evaluations, “it wouldn’t have worked.”

He said that seniority and educational degrees didn’t correlate with “who was writing the best code.”

I “tweeted” this NPR interview when it first came out.

Here’s Jason Middlekauff’s response:

He seems to think teaching is analogous to code writing. Codes have learning styles, distractions, apathy, home influence.

February 22, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Bill Gates — Yes, Bill Gates — Calls Making Teacher Ratings Public “A Big Mistake”

I have little confidence in Bill Gates judgment on education issues, including on how to evaluate teachers. However, he did get one thing right in today’s guest column in The New York Times, which is headlined “Shame Is Not the Solution”:

LAST week, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that teachers’ individual performance assessments could be made public. I have no opinion on the ruling as a matter of law, but as a harbinger of education policy in the United States, it is a big mistake.

I’m adding it to The Best Posts & Articles About The New York Court Decision Releasing Teacher Ratings.

Now, if he would just admit to a few education policy mistakes of his own…

October 24, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Bill Gates Writes Another Guest Column For The Wall Street Journal

Bill Gates (co-authored by his wife, Melinda) has written another guest column for The Wall Street Journal one evaluating teachers. It’s arrogantly titled “Grading the Teachers: Schools have a lot to learn from business about how to improve performance, say Bill and Melinda Gates.”

Walt Gardner posted a good critique of their column at Ed Week — Nothing New about Teaching from Bill Gates.

I don’t have much to add to what Walt wrote, except for one thing. The Gates’ keep on referring to a joint Gates/Scholastic survey of teachers, and this is the only one I could find online. In the article, they claim that “Eighty percent said that teacher tenure should be re-evaluated regularly, and as a group they believe that tenure is granted too early in teachers’ careers.”

However, unless I missed it in the survey, or unless I’m looking at the wrong survey, I couldn’t find any such thing. It does say this:

Only 10% of teachers say that teacher tenure is a “very accurate” measure of teacher performance, with 47% saying it is “somewhat accurate” and 42% saying that it is “not at all accurate.” Veteran teachers are more likely than new teachers to say that tenure is at least somewhat accurate. These results do not indicate teacher opposition to the tenure system, but rather skepticism that tenure is an accurate measure of teacher performance.

So, are the Gates’ wildly misrepresenting what the survey says about tenure, or are the claims backed up elsewhere and I’m just not seeing it?

March 3, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

The Best Posts Responding To Bill Gates’ Appallingly Clueless Op-Ed Piece

Readers of this blog are familiar with the op-ed piece that Bill Gates wrote for the Washington Post this week where he said class size should be increased that teachers haven’t gotten any better over the years (unlike other professions). Believe me, those are just the tip of the iceberg. He also made a similar presentation to a meeting of U.S. Governors this week.

There have been a number of excellent responses to Gates over the past twenty-four hours from….educators.

Here are my choices for The Best Posts Responding To Bill Gates’ Appallingly Clueless Op-Ed Piece:

Though I wouldn’t say mine are the best of the bunch, you might want to check out The Arrogance Of Bill Gates — Part Three and A Perfect Cartoon For Bill Gates.

Who Elected Bill Gates? is from Gary Stager.

Smart Guy (Gates) makes my list of “Dumbest Stuff I’ve Ever Read!” is from School Finance 101.

Can We Improve Education By Increasing Class Size? comes from GOOD.

An Open Letter to Bill Gates: Higher Class Sizes will Drive Teachers Out by Anthony Cody at Ed Week.

Expert Witness comes from Nancy Flanagan at Ed Week.

A partial response to Bill Gates’ op ed about teachers is by Ken Bernstein.

The Bill Gates problem in school reform is by Paul Thomas.

The Increasingly Strange Logic of Bill Gates is by Justin Baeder at Ed Week.

Richard Rothstein has written a great piece titled Fact-Challenged Policy.

Here’s a great column from The Seattle Times pointing out that small class sizes were important to Bill Gates when he went to school, and are an important reason why he sends his kids to the school they attend.

Fact-Challenged Policy is by Richard Rothstein, and is a longer version of a previous piece of his I’ve shared.

Wealthy Amateur Advises Decision-makers about Class Size is by Larry Cuban.

Larry Cuban has written a very important post titled Teacher Resistance and Reform Failure (the title of my post is a quote from it). He makes a number of key points refuting charges that some school reformer make about many of us being “defenders of the status quo.” In addition, because he points out how teachers have indeed changed their pedagogy over the years, it’s a good response to Bill Gates’ charge that teaching hasn’t changed in a hundred years. Because of that, I’m adding it here.

Additional suggestions are welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to consider subscribing to this blog for free.

You might also want to explore the over 600 other “The Best…” lists I’ve compiled.

March 2, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

A Perfect Cartoon For Bill Gates

I’m a fan of the comic strip “Pearls Before Swine,” and today’s edition reminded me of Bill Gates and other reformers who have little (if any) direct experience in education but have unhelpful ideas — and the power to push them.

A little information can be dangerous. The difference, of course, is that unlike the gophers in this strip, when some “school reformers” push a new and shiny idea that blows up, our students, their families and us are the ones who get hurt. The school reformers usually do fine.

Pearls Before Swine

February 28, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Arrogance Of Bill Gates — Part Three

It’s truly amazing to me that a person as smart as Bill Gates can be as clueless as he is about education. It appears that the Arrogance Of Bill Gates is going to be a running series in this blog. Today, he really out-did himself in The Washington Post.

My Teacher Leaders Network colleague Kenneth Bernstein has already offered an eloquent response, so I’m not going to write a lengthy post here. (Stephen Krashen has also posted a response).

I would, however, like to point out a few things.

One, in response to his praise of his foundation-funded teacher evaluation strategy of having thousands of teachers videotaped and having “experts” review them and tie them to test score improvement, he and others might want to read Why I’m Afraid The Gates Foundation Might Be Minimizing Great Tools For Helping Teachers Improve Their Craft, Videotaping teachers the right way (not the Gates way), and/or There Are Some Right Ways & Some Wrong Ways To Videotape Teachers — And This Is A Wrong Way.

Second, in response to his dismissing the value of class size reduction, he and others might want to read The Best Resources For Learning About How Class Size Does Matter.

And, third, in response to his advocacy of teacher merit pay, he and others might want to read The Best Resources For Learning Why Teacher Merit Pay Is A Bad Idea.

Additional responses to his column are welcome….

February 2, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Arrogance Of Bill Gates — Part Two

Late last year, I wrote a post titled The Arrogance of Bill Gates. It was a commentary about his attack on Diane Ravitch in Newsweek by saying that since she didn’t agree with him than she must be for the status quo.

He’s at it again.

Here are a few comments he made when he visited the Washington Post yesterday:

“There’s almost no profession that you could say that the 2011 practitioner may not be any better than the 1920 practitioner, and teaching I think is the only profession you can say that about. …

On tenure, Gates said he understood why it was needed for college professors. But he said he was perplexed by tenure laws and rules that provide school teachers with significant due-process protections in personnel cases after they pass a probationary period.

“The idea that this one shouldn’t be about what goes on with the kids always seemed a little unusual,” he said. “You know, maybe we should try tenure in other professions. Just, you know, mix it up a little bit. Pay newspaper editors by seniority. Have tenure for them and see how that works. Try it for hot-dog making or restaurants.”

It’s absolutely mind-boggling…

November 28, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Arrogance Of Bill Gates

In Newsweek this week, Bill Gates once again joins other “school reformers” in their arrogant attitude that if you don’t agree with them, then you’re for the “status quo” and you’re “sticking up for decline.”

Actually, he was directing that accusation against Diane Ravitch, the well-respected education historian, researcher and author.

Come on, Bill and (many of his allies). I really do think you want to do what you think is best for kids, though I believe you have little useful experience, are ill-informed, and have an inaccurate analysis of the both the problems and solutions to the challenges facing public education. But, you know, it sounds like you do have some decent ideas, too.

Do you and your allies have to so often have this black/white view of the world?

Readers might also be interested in previous posts and articles I’ve written about this topic of arrogance:

The importance of being unprincipled

Just What Our Schools Need — A Second Appalling Manifesto

Let’s Do Less ‘Fire, Ready, Aim’

Private Foundations Have A Place (And Have To Be Kept In Their Place)

October 22, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Is Bill Gates Really As Clueless About Schools As He Sounds In This Interview?

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.

September 6, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

Teaching History In The News!

Boy, the teaching of history is in the news!

First up, Bill Gates, who thinks we should all learn math through the Khan Academy (see The Best Posts About The Khan Academy) because he likes it, now has a way in mind he wants us all to learn history. Read about it in today’s New York Times story, So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class …

Apparently, Gates was watching this history video about history while running on his treadmill, and now has created a course he wants high schools to teach using this methodology. It’s called The Big History Project and, after a quick perusal, I wouldn’t put it on any of my “Best” lists. However, I am adding the piece to The Best Resources For Learning About The Role Of Private Foundations In Education Policy.

You’ll want to read the article, which provides a fair amount of space to valuable criticisms about education philanthropy, including this one:

“I just finished reading William Easterly’s ‘The Tyranny of Experts,’ ” says Scott L. Thomas, dean of the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California. “It’s about philanthropists and their effect on the poor globally. It’s this exact idea that here you have this ‘expert’ in the middle” — that is, Gates — “enabling the pursuit of this project. And frankly, in the eyes of the critics, he’s really not an expert. He just happens to be a guy that watched a DVD and thought it was a good idea and had a bunch of money to fund it.”

Here are some other interesting comments:

And here’s another excerpt from the article:


On the other hand, here are some more useful recent resources on teaching history:

Does It Help to Know History? is from The New Yorker.

American History-American Story is from Chris Lehmann

The New History Wars is from The New York Times.

Don’t Know Much Revisionist History is from Slate.

July 11, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

This Week’s “Round-Up” Of Useful Posts & Articles On Education Policy

Here are some useful posts and articles on educational policy issues:

‘Innovation’ Schools Get a Chance to Shake Up the Rules is from WNYC in New York City.

Departure of Official Is Sought by Teachers is from The New York Times.

A Draft Bill of Research Rights for Educators is by Daniel Willingham. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Understanding How To Interpret Education Research.

Which Education Research Is Worth the Hype? is from The Education Writers Association. I’m adding it to the same list.

Gates’ Excuse for Poor Results of Educational Technology: “Unmotivated Students” and A Question for Bill Gates: How Can We Motivate Students When Their Futures Are Bleak? are both by Anthony Cody at Ed Week. I’m adding them to The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students.

A Return to ‘Balanced Literacy’? is from Education Week. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About Balanced Literacy & The “Reading Wars.”

Connecting school spending and student achievement is an article in The Washington Post about a really weird “return on investment” ranking of most school districts in the U.S.

Here are several additions to California Court Rules It’s All The Teachers’ Fault, where I’ve been collecting commentaries on the Vergara court decision:

Grounding Vergara In The Realities of Teaching in California is from Ed Week.

For Vergara Ruling on Teachers, Big Questions Loom is also from Ed Week.

Guest Post: In Defense of “Last-In, First-Out” is from on labor.

June 8, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

This Week’s Useful Posts & Articles On Education Policy Issues

'IMG_4039' photo (c) 2010, alyssalaurel - license:

Here are some recent posts and articles on educational policy issues:

How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution is from The Washington Post. It’s long and important, and I’m adding it to A Collection Of My “Best” Lists On The Common Core.

New teachers union chief is unapologetically adversarial is from The Boston Globe. It looks like some interesting stuff is going to be happening in Massachusetts.

Correcting a Harmful Misuse of Students’ Test Scores is by W. James Popham, and appeared in Ed Week. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About Effective Student & Teacher Assessments.

Zuckerberg schools donation is a gift but at what price? appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About The Role Of Private Foundations In Education Policy.

Less Than Half of U.S. Students Slated to Take PARCC, Smarter Balanced Tests is from Ed Week. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About The “Next Generation” Of State Testing.