Bill Gates on what’s wrong with public schools

Including the huge textbooks, and why bad teachers have to go

PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW TOLSON

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world’s richest men, is also one of the world’s leading philanthropists. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is perhaps best known for fighting poverty and disease in the developing world, but its main domestic focus is on education. Gates appears in the new documentary Waiting for “Superman,” which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. A powerful indictment of the U.S. education system, it features educators running the innovative Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools, and follows families desperate to get their children into high-performing charter schools. (Often controversial, charter schools receive some public money but do not follow the same rules or curriculum as public schools.) Gates believes the quality of teachers is of critical importance, and calls for a system of evaluation to reward the best, and get rid of the worst. He talked to Maclean’s editor-in-chief Kenneth Whyte in Toronto.

Q: You’ve said parents should be outraged about the state of education in America. Why?

A:
Schools aren’t developing the potential of our kids, and you see that in the dropout rates, you see that in the number of kids who graduate and then go into remedial courses, you see it in the fact that it’s the first time that we’re actually having decreasing numbers of people with four-year college degrees. Part of the magic of economic growth is how you educate people, and the leading economies have to stay in front of that. From an economic point of view, it affects competitiveness and creates jobs. Or from a social justice point of view, you can take someone in the bottom tier of income and let him compete to be a doctor or lawyer. The education system is the only reason the dream of equal opportunity has a chance of being delivered—and we’re not running a good education system.

Q: One of the interesting facts in Waiting for “Superman” is that it’s not only the lower socioeconomic tiers that are not meeting levels of achievement we’d expect in North American education, but that the top five per cent of students are not as competitive internationally as they were a generation ago.

A:
We benefited in the past by other people not running good systems. Now, with Singapore, Finland, Korea, you’re not going to do a lot better than they do for any group of students. We do much worse for our students as a whole compared to these other countries. And in the 1960s we were the best across the board. Even in the 1970s we were the top in most things. It’s in the last 20 years that the U.S. has moved to pretty near the bottom of the rich countries’ statistics for math, reading, science. There’s really nothing that we’re particularly distinguished at. If you take the top five per cent, we’re average.

Q: So the bigger problem is with the great mass of students?

A:
That’s the thing that really drives our numbers down.

Q: I’d expect most of the innovation that’s economically important would come out of the top five per cent, making it especially important.

A:
It’s disproportionate, but you can’t run a society—in terms of job availability, informed voters, a sense of opportunity—on five or even 25 per cent. You’ve got to have a lot of great middle-class job opportunities and a lot of people whose educations match up to those opportunities. Now, if you have top performing companies, a lot of jobs are being created in your locale. Apple, Google, Microsoft, RIM, they create wealth and jobs because they are enabled by the top five per cent, immigrants and homegrown people, but they create numerically tons of jobs that aren’t as elite in terms of educational requirement: support, sales, finance. That’s actually the bulk of the jobs.

Q: So let’s locate the failure of the education system overall. It’s not a funding problem.

A:
You’ll find some states that still underfund education. But overall, there’s been a doubling of the portion of GDP that goes to kindergarten through grade 12, so there’s a lot more in the way of resources. You can talk about how much of that has gone into pensions versus salaries. How much has gone into bureaucracy versus teachers. But in the U.S., $600 billion per year is spent on kindergarten through 12 education. That’s a lot.

Q: So is the problem the education departments and administrators, or is it teachers’ unions, or the teachers themselves?

A:
We’ve ended up with a personnel system that essentially does no evaluation. It doesn’t identify whether teachers are weak or strong and gives them no incentives for improving their weak points. Nor does the system identify the few teachers that don’t belong in the profession because they either don’t have the ability or they’re just not trying hard enough. And the difference between having good teachers and not is quite substantial. If you could wish for one thing, that’s what you would wish for—a system of evaluation that’s not capricious. It’s not that easy to do but now it’s all based on seniority and do I have a master’s degree—it’s completely independent of student outcomes. It’s a no-pain system. Well, measurement systems are always a bit painful, and they’re never perfect. We have data that shows some teachers are amazing, they get amazing outcomes and, if you, as a student, get a bunch of those in a row, you do great. And some are the opposite of amazing and, if you get a bunch of those in a row, you do very poorly. Yet we don’t evaluate teachers. We don’t celebrate the good ones and study what they do, we don’t figure out how to transfer their knowledge. That fact tends to get blamed on the unions, but everyone’s been involved—the parents, the school boards, the governors, the different levels of government. You can say you need to lengthen the school day, you can say you need to reduce the amount of money that goes into the pension side. There are problems with the common curriculum thing. There are some ways that technology can help. But I put the evaluation system way ahead of all those other things we should also do, and our foundation is funding pilot programs in that area.

Q: The resistance to introducing an evaluation system does seem to come from the teachers’ unions and the teachers themselves.

A:
Yeah, the status quo is very predictable. You know what your salary’s going to be because you know your seniority, you know whether you have a master’s degree. The contract says how many minutes you have to work. It is very comfortable. If you’re a great teacher, you say, why should I contemplate change and some weird measurement system. Well, the upside would be that you like teaching with other great teachers and so when you see that it can be done without much overhead and that it wouldn’t be capricious, then maybe you get drawn in. But to the degree you feel like the people pushing for the measurement system don’t include teachers, don’t understand how tough the job is, that they are going to be making a lot of noise and go to their next cause two years later, it’s a lot easier to say, c’mon, let’s just wait this one out, I’m a great teacher, I’m doing God’s work.
If you’re a bad teacher, you say the last thing I want is an evaluation system. This change only comes when teachers want it to come. They need to be willing to put up with some more feedback. Some of them are interested in that feedback and go and work in charter schools, which are usually run independent of school systems. And charter schools run serious evaluation systems. Evaluation systems are a critical element of why they are so much better.

Q: Is a fundamental change of this sort going to come within the public school system or is it going to come from alternatives to the public school system?

A:
Well the ideas for change—does a longer school day make a big difference, can team teaching make a big difference, can computers help?—that experimentation can’t come from a regimented system, and that’s what most public schools are. But if you want to have broad impact you’ve got to take those best practices and move them into the public school system. The most optimistic view is that high-performance charter schools—they’re getting good results but they are less than two per cent of U.S. schools today —could grow in a decade to be 10 per cent. Some states [and most provinces] don’t allow them at all. So even that 10 per cent would require massive political enablement. That would be hard to achieve. KIPP, the leading chain of charter schools, with about 100 schools, grows its number of schools about 20 per cent a year. There are 13,000 public schools so even if all high performance charters could grow as fast as they can, it’s not that big an impact.
So charters can mostly show us the way: you’ve got to have the evaluation system, more flexible work practices, better use of technology, common standards. They’re not perfect but they show us that it can be done. Whenever I get discouraged I go meet with some KIPP students and teachers and I’m reminded that’s what everybody deserves. It is possible economically. They’re taking kids from the worst circumstances and sending them off to four-year colleges.

Q: There are examples of charter schools like KIPP which produce phenomenal results, but there’s still a lot of controversy around whether or not charter schools as a whole outperform public schools as a whole.

A:
There are several controversies. One is charter schools as a whole do not outperform public schools. If you take chain charter schools, the ones that replicate, they do outperform public schools. But then there’s another debate, which is, if you have to volunteer to do something, then you are different than the people who don’t volunteer, and people volunteer to go to charter schools. Let’s say we wanted to test pink textbooks. Take all the textbooks and paint their covers pink. And say, kids, who wants to volunteer for the pink textbook test? We will show a phenomenal effect of pink textbooks. We know that in charter schools the teachers volunteer, the kids volunteered, and they smash the non-volunteer system. But we’ve had our guys look at the data and it shows that if you take the whole charter school phenomenon, the kids who volunteer for charters and get in have one set of results, and the kids who volunteer and don’t get in have another set of results, and the kids who don’t volunteer and don’t get in have another set of results. You have perfect tiering of these things.

Q: And the results go from good, to not as good, to worse.

A:
Complete separation of results. That’s the high-performance charters. So we’re not saying that if every school was a KIPP school you’d get KIPP-like results, because it is true the pool is slightly special to the overall pool if for no other reason than the volunteer effect. But when you have a public school where four per cent of the kids are going to a four-year college, and that’s because they are tracked into an honours system that is actually a school within a school, and you have 90 per cent [going to college] at a high-performance charter, that’s significant. And the difference isn’t just in math and reading scores. You look at the behaviours of these kids, the collaborations of these kids, the dreams of these kids, the willingness to vote—any measure you like. You like sculptures, honestly, the KIPP kids are better at sculpture. It’s a huge difference.

Q: Some of the kids at charter schools spend 80 per cent of their waking hours on learning.

A:
It’s a high commitment. They use chants, they use iconography, they have all these banners of the colleges that kids have gone to. They’re overcoming a deficit, they’re competing with another sort of way of looking at the world where education is less important. It’s fun to talk to kids about it—what did your friends think when you volunteered to go to a charter school, and now you’re in a different social group, on a path that will take you to a vastly different place.

Q: How would you have done in such a school?

A:
Well the school I went to was a lot like that. Not the chanting or the iconography but I sat in on the physics course, the calculus course. But now is a much better time to be a student. We didn’t do robots back then—nobody did robots back then. I didn’t have Wikipedia to look something up when I was confused. If you’re a motivated student, it’s way better to be learning now than at any time in the past. You want to have an Internet connection and you want to have adults who, when you get confused, can straighten you out and can tell you what learning might connect to your curiosity, your job opportunities, those kinds of things. I envy those kids in KIPP. I’d never want to use the capacity because KIPP goes to inner-city kids but if my kids had to go to a KIPP school, it wouldn’t be that different from the great private schools they are going to now.

Q: You talked about math books as a symbol for educational failure in America. Explain that.

A:
We have huge textbooks—300-page math books. Because they’re designed by committee and everybody wants things to be in them, they are very intimidating. I thought, maybe the Asian textbooks are [going to be] twice as big because they do so much better than us and our kids are going to have to do some weight exercises to carry these books around so we can be in their league. In fact, the Asian textbooks are half as big. Their textbooks are little but they are really drilling in concepts in particular grades and then they don’t go over that again. We do all of it again and again and again.
That’s what happens when you have such different experiences of people in the classrooms, you don’t have good ways of knowing where different students are. If somebody’s behind what tools do you have? There are some of these things where technology is going to help with individual progress, and there are a few places this stuff is being tried now and the material is getting online. We’re funding a lot of people. There are innovators like Salman Khan showing up doing websites that are great.

Q: What has to happen in order to put students first?

A:
If you just say that the bottom 10 per cent of teachers goes away because they don’t measure up, then the U.S. goes back to being one of the best in the world. It’s pretty dramatic.

Bill Gates on what’s wrong with public schools

  1. The only reason they want to have the kids better educated is so business can pick their minds without having to compensate them accordingly. Thats why Gates is the worlds riches man. There should be 100s of millionaires in that company who have done the real work to make it sucessful. Where are they? The intellectual and his accomplishments are slaves to the money man. It is time that the worker recieves 95% and the investor 5%. The money in the workers hand would be much better used.

    • There is no risk to workers, so why should they get the 95%? The investor/inventor had to develop an idea/business and also take great risks. In addition, workers can't receive 95%, because there would be no work. I definitely would not try and start a business, putting in all my time and effort, so that someone who did not partake in the risks and expenses can leech off of me . That would be really foolish.

    • There are 100s of millionaires who previously worked for that company. The New York Times estimates there are 10 000 Microsoft millionaires, the majority of which are current or former employees.

    • Actually, I know quite a few former Microsoft workers who retired in their late 20s with millions of dollars.

  2. Mr.Gates makes some very excellent points.

    I do however understand why teacher's resist evaluation systems. Very often they are used as an excuse to attack teachers, such as Mike Harris did from 1995 to 2002.

    So if one is to go there, and I don't disagree it would make sense, then it needs to be done in a productive non-combative manner.

    Otherwise it becomes a meaningless bureacracy-heavy exercise that is likely to actually reduce the effectivenss of the best teachers.

    • Mike Harris tried to do exactly what Gates described. He did not try to "attack" teachers. He tried to make them accountable by requiring teachers to take examinations on a regular basis. Simple as that.

      The fact is, not matter who tries to reform the system, or how, you know that teachers and teachers unions will resist, protest and go on strike. That's what unions do.

      • Naturally I disagree, and I'm sure we could argue the particulars back and forth ad nauseum, but ultimately I took my cues from his messaging. The guy was constantly on the attack demonizing teachers. He was a nasty piece of work with nothing nice to say about anyone.

        So regardless of the technicalities of his attempts, nothing good was going to come in an atmosphere that toxic.

        Mr. Gates is clear in that regard. In order for it to work one requires "a system of evaluation that's not capricious".

        Impossible to do in an environment predicated on making teachers out to be the "bad guy" in the education system.

        • I didn't see it that way. Do you have a quote from Harris or something he wrote, or some other example in which he demonizes teachers?

          I don't think he attacked them at all. They interpreted his policies as an attack. Harris instituted popular policies that remain in place today, and teachers (or more specifically, their unions) went berserk over them, labeling them as attacks. That is what actually happened.

          Harris created a professional college of teachers. Harris reduced the number of school boards and took education off property taxes. Harris created an independent testing agency and required every student to complete standardized tests. He created a new, more challenging province-wide curriculum. He challenged the level of preparation time for some teachers and created a funding system based on the number of students. He eliminated Grade 13. And he removed principals and vice-principals from the unions.

          To me, those are policies, not attacks. In fact, Harris went out of his way to ensure he was not attacking teachers.

          In fact, there was a recent example illustrating just who the bullies are. Harris received an honory degree from Nipissing University. In response, the Ontario Teacher's Federation said they would no longer hire student teachers from that university. Now, just who is the bully?
          http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/06/08/

          This is typical behavior and truly illustrates what really happened in the 90s. Harris instituted reform, and in response the unions went bonkers, and ultimately the unions punished the students.

        • In fact, here is a quote that illustrates the reality:

          The real story, of course, has been the appalling reaction of Ontario's teachers groups. In May, Ontario Teachers' Federation president Reno Melatti wrote to Nipissing advising the administration that Mr. Harris "decimated the funding of K-12 and post-secondary education in the province," "closed schools and libraries in countless locations," "slashed assistance to the poorest people in our province, including school children, and operated with brutal disregard for the safety and security of Ontario's citizens." If Nipissing were to proceed, he warned, he could not "predict how teachers [might] demonstrate their displeasure."

          http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/Ha

          So there you have it, it wasn't the messaging at all, it was Harris' policies and reforms. Harris was hated because he did not do what the unions wanted. It had nothing to do with the messaging.

      • Gates isn't attacking them, he is simply saying they are not all as they should be.Lets face it, we have rotten apples in every single profession, are you saying each and every teacher is wonderful.

        • I didn't mean to suggest he was attacking anyone. I think he was quite succinct and made very good points.

          I'm just emphasizing how complicated and fraught with pitfalls enacting something like that would be.

        • Not sure if this was intended to be a reply to me – I agree with what you're saying.

          • Sometimes when these string get too long I can't tell who is responding to whom! LOL

            Ultimately though, looking at the comments on this line, I think in essence we're all agreeing on the way forward.

            Find a way to evaluate the education kids are receiving in a way that will result in improvement right?

            I won't belabour the Mike Harris point. I didn't find either him or the unions very impressive during that time period, but since that's nearly a decade in the past, I'm willing to just let it go.

            Cheers.

          • Yes, I can certainly agree with those statements.

            Personally, I haven't had a Mike Harris debate for at decade or more. But my feeling while living through it was the irrationality of it all. And I was also (and still am) amazed at how the anti-Harris hatred lasted for years afterward.

            In fact, it reminds me of what people say about Harper today.

          • I think it was a personality thing. Harris really liked to take shots at people, at least from where I was sitting. He neither said nor did anything I could look up to.

            I wouldn't compare him to Harper. I may not agree with Harper's politics, or his stances, but I think he's a good man doing what he believes he needs to do and playing hardball as he believes he needs to.

            However, he and I will never see eye to eye on most things.

          • Well that is Ontario for you! They keep on telling others that they don't want to be lied at but they hate anyone who tells them what it is (truth) – more.

          • I don't think that's specific to Ontario. Anywhere you have powerful entrenched interests such as unions, you get the same resistance when you attempt to change the status quo. Look at California today, where the budget is a disaster, and the private sector is beset by 12% unemployment, yet the unions refuse to budge an inch, even though public employees have pay and benefit packages much better than the private sector.

        • Why doesn' t he try to run as president so he would have more chances to solve problems that's facing his country? It is long time for US to vote Presidents not by his/her speaking prowess but how he/get things done.

    • Teacher`s Union resist evaluation systems. Capable and dedicated teachers welcome evaluation.

      The fact that an evaluation of teachers will demonstrate that some are just not very capable of teaching students should not be seen as an attack on the whole profession.

      The nature of the union philosophy of " all for one, and one for all " breeds incompetence in the poor teachers and complacency in the dedicated teachers.

      Streamlining the school boards and modernizing the curriculum may help but allowing unions to dictate the quality of the hired help will ensure mediocrity in our school systems.

      • Naturally unions would resist this, and it's easy to see why. They exist to represent their members first and foremost.

        However, I do believe it would be in everyone's best interests to have some form of mechanism to ensure that students are receiving the best education possible.

        Standardized testing in Ontario was one such attempt, but it's had mixed results so far as I can tell.

        I'm not sure what the best answer is, but at the very least a culture of ongoing skills improvement for teachers is certainly a good idea.

        Perhaps the parents themselves should have a mechanism available to them to rate teachers?

        • Agreed—if there is some incentive for change it has to come from the public, but I`m not confident of it happening soon.

          The fact that the Teacher`s Union is still making Mike Harris the bogey man for any problems they might have tells me that no present-day politican would have an interest in rocking the boat.

          Look, when you approach an established education organization like that in Ontario with the idea that they must improve for the sake of the students, then there is going to be a backlash. Sometimes it takes a rough character like Mike Harris for that to happen. I can guarantee you one thing—if it means upsetting some teachers in order to improve the system, then you will never see it from Dalton McGuinty.

  3. Here's another thing that's issue facing public schools today. Boards of Education across Canada and around the world invest millions of dollars on Windows-based PCs so that their students can be computer literate only to find that, after 2 or 3 years, the operating system on the aforementioned investment is so flakey that the computers are practically useless. As a volunteer at an elementary school for the past 10 years, I spend much of my time in the computer lab working with children who are unable to use the computer assigned to them because it freezes, requiring multiple reboots. This leaves the affected child so far behind on the assignment given by the teacher that they can't possibly complete the work required in the time given.

    As well, because the PCs are rendered practically useless because of operating system issues, Boards have to use finite resources to re-equip computer labs every 4 to 5 years to remain current. This expenditure would not be necessary if Microsoft did not have a near lock on school computers. Fortunately, there are a few Boards who have had the foresight to equip their labs with Apple OS-X based computers that still operate like new after 5 years.

    Maybe Bill Gates need look no further than his own company to solve one of the issues facing public education today.

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/

    • Funny. I got a great education without a computer in my classroom. Perhaps boards need to rethink their spending priorities.

      • So did I but it seems that schools and students cannot function without them today.

        • People who used a quill pen had the same complaint.

          • Thank you, Emily.

      • Ummm….so when was that?? In what century?

    • This is an excellent point, Microsoft could provide a stripped down, stable version of Windows and commit to maintaining it for at least 10 years. Most educational applications for students don't (or shouldn't) require a large amount of computing power so older computers could be used.

      The problem is of course that that stripped down version would likely completely rock on a big-ass computer and nobody would want the overblown version anymore.

      • You are expecting a corporation to manufacture/provide something that lasts for 10 years? Wow, that is naive, at best. Make teachers accountable, not corporations? Teachers get paid around 33K in many parts of the county. Bill Gates gets–what — chicken scraps– Why should he provide a product that lasts to public schools? Come, on–get real:)

  4. testing

    • Oh, so we should teach to the test? Do you know what this entails?

  5. accountability, transparency, alignment, and exit exams

  6. I saw his interview , they are saying the teachers after 2 years get tenure.That Isn't right, not at all.They can fall asleep in class and not get fired.All too often we blame the kids, and sometimes its the teachers. I like Bill Gates, I want to see the movie waiting for Superman, the US is in a downward spiral.I hope he can get something resolved

    • There is nop "tenure" in Canadian public schools. Probation, where you could be fired unconditionally or quit was for two years then you could be fired or quit or not have your contract renewed at the end of the school year after that probation period. That has now been changed to match normal labor law in that you have two weeks probation then can be let go or quit at any time with proper severance. The old system was in place to prevent teachers from quiting partly through the school year and leaving boards without backup.

    • Who is “they”? Tenure is not a lock on a permanent career. If a school system needs to get rid of an incompetent teacher, they can, and will. I have seen it done.

  7. So firing 1 out of 10 teachers is the answer? Come on now! There's never one answer, one best way! Education is an evolution. Many would argue that it is the corporate presence in America's schools that does the most harm. Maybe Gates should advocate for smashing 1 in 10 TV"s in America's highschools? TV's that make students sit through corporate ads for a good proportion (10%) of the day!

    Now while I've got Ken Whyte's attention, I want to ask: Can Maclean's please do some investigative journalism on Full Day Kindergarten? Click the website link to my name for details. Education….let's read about it here in Maclean's. Let's not read Bill Gate's teacher bashing, ok? Even sideways it rubs me the wrong way…

    • Hi Karen, I'm just curious to know about your question re: full day kinder. I clicked on your Twitter thing, but I couldn't find any real information… just tweets (and I didn't gather much from that – could I be looking in the worng place?).

  8. If there is always a stalemate between teachers unions, politicians and the public's interests, the only solution is then to give education vouchers to parents and empower them to choose which school is best for their children. By this, everybody will be forced to move their butts and compete the best they could.

    • I totally agree with you. When a group of people fear competition and evaluation, you began to wonder about their motives.
      john

  9. A non-Canadian opinion on a non-Canadian school system… why is this the cover of a Canadian magazine? The answer of course is because US media sells magazines in Canada. I don't blame Macleans for this indicator of our lameness. I blame us.

  10. Get rid of bad teachers–how do you when government unions are the strongest in the country. The sooner government workers are held accountable to the same standards as the private sector the sooner this country moves forward. The longer they are deemed demagogues, the farther we fall behind.

  11. It would be preferable for the interviewer to differentiate between the Canadian and American public school systems. Canada ranks in the top four or five public school systems in the world, far ahead of our larger neighbour to the south, and some of our provinces actually rank in the top three.

    I would also like to point out that the percentage of Canadian public school graduates who go on to post secondary school and achieve certificates, diplomas and degrees is considerably higher than the abysmal 4% quoted by Mr. Gates. In our small rural British Columbia school district the percentage is somewhere around 60% to 70%, with an additional number achieving trades certification.

    To ask a question about the levels of achievement in "North American Education" is to disparage our own. I'm sure the interviewer did not intend any slight on Canadian public schools, but the implication is there and it is offensive.

  12. Government schools exist to pay unionized teachers a lot of money.

  13. another private school kid raggin' on the public schools. here's what's wrong with public schools: private schools. if the rich kids were forced to attend public schools guess what would happen next.

    • Charter schools are a better answer than unaccountable unionized government schools.

  14. Mr. Gates should take a course in social and political reality 101. Who owns the federal reserve in usa ? Who wants 20% of the population living in slums? Who owns these slums? Who wants 100% of these people hooked on drugs? ( Not designer drugs used in private schools ,not aimed at you Mr. Gates.) Who puts out and controls all of the propaganda reported be "unbiased" media outlets? i.e. 43 million people live in poverty in usa. WAKE UP FOLKS. Illegals.slumlords ( thank you Pres. obama), old people,appallacia, streetpeople, people loosing their houses, veterans, people working for minimum wage, people who have lost every thing due to medical biils etc,etc and of course etc.

  15. P.S, this is why schools children are brainwashed into believing every word their president/politians and the media tells them.

  16. Mr. Gates has one thing right. Holding a Master's Degree doesn't mean much when it comes to teaching effectiveness. I learned more in the first three months of teaching than I did in two years of Grad school.

    Why are we letting education departments and administrators off the hook here? There are so many idiotic schedules and programs in our schools than you could shake a stick at. Here in Minnesota, the actual amount of contact time between teachers and students is at an ALL TIME LOW! High School kids have such cheesy schedules that they can be out of school in their Senior year at noon. Math and Science programs assume kids come from cookie-cutters.

  17. HS students should take math and science for all four years of high school — and those classes should be matched to student ability. Not everybody is going to need calculus, but they all need math improvement.

    The Junior High concept is flawed from the outset. The majority of eighth graders need A TEACHER, not a bunch of teachers and one home room counselor. Ask a Jr. High teacher why she/he can't help Jimmy Whatsisname and they'll tell you "I only have Jimmy for 45 minutes a day . . . what can I do?"

    There's modular scheduling schemes (dreamed up by lunatics) in which kids study math or languages for five weeks on and then five weeks of something else. That's patently ridiculous.

    Our hometown newspaper has four pages of school sports news in every issue and hardly a word about academics. What's with that? We should not have sports programs in schools in the first place. I'll bet that's one of the reasons Bill Gates touted Charter Schools are excelling. Athletics programs are not going to fuel the future economy and standard of living of the USA.

    • YOU ARE COMPLETELY RIGHT!
      "There's modular scheduling schemes (dreamed up by lunatics) in which kids study math or languages for five weeks on and then five weeks of something else. That's patently ridiculous. "
      "Learning" math only a term per year is a WRONG approach. It is against the basic of learning.

  18. Music programs are being dropped and shouldered out of the schedule. These programs are proven to improve the mind and academic performance of students and yet we drop them.

    We perpetuate the three month off summer vacation and shorten our school days with late starts so teachers can visit, days off so teachers can visit with parents, and observances of every major and minor holiday you can think of, resulting in a diminishing number of instructional days. Some districts even count partial days as one instructional day.

    There's so much wrong with our educational system, I need another five or six hours to write it all down and then some. We need to focus and fix it, or the standard of living in the USA is going to drop and drop some more. Students don't seem to get it that it's their patriotic duty and their job to educate themselves to the best of their ability. They'd rather have a short school day so they can get a part time job and buy a car. Is it hopeless? Sometimes I think so.

  19. I agree that there are some teachers that are just teachers for the paycheck, however, it would be a long, horrible career for you if you didn't really like teaching. The reality today, in Ontario, is that the teaching profession has way more teachers wanting a job than needed. This has made teaching very competitive. You have to go above and beyond what is asked just to get a temporary teaching placement.

    What Gates overlooks is the role of parents. Teachers are often blamed. Parents today are single or rushed and home life just isn't what it was in the 60s and 70s.

    Teenagers today are different learners than they were back than too. They are growing up in a technology based world, constantly multitasking and enter classes with the want to be entertained. School budgets are constantly being lowered, so how are we, as teachers, supposed to keep up with the technological needs/interests of the student. Students now need to be taught how to focus on just one thing, before we can even begin to teach the curriculum.

  20. 'If you just say that the bottom 10 per cent of teachers goes away because they don't measure up"

    This doesn't work at Microsoft and it won't work for teachers. How is the bottom 10% measured? If it is like MS where you suck up to your manager you will still have the bottom 10% teaching. Always getting rid of the bottom 10% is a zero sum game.

  21. Hey, everyone out there who likes to bash teachers — you can just f-off! That's right, just f-off once and for all. You provide no help to the world's young people in any way whatsoever. A-holes!!

    F. Morris — TEACHER in Québec

  22. One big problem with the public school system is due to the voice of parents. The unions are using what parents are saying to decrease the level of homework and the difficulty of the curriculum. In the heath system, a surgeon does not listen to a parent regarding what is the best method to apply during a surgery. In schools, all the parents are experts in suggesting how easy must be the learning process. Parents are expecting great marks without efforts. When teachers are rewarding poor kids with great marks, everybody is pleased: the Board, the Principal, students, parents and teachers.

    I am running the School of Competitive Math in Ottawa (Canada) for grade 8 and 9. It is free of charge. You will be impressed to see that parents don't encourage kids to learn competitive; they consider that learning is for fun. If you can, do it. If you cannot, who cares?

  23. Some of the comments show unsaid deficits in schools. Does every child have to focus on science? Many educators believe that a big problem in education is the move away from arts and liberal arts, and towards professional preparations (lawyers, doctors, accountants). There are those that say democracy depends on liberal arts…

    Another problem with HS is the focus to get into university. This focus overrides the concern for actual meaningful learning. Gates doesn't raise this issue, but it is a huge one. As entrance into universities get more difficult, what do you think will happen to education? Teach to the test, do well on the standardized test, and perhaps have a lot less functional and adaptive knowledge.

    Grading teachers? Give me a break. When was the last time a doctor, nurse, lawyer, accountant, or engineer had an evaluation that resulted in losing a job (as opposed to simply not getting a bonus or raise)? It's a complete joke. I don't understand why teachers, who generally get paid less than all the professions I just listed, would be held to some higher standard. I agree that there are teachers that shouldn't be teaching. But let's not pretend that other professions aren't just as protective of their employees even without a union. Have you ever tried to fire an engineer? Oh, it can be done. There's also a good chance that you'll lose the subsequent lawsuit.

    Finally, I think it is ridiculous to bring in the overpaid teacher argument. Teachers already get paid less than the professions listed above. Getting a job these days is difficult and takes time. Exactly what do you think would happen to the caliber of teacher if their pay was lower? I'll give a hint: it won't go up. Who would be one of these wonderful teachers that everyone wants, if a teacher's salary started at $35k and topped out at $60k in 20 years? There certainly wouldn't be any teachers in Vancouver, other than people that were too incompetent to get a job doing something else that pays better.

  24. Part of the issue is what makes a good teacher.  Many parents prefer that their child like the teacher more than whether they learn anything of merit.  In other places, academics trump everything else.  As long as kids behave the way they do in the current society, you will see many teachers are valued more for being fun, popular than for moving students along academically.  Local admin falls into step with this as they are beholden to parents.  So what you get at the local level is akin to having the most dysfunctional students (the one’s not there for an education) driving the behavior of their parents, administrators and the school.  Contrast that with the view further up the line where ed leadership lies and you have a different set of priorities. 

    I have had a number of incompetent principals who blew in the wind depending on the student parent complaints.  I know I was an effective teacher for the most part but she would have been happy to get rid of me because of the complaints from whiny students who didn’t get the grade they wanted, or didn’t want to be held accountable.  The system is corrupted by this.

  25. I’m a teacher, and I think Mr. Gates has many good points. I’ve worked for a school system that had good evaluation systems that were helpful. In the states where I have worked, poor teachers can be “pushed” out of the system by strong principals, like the ones I have had. I have seen several incompetent teachers “pushed” out of teaching. I do think that the public does not realize how demanding the profession is. Also, the pay is so low in many parts of the country that teachers literally have a hard time supporting their families. Mr. Gates says the public schools have gone downhill in the past 20 years. I heartily agree. In the same time, however, teacher’s salaries have considerably dropped when the cost of living is taken into consideration, especially when compared to other careers that require similar education. As a teacher, I am so frustrated by antiquated rules and having to “teach to the test”. Why do we only have school 9 months out of the year? This does not make sense. Why are teachers held accountable, but not parents, children, administrators or school boards? I do think teachers should be held accountable, but so should the other stakeholders. It’s very easy to blame teachers for our educational woes. Let’s look to countries, like Finland, that are successful. Our current system, though, is so entrenched in the 20th century factory based school model, that I don’t think anything next to a miracle would change our system to a more productive model. I’m hoping for a miracle…

  26. To Be honest Teachers use to be Teachers because they built a generation that built what we see today. However, today Teachers are no longer teachers but 8 hour baby sitter so that the government would be able to free up parents to work and pay tax as well as the teachers/sitters.Why pay a massive salary to a baby sitter, but still the sitter will be tax… So the government has a win win situation… and overall the children are the ones being used as pawns in a game of profits.

Sign in to comment.