WBUR

Bill Gates Urges Focus On Teachers To Fight Achievement Gap

BOSTON — Among the many prominent thinkers attending the Urban League’s annual conference Thursday, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates made his case for focusing on teachers.

One of the nation’s oldest civil rights groups, the Urban League, is holding its annual conference in Boston this week.

Much of the conference focused on education Thursday — specifically, the persistent achievement gap between black and Latino students and their white counterparts.

Gates has been in the education reform game for a while, pouring billions of dollars into scholarships, research and trying to improve public schools. Gates said there have been advances on most other civil rights issues, but not much progress on education.

“Education may be the hardest civil rights fight of all,” Gates said. “Discrimination is harder to prove and people often don’t know what levers to pull to fix the problem.”

Gates has been looking for the right levers for years and has made some mistakes. He poured approximately $2 billion into breaking large high schools into small schools, believing that students would get more attention. Two years ago, he acknowledged this wasn’t the panacea he had hoped for.

Now, Gates is focused on teachers.

“Education may be the hardest civil rights fight of all.”
– Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder

“To truly support teachers, we have to understand excellent teaching,” Gates said. “So for us, the challenge became, let’s analyze the teachers whose students are making the biggest gains, identify what they do and figure out how to transfer those skills to others. Amazingly, we found that the field of education had done little work or research in this area.”

So, Gates is funding research to determine what makes a good teacher and effective ways of measuring them. After his speech, the Microsoft founder answered questions from Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“You called education the civil rights issue of our time,” Henry Louis Gates said. “Yet there are many people — including people in this audience — who would argue that other structural issues, Bill, like poverty, fair housing, stable employment [that] must be tackled before we can expect to see different educational outcomes in low income communities and among children of color.”

While Bill Gates acknowledged that education isn’t the only problem, he maintained that addressing educational issues should be a priority. He also said that there are tangible solutions to the achievement gap.

“I think it’s very helpful when you get discouraged about this effort to go and spend a day to look at these charter schools that have changed the rules,” Bill Gates said. “It’s not about throwing money at the problem, it’s about the way the teachers are picked, it’s about the way the teachers are encouraged, it’s about the culture of the school, the high expectations.”

Critics of charter schools say they do not educate the broad range of kids in the public system. Still, collaborations between charter schools and more traditional schools, including some in Boston, show that public school educators are interested in learning how charter schools work.

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  • Zandeerae

    Dear Mr. Gates,
    How wonderful! Good teachers are what we need.  I taught for 40 years.  I worked with wonderful teachers. But because school systems don’t pay for further teacher education, most can only afford to take the cheapest or free courses offered for teachers.  Most of the time, I hesitate to tell you how much wasted time….. how  useless…..

    Then  you can take the most innovated, the most well trained, the most charismatic teacher, put them in a school with a Principal, who only wants to study for the state tests, who only wants to study how to take the state tests, who only wants the teachers to  work to the rule, and you have the los of a wonderful resource.  You now have Principals, and Superintendents, and Boards of Education who are stopping good teaching its tracks. 

    Everybody says we need better teachers.

    What we need:

    –Good administrators– from the top down, who know about education, who have actually taught more than the required few years to move up the ladder.
    –Good continuing education that teachers can afford.
    –Good networking- meaning professional conferences that are subsidized so that teachers can afford to go to them.  I went to my professional conferences-I went broke paying. But what I learned from teachers all over the United States, and all over the world made me a better educator and better person. It allowed my students to network with their students, too. And of course, you know that our children are growing up mostly in ignorance about the way the rest of the world lives. Many public towns don’t even allow teachers professional days to go to these conferences.  I know in my case, and for at least one other teacher in my town, we were told (after purchasing plane tickets, hotel rooms, and conference fees) at the last minute that we wouldn’t be allowed to go after all. We had gotten permission.
    –But, Mr. Gates, after all this, we need to treat educators professionally. We need to think of them as important professionals in their field. Notice that I haven’t mentioned salaries, but wouldn’t it be nice if instead of having to buy ,as I did sometimes over $5,000 worth of supplies, and pay for our conferences, educators were paid a living wage, so that maybe they could even live in their communities without having to work a second job.

    Wouldn’t it be nice, Mr. Gates,  if we could educate our children to actually learn about thier world, to actually grow up into citizens, who could see their world for what it is, how it was created to sustain us as long as we take care of it.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our students learned to ask questions, to ask why, and to actually  hold a dialogue with those in power.  After all the powerful are in power because the populace doesn’t ask, they just accept.

    I am so afraid we are sliding further and further into a feudal society, which bodes no good for our world and our offspring.

    Thank you for caring, Mr. Gates.
    We need more people to care….

    Leslie Miller

  • Jordan Berg Powers

    The idea that the an old white man who is pouring millions of dollars into undercutting universal opportunity by destroying public schools and devaluing teachers (of which many Black people make a profession can speak about civil rights is abhorrent.  That this story is so uncritical of the Gates Foundation role in undercutting public opportunity for communities of color and the pushing of policies that are at odds with the actual research is shameful.  Was this a report or a press release?   

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZRC7IDDWHLSHWWYFRWGUBBLMPY Bob F

    Only when Gates starts to focus on the students, their families, and their environment from birth onward will he find the explanation for the persistent achievement gap between black and Latino students and their white counterparts.  The schools get the students far too late, and for too little of the time, to make up for all that has gone before.

  • Anonymous

    Bill Gates: You have thrown so much money into the education field it is commendable on your
    part.     I wish to relate the following to YOU :
               1.  No one should have ever been separated due to color, ethinticity, or all else.
               2.  The schools have to have all of the above in their agenda for future voting purposes.
               3.  All money that Bill Gates should have been put to a greater use for the individual
                     learning , rather than the group’s learning.
                4. Micro software has advanced in the technology of teaching of all subjects with the
                     basics stressed as important for all advancement to start.
                 5. Bill Gates why not approach any and all as being important to an individuals learning
                     as to the group’s learning.
                 6. Individuals learning of basic skills, (or not learning of them) has been a great impact
                      as to how our society is allowing this to happen  on a continuing bases, in order to
                     advance the higher learning  individuals  success in life. 
                 7. By addressing of this simple need to be really looked at our society will have done a
                      full circle in the advancement of illiterates to future higher learners.
                  8. This is a rather unusual agenda for anyone to be able to follow , it is one that should
                       be followed.   Teachers should know how to teach concepts in the subject they have
                       chosen, if so, why do we have so many illiterate students in our society?
                  9 Bill Gates do something for America and be a leader and really help future children/adults
                      to give them a shot at being a part of society rather than a hinderance to society.
                   10.  Bill Gates this is a challenge to YOU do something in your power for the good of
                      society rather than allowing what has transpired for not the common good of all but
                      for a few.

  • Anonymous

    Mr Gates and his colleagues need look no further than Arizona State University’s Physics Department for a model of how to study AND INFLUENCE effective teaching in Secondary Science. ASU has solid data on what is effective (reliably, measurably effective) going back more than a decade. And they have solid techniques for teaching effective methods to teachers. Please look into and support ASU’s Modeling Physics program. In my 15th year of ineffectively teaching HS Science I took summer courses there and my students are glad I did.

    Brian P. Martin

    • Jane Jackson

      I will add to Brian Martin’s well-expressed comments — thanks, Brian!

      Bill Gates “is funding research to determine what makes a good teacher and effective ways of measuring them.”

      Brian is right: the Department of Physics at Arizona State University (ASU) has done extensive research into effective high school science teaching. The research was led by now Emeritus Professor of Physics David Hestenes. Many interesting and insightful documents on the research, and on dissemination to thousands of high school physics and chemistry teachers nationwide, are at http://modeling.asu.edu .

      How do we know if a teacher is effective? How do we measure it? Can we trust state tests of math? What evidence exists that state tests truly measure achievement, i.e., understanding — rather than skill at memorization?  Teachers tell me that, unfortunately, their state standardized math and science tests are chiefly factoids.  We need a different kind of test, to measure meaningful improvement of instruction.

      I am Co-Director of the Modeling Instruction Program at ASU. We are a grassroots movement of science teachers; we provide research-informed professional development for high school physics, chemistry, and physical science teachers nationwide. Each summer almost 50 Modeling Workshops are offered nationwide, of typical duration three weeks. See http://modeling.asu.edu/MW_nation.html .

      To measure teacher effectiveness (i.e., quality), we use research-validated concept inventories, for example the Force Concept Inventory (FCI), a 30-question multiple choice instrument. Teachers give the inventory to their students as pre-test and post-test. By looking at student choices on individual questions, a teacher can tell where they need to improve their instruction. You can read about the FCI at http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/Research.html

  • Yvonne Costabile

    I think that he funded a truly revolutionary idea in Pittsburgh Public Schools called the Teacher Academy.  This  program set up a school filled with proven, effective teachers of all subjects in a single school.  Then, 40 Residents, mostly to become alternatively certified, were hired to spend a year with these Master Teachers to learn, in the field, with the students, how to become truly effective teachers.  The Residents were the contractually obligated to stay with the district for five years, leave the first school and move into the other 11 Pittsburgh Public High Schools.  40 Residents, 11 schools, and this was to occur annually …. could’ve made a big difference.  We’ll never know because the program was canned due to a union negotiation snag.

  • Yvonne Costabile

    I think that he funded a truly revolutionary idea in Pittsburgh Public Schools called the Teacher Academy.  This  program set up a school filled with proven, effective teachers of all subjects in a single school.  Then, 40 Residents, mostly to become alternatively certified, were hired to spend a year with these Master Teachers to learn, in the field, with the students, how to become truly effective teachers.  The Residents were the contractually obligated to stay with the district for five years, leave the first school and move into the other 11 Pittsburgh Public High Schools.  40 Residents, 11 schools, and this was to occur annually …. could’ve made a big difference.  We’ll never know because the program was canned due to a union negotiation snag.

  • BTS

    I have been trying to find the positive points for everything that Mr. Gates has been trying to do for education over the last 10 years, however he continues to find ways to marginalize the hardest working people with their boots on the ground.  To state that: “Amazingly, we found that the field of education had done little work or research in this area” is a direct insult to enormous number of teachers and researchers who have dedicated their lives to this research.  I honestly don’t understand how he could make such a claim.  A well respected researcher group recently published papers that compared public schools to charter schools and found in most cases, children were worse-off in a charter school.  Here is one link to one of the research studies: http://www.utdallas.edu/research/tsp-erc/pdf/credo_charter_school_release_texas.pdf.  There are many more.  I just can’t believe that he would say that.  This clearly shows that he has had tunnel vision with all of his experiments.  If he really wants to find research for teaching excellence all he has to do is ask.  There is so much research done in this field, it is hard to tell where to start.  I even think there is research currently being done on his latest investment, Khan Academy.  For all of you educational researchers out there working hard with far less money than Gates, please accept my apologies for Mr. Gates uninformed statement. 

  • BTS

    I have been trying to find the positive points for everything that Mr. Gates has been trying to do for education over the last 10 years, however he continues to find ways to marginalize the hardest working people with their boots on the ground.  To state that: “Amazingly, we found that the field of education had done little work or research in this area” is a direct insult to enormous number of teachers and researchers who have dedicated their lives to this research.  I honestly don’t understand how he could make such a claim.  A well respected researcher group recently published papers that compared public schools to charter schools and found in most cases, children were worse-off in a charter school.  Here is one link to one of the research studies: http://www.utdallas.edu/research/tsp-erc/pdf/credo_charter_school_release_texas.pdf.  There are many more.  I just can’t believe that he would say that.  This clearly shows that he has had tunnel vision with all of his experiments.  If he really wants to find research for teaching excellence all he has to do is ask.  There is so much research done in this field, it is hard to tell where to start.  I even think there is research currently being done on his latest investment, Khan Academy.  For all of you educational researchers out there working hard with far less money than Gates, please accept my apologies for Mr. Gates uninformed statement. 

  • BTS

    I have been trying to find the positive points for everything that Mr. Gates has been trying to do for education over the last 10 years, however he continues to find ways to marginalize the hardest working people with their boots on the ground.  To state that: “Amazingly, we found that the field of education had done little work or research in this area” is a direct insult to enormous number of teachers and researchers who have dedicated their lives to this research.  I honestly don’t understand how he could make such a claim.  A well respected researcher group recently published papers that compared public schools to charter schools and found in most cases, children were worse-off in a charter school.  Here is one link to one of the research studies: http://www.utdallas.edu/research/tsp-erc/pdf/credo_charter_school_release_texas.pdf.  There are many more.  I just can’t believe that he would say that.  This clearly shows that he has had tunnel vision with all of his experiments.  If he really wants to find research for teaching excellence all he has to do is ask.  There is so much research done in this field, it is hard to tell where to start.  I even think there is research currently being done on his latest investment, Khan Academy.  For all of you educational researchers out there working hard with far less money than Gates, please accept my apologies for Mr. Gates uninformed statement. 

  • Benjamin Spicer

    I agree with BTS.  I have been teaching for five years now and I think its nearly impossible to keep up with all the research on curriculum and instruction.  Although it could reasonably be argued that much of the research is contradictory, Gates’ comment is inaccurate.  Does he honestly believe that all of the universities with graduates schools in education are effectively idle?  This comment seems too ignorant to be true.  Could he have been speaking about something specific and the author quoted him out of context?

  • veteran

     Good teaching is documented in many books and research papers.  The old research stating that the educational level of the parents is the biggest indicator of academic success has stood the test of time.  Generally, teachers get better over time. Hiring intelligent teachers that plan to stay in the profession for many years are the ones who will become the best teachers.  Offering some tuition incentives  for those on track for careers in teaching, and decreasing the money to programs  that recruit graduates from top colleges that look as teaching as a stepping stone to law school, medical school, business school, etc and will only teach for 1-3 years  will reap more rewards. The schools in the poorest areas have the least experienced teachers so smaller gains are expected.  After a few years of training in the tough poor neighborhods many teachers move on,  and new teachers need to be hired again thereby continuing the cycle of inexperienced teachers teaching our neediest students, and sustaining or increasing the achievement gap.   Creating/adopting more rigorous  teacher examinations will go a long way towards recruiting a higher caliber professional and teaching becoming a respected profession.  Most teachers give 110% and have their hearts in the right place.  Teachers skills are honed over time and retaining good teachers in the needy neighborhoods will  lessen the acheivement gap.

  • veteran

     Good teaching is documented in many books and research papers.  The old research stating that the educational level of the parents is the biggest indicator of academic success has stood the test of time.  Generally, teachers get better over time. Hiring intelligent teachers that plan to stay in the profession for many years are the ones who will become the best teachers.  Offering some tuition incentives  for those on track for careers in teaching, and decreasing the money to programs  that recruit graduates from top colleges that look as teaching as a stepping stone to law school, medical school, business school, etc and will only teach for 1-3 years  will reap more rewards. The schools in the poorest areas have the least experienced teachers so smaller gains are expected.  After a few years of training in the tough poor neighborhods many teachers move on,  and new teachers need to be hired again thereby continuing the cycle of inexperienced teachers teaching our neediest students, and sustaining or increasing the achievement gap.   Creating/adopting more rigorous  teacher examinations will go a long way towards recruiting a higher caliber professional and teaching becoming a respected profession.  Most teachers give 110% and have their hearts in the right place.  Teachers skills are honed over time and retaining good teachers in the needy neighborhoods will  lessen the acheivement gap.

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