From: The Wall Street Journal
Bill Gates Turns Attention Toward Teacher Improvement
By STEPHANIE BANCHERO
Bill Gates shook up the battle against AIDS in Africa by applying results-oriented business metrics to the effort. Now, he is trying to do the same in the tricky world of evaluating and compensating teachers.
The Microsoft Corp. co-founder has moved on from a $2 billion bet on high-school reform—much of it spent on breaking up big, failing high schools to replace them with smaller ones.
Now, he is venturing that improving teacher effectiveness is the key to fixing broken schools. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $290 million to school districts in Memphis, Tenn.; Hillsborough, Fla.; and Pittsburgh, and a charter consortium in California, to build new personnel systems Mr. Gates hopes will be models for the country.
Bill Gates spoke about an education overhaul in Washington in February.
In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Gates said the nation spends a "mind blowing" amount of money on education. Still, he said increased taxes and a restructuring of budgets is the only way to substantially improve U.S. graduation rates.
And, in the wake of moves by Republican governors in several states to cut costs and curb collective-bargaining rights for teachers and other state workers, he argued that lasting school improvement requires more-targeted investment and close collaboration with teacher unions, who are painted by many governors as an obstacle.
Mr. Gates has been touring the country recently, urging politicians and educators to eliminate teacher salary increases based on seniority and master's degrees and, instead, reward teachers for boosting student achievement. His interview with The Journal follows.
Q: What do you think the recent statehouse battles over collective bargaining mean for education-reform efforts?
A: I think the whole budget environment we're in is unfortunate because it will both reduce funding for education and distract a lot from improved ways of spending. If you're putting in a new personnel system that rewards great teaching, rewards teachers who help other teachers be better, you're going to need good collaboration between the teachers and the principals, the superintendents, the administrative people.
Q: Some reformers think teachers unions are the obstacle and it's more expedient to work around them.
A: In some of these systems, there's a huge emphasis on the teachers who should be let go, and that's an element of a personnel system. But the bigger impact actually comes in professions where a personnel system helps raise the average up of the people who stay.
Q: Do you think it is possible for school districts to build great teachers?
A: Absolutely. But the amount of research into what great teachers do has been so slow that you can't make huge improvements in the average….Even professions like long-jump or tackling people on a football field or hitting a baseball, the average ability is so much higher today because there's this great feedback system, measurement system.
Q: You've said before that you do not think it is wise to cut K-12 budgets right now.
A: I think that society has to be careful not to shift all of its resources to the elderly versus the young. I get very concerned when people talk about cutting education budgets.
Q: Do we need to increase taxes to spend more on education?
A: The only way to make the overall equation work involves some increased taxation and some cuts in spending in various categories, including the miracle of not having medical costs go up so much faster than GDP [gross-domestic-product] growth. There are a lot of challenges here to make the numbers work.
Q: What is the boldest effort that has come from the $290 million you've awarded to restructure teacher personnel systems?
A: We video a great teacher and then she watches it and comments on her video saying, "that kid's foot is jerking. I'm not making this interesting enough." Just the narrative of a great teacher talking through what she did right, what she could have done better, is so informative.
Q: What will be your measure of whether this project was a success?
A: Ten years from now, if we have a very different personnel system that's encouraging effectiveness and our spending has contributed to that, we'll feel good.
Q: Do you think using student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness is a reliable measure?
A: Test scores aren't perfect, but having a test score for math or reading or other things that we can objectively measure is a meaningful component that makes a lot of sense. Now you put everything onto that one thing, that's not ideal. You want a broader set of measures.
Q: You spent hundreds of millions to create small high schools, including breaking apart scores of large, low-performing schools into smaller campuses. What did you learn from that effort?
A. We had some very good results in a lot of the high schools, and it's a tactic we absolutely believe in. But in terms of our big goal of getting lots and lots of kids to go to college, that effort alone wasn't going to close that gap much at all. If you don't actually deal with this issue of helping teachers be better by helping them make a leap of faith to a real personnel system, you just aren't going to get there.
Q: Are you disappointed schools have been slow to embrace technology in the classrooms?
A: You can't blame them, but oh yeah, I'm disappointed. The dreams of the past—whether it was public TV being rolled into the classroom to teach Spanish, or the film projectors or the videotapes or the computer-aided instruction drill systems—the hopes have been dashed in terms of technology having some big impact. The foundation, I think can play a unique role there. Now, our money is more to the teacher-effectiveness thing, and technology is No. 2, but I'll probably spend more money on the technology things.