Instruction & Curriculum

An Open Letter to Bill and Melinda Gates: What Students Really Need

Dear Bill and Melinda Gates,
I’m not one to dismiss those willing to help, and I have a tendency to believe the best in people until proven wrong. You certainly use your money to do a lot of good, so I have to believe you want good outcomes for public school students. I’m just waiting for some compelling evidence of that, along with honest discussion regarding why some efforts haven’t panned out. Also, you might want to “lean in” (You like that? I hear that’s how hip, politically connected photo-op/sound-bite activists are talking these days!)  to the effort to truly make better outcomes happen. 
It ain’t all bad.
Let’s start with some of the good that I know your foundation does for education. Bob Hughes, your foundation’s director of K-12 education, said, “We want to identify the content-specific professional development services, products, and models that are working really well for young people, and also study the attributes of those solutions that make them effective so we can share that learning with the field.” The “curricular prong” of your foundation’s strategy and your contribution towards efforts in teacher training are helpful. Since Common Core is here to stay, and standards seem to get continuously expanded and updated, this feels like a needed effort, but I was a little disappointed that there are millions being spent to try and sell testing to parents who have been unwilling to buy.
Testing and Evaluations
Let’s talk about what I think you already know. Standardized tests and their results are not the most important educational tool, focus, or outcome. Your focus on testing is where I lose a little faith in your agenda.
Last month, NY Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia asked the Board of Regents to approve a new $225,000 grant from the Gates Foundation for enhanced communication efforts around the standards, testing and data collection —  to convince parents that State Ed is on the right track in all these areas.
The stress on the collection of assessment data and the use of that data in evaluative decisions seems like a misstep. Outcomes are more closely correlated with familial and economic factors.
Another misstep is your attempt to improve teaching.  Where is the evidence that your investment improved the quality of teaching? It is true there is a correlation between good teaching and student achievement, but implementing yet another fix to improve achievement is not the answer.
There are better ways to spend some big bucks
The following initiatives would be a better way to invest your funds and support students.
Last but not least, take the time to honor teachers more.  Efficiency is not the same as efficacy. When you turn teachers into numbers, you can order and categorize, you kill this profession.  If you really want to help the teaching profession, start by connecting to educators. We know what is truly needed.

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