I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rich People Who Ruin Schools, Part I

Chris Christie loves Bill Gates ideas so much, he posted this article from the NY Times on his website:
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 on Friday, Mr. Gates — who is gaining considerable clout in education circles — plans to urge 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. 
“Of course, restructuring pay systems is like kicking a beehive” — but restructure them anyway, Mr. Gates plans to tell the superintendents in his talk to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which opens a convention in Louisville on Friday.
“Rebuild the budget based on excellence,” Mr. Gates says.
First of all: I don't want to hear anything about "excellence" from the guy who gave us Windows XP.

Second: does Microsoft base any of its hiring and pay decisions on experience? I'm guessing they do, just like every other company in the free world. Because it makes sense, and because no one would want to enter a profession where they make the same amount going in that they make coming out.

Third: there is a lot more to being a good teacher than getting your students to produce good scores on standardized tests. Yet this is what the studies that purport to show no correlation between advanced degrees and teaching "effectiveness" solely rely on: how well students do on standardized tests.

Is there not some value in getting students to love learning? In making high-order thinking connections that standardized tests can't measure? In having a teacher with subject matter competence that allows students to go beyond what a standardized test measures?

Fourth: if teachers are supposed to instill a love of learning, shouldn't they be life-long learners themselves?

Fifth: as Bruce Baker has pointed out, a huge portion of the faculty in any school district do not teach in subjects or methods that can be measured by standardized tests. Is Gates really going to tell me an art teacher who gets an MFA in studio art is not a better teacher because her effectiveness can't be measured? Or a Kindergarten teacher who gets a degree in early childhood education?

Finally: Bill, I know you dropped out, but most of us are proud of our education. It is an accomplishment that has an intrinsic value, and that value should not be sacrificed on the altar of the holy dollar just because you say so.

Are we going to be a nation of philistines, addicted to our X-Boxes, refusing to challenge ourselves? Or are we going to be a nation that values learning, and rewards those who pursue it for its own sake?
Steven Paine, the West Virginia superintendent who is the council’s president, said the group invited Mr. Gates because “he has a perspective that we need to consider.”
“He’s been fairly successful in the business arena,” he added.
What a really terrible criterion for judging someone's value to assess our education system.
In the speech, Mr. Gates says that improving student achievement is a central challenge, and that budget crises are making change necessary.
“You can’t fund reforms without money,” he says. “And there is no more money.”
Bull. There's plenty of money. But we made a choice, as a nation, that it was more important that people like Gates have the chance to pile up obscene heaps of wealth than that we tax them like they should be taxed to fund schools (and everything else). [I love that the link above goes to Gates's own baby, Slate.]

Which, of course, leads to what this is really all about:
The only way out, he says, is by rethinking the way the nation’s $500 billion annual expenditures on public schools is allocated. About $50 billion pays for seniority-based annual salary increases for teachers, he says. The nation spends an additional $9 billion annually to pay salary increases to teachers with master’s degrees, he says.
So let me ask you this, Bill - and you as well, Chris:

You want to pay the "best" teachers more. Yet everyone agrees we need a great teacher in every classroom. Let's suppose your wacky schemes actually do what you say they will, and every teacher is awesome.

Won't that cost more money than we are spending right now?

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