I’m not sure what brings Bill Gates to the level of education expert or how his technological advances have given him the power to hire folks who are influencing Secretary Duncan and President Obama. I am very thankful for philanthropists like Mr Gates but their influence should stop with the money they give and allow people with more child – centered and –oriented philosophies to decide where the money is spent.
Both of these points/concerns are validated, affirmed and bolstered by one statement by Mr Gates: “It’s no secret U.S. education system is failing.”
Given the vast diversity of children who come to our classrooms, the sheer number of students, the neutering of talented teachers by ridiculous and myopic standards and constant pressure by the general public and outspoken billionaires to go higher up the NAEP ladder over Slovokia on science tests; I believe the American educational system surpasses what one might expect it to do.
We have millions of children living in poverty who come to school without food in their bellies or even look forward to food in their bellies when they get home at night. They walk through violent, dirty, decrepit neighborhoods where getting home safely is the toughest test they will mother works two or sometimes three jobs. Is this the same in many countries? No. In some countries, children walk through the rubble of American forces’ and insurgents’ bombs. In some, fathers are in battle, dead or just leave. In some, there is no formal schooling and in others schooling is for the males only and religion-based. Furthermore, some countries have abject poverty Americans can only imagine in their worst dreams. But I think the United States may be one of the few western countries where ALL of those factors influence a large group of children. For example, do some children in large, urban environments face these challenges? Hmmm…
1) Children walk through rubble? Yes
2) Children of single parents? Yes
3) Children have unequal education? Yes
4) Children live in sub-par
socioeconomic conditions? Yes
Any program, like No Child Left Behind (NCLB), that uses carrots and sticks as the incentive for – as the article says – cooperation with the program, should realize its strategy as well-worn and ineffective. We all need to realize that every city, every school, every classroom and every child, are not the same and one set of practices or standards or even incentives will be effective or necessary for every school. Examples of children who are empathetic and giving make the newspaper every so often and ought to be an example for Gates, President Obama and Secretary Duncan; children know that there are people in their world who need more to help them get along. Take the example and give to the schools and communities who actually need it - not the ones who can afford to pay a professional grant writer.
The fact that the administration is using money to get schools to do what they want is neither helpful nor ethical. Take the lead of children and give money to schools that need it based on a few, very simple characteristics: 1) they are low performing, 2) they are surrounded by poverty, unemployment and strife and, 3) teachers there work twice as hard for two-thirds the salary.
Low Performing schools.
This label should be determined by assessments made by the teachers and staff of the school. We don’t need to compare children in Brooklyn with children in San Francisco – we need to compare each child’s performance with their previous performance. Every assessment authority will tell you that comparing pre-assessment scores with summative assessment scores is the only way to measure real progress; using normative scores to determine a child’s performance or worse yet, their intelligence, is unethical and ineffective. Without the stick of punishment, we might have less teachers and principals cheating.
Unemployment, poverty and strife.
In my opinion, these are the three horsemen of the apocalypse. Lack of opportunity for uneducated, untrained school dropouts who start families and live in poverty with very little chance of their children having the ability to leave the world of poverty and then both generations fall into strife, anger, frustration, crime and violence are what will cause the United States to fall short of any goal to advance in the international test standings. We fix that by using Gates, Obama and Duncan’s billions to create job training and jobs so that parents (single or not) can provide a healthy start for children. Communities will not be scarred by violence because disillusionment will subside and people will be working (not everyone but EVERYONE isn’t the problem). When we have put most of the members of a working community into jobs, we can begin to bring back those who have left the fold because of their anger and frustration at being excluded from the American Dream. When communities are lifted from unemployment, poverty and strife – children’s performance will improve in the schools.
Teachers who work twice as hard for two-thirds the salary.
Teacher merit pay is the most short-sighted, ineffective program the Obama administration could possibly devise in their Race to the Top incentive program . BUT, if school physical plants are improved, the surrounding communities are improved and the lives of the people in those communities are improved – teachers will be able to focus on academics and student performance will increase. It’s true. That’s what will happen. Let’s try it and if I am wrong, at least the communities, community members and schools will be improved. But to connect teacher merit pay to student performance on national standardized tests is just ridiculous. I believe 98% of teachers work very, very hard – well, maybe 90% - but it is a challenging lifestyle so I will give the benefit of the doubt. But I am POSITIVE the work and effort necessary to be successful and mentally fit in some of America’s urban, poverty-stricken neighborhoods push the limits of even the best intentioned person (and there are myriad books to read that can attest to this, see: any of Rene Esquith’s books, Teacher Man, Kozol books). Research studying who gets hired by the most difficult schools in the country suggest that it is often the lesser qualified/talented of the new teachers. Whether or not they start out as the most talented – I believe they are among the heroes in our society. I say this mostly because, like police officers and firefighters, when others are running away from the danger, urban teachers are moving toward it. Anyway, merit pay for teachers in schools that hardly need ANY incentive to succeed and perform well on tests is inherently unequal and unethical because the challenges are not the same or even on the same level.
Dear President Obama, Secretary Duncan and Bill Gates…
First, give money to the schools that actually need it and ignore the cries for equality by parents and teachers who know very well that their schools don’t really need it.
Second, leave teachers alone. They know their students and they know how to get their students to perform. If you want to give teachers something to improve their skills – just give the money to them or pay for the training in various pedagogical areas. No incentives, no bribes, no threats, just goodwill contributions to the skills of teachers working with our future.
Third, improve the communities and the lives of community members with your billions of dollars. This will improve children’s performance in school. I promise. Just try it!
Fourth, improve school’s physical plants. I see so many schools that are run down, overgrown and falling apart. Would President Obama be happy and work hard in a White House that looks shabby? How about Mr. Duncan’s office or Mr. Gates’ office or Microsoft offices? I will bet they all look pretty nice and new.
Fifth, do all of this because it is in the best interest of our children and consequently, our future. Don’t do it because schools will do what you tell them to do, or they will use MS Office in their school computer labs or because people will remember you as the “Education President.” Do it because with the power you have been given, you accept the responsibility of providing for those less fortunate.