Bill Gates and Education – The Latest Chapter

Bill Gates, the founder and former chairman of Microsoft, has made education-related philanthropy a major focus since stepping down from his day-to-day role in the company in 2008.

His new area of interest: helping solve schools’ money problems. In a speech Mr. Gates — who is gaining considerable clout in education circles — urged the 50 state superintendents of education to take difficult steps to restructure the nation’s public education budgets, which have come under severe pressure in the economic downturn.

He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.

Teachers’ unions defend giving raises to teachers as they gain experience and higher education.

“We know that experience makes a difference in student achievement — teachers get better,” said Bill Raabe, director of collective bargaining at the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union. “And additional training, too, whether its a master’s degree or some other way a teacher has improved her content knowledge, we think it ought to be compensated.”

States and local school districts are headed toward what may be painful budget decisions because two years of recession have battered state and local tax revenues, and the $100 billion in stimulus money that has been pumped into public education since spring 2009 is running out.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered his own speech in Washington this week, titled “Bang for the Buck in Schooling,” in which he made arguments similar to those of Mr. Gates.

School officials should be using this crisis to “leverage transformational change in the education system” rather than seeking to balance budgets through shorter school years, reduced bus routes or other short-term fixes, Mr. Duncan said.

Mr. Gates thought the way to improve education was to go to “small schools”.  He admitted that that didn’t work.  He has said that the most important thing in education is a highly qualified and effective teacher in each class.  (Search for previous comments about Bill Gates on this website.)  I guess he has changed his mind again.  He wants to reward successful teachers and not aid those who are having difficulty.  He wants to do away with raises based on experience.  What is wrong with this picture?  When Mr. Gates’ children take ill, does he take them to a doctor who has experience or to one who recently graduated from medical school?

Another suggestion is to end the caps on class size.  Many private schools, like the ones he sends his children to, have a teacher to student ratio of 1 to 16.  In Detroit, they are talking about class sizes in the 80’s.

I believe that Mr. Gates should at Microsoft products.  I am still having problems with Microsoft Vista.