Don't get me wrong. I love that Bill Gates is identifying education as a key issue to focus on. I love that he is taking an interest in improving education. I am not questioning his motives. Just his methods.
What I hate is that his approach is the same know-it-all attitude that many take towards education and education research. It's the old "I turned out okay, and I know what worked for me, therefore I am an expert on education" approach.
Good ol' Uncle Bill knows all there is to know about education reform
Which would be bad enough if he were just Uncle Bill, telling-it-how-it-is from his comfy chair at a holiday party. But instead, he is using his name to garner authority on a subject he knows little about.
#2 His ENTIRE research program is explicitly based upon students' scores on standardized tests
The following is taken from a recent report by Gates' MET project:
THE THREE PREMISES OF THE MET PROJECTNB: "Achievement gains" are edu-jargon for increases in standardized test scores. There are so many problems with this, I don't know where to begin. For one, there is the obvious: these standardized tests DO NOT MEASURE what students are learning. But a more important issue to me is that: THESE TESTS DO HARM TO STUDENTS. And I'm not talking just about "they get stressed when they take tests." I'm also talking about the WEEKS of instructional time lost to testing throughout the school year, and the MONTHS of instructional time lost to test-preparation throughout the school year. I'm talking about the science classes, the history classes, the art classes, which ARE NOT TAUGHT so that reading and math test scores can improve.
The MET project is based on three simple premises:
- First, whenever feasible, a teacher’s evaluation should include his or her students’ achievement gains.
- Second, any additional components of the evaluation (e.g., classroom observations, student feedback) should be demonstrably related to student achievement gains
- Third, the measure should include feedback on specific aspects of a teacher’s practice to support teacher growth and development.
As a science educator, I am most concerned about how the tests distort students' views on what it means to learn and to do science. The students take away such distortions from this test-crazed school culture when it is working as it is supposed to. That means under Gates' ideal conditions, students' conceptions of science (and who knows what else!) will be destroyed, or at least distorted beyond recognition. I have seen this first hand in my time in the classroom as an instructor, and as a researcher.
#3 Gates is jumping right from making assumptions to making recommendations
It's one thing to do descriptive statistics. It's another to make causal claims. But causal claims must be substantiated BEFORE making recommendations. And the research that's already been done must be addressed first.
Yet somehow, Gates decided that he can simply dismiss all the research that shows the positive correlation between small class sizes and student learning (one of the most robust findings in educational research). His recommendation: INCREASE class sizes, so we can force teachers to do more for less, and with less resources to help them do it.
Again, if this were just Uncle Bill ranting at a party it would be one thing. But this is a person who is determining the future of the educational system with billions of dollars of investment in harmful and misguided policies and their proliferation.
#4 He wants traffic cameras in the classroom...
...except instead of being used to issue speeding tickets, they will be used to punish teachers. Big brother, anyone? What a great way to encourage teachers to enter into the profession and stay there (which, by the way, is really the key issue, if you ask Uncle Luke). And by "great" I mean "idiotic."
Gates knows when you've been boring, Gates knows when you've been late...
Gates knows when kids are snoring, so give them tests for testing's sake!