Bill and Melinda Gates: Schools Need to Learn from Business

Schools have a lot to learn from business about how to improve performance, say Bill and Melinda Gates in an opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal.  While lauding the quality of the nation’s teachers, Bill and Melinda Gates say that they believe that they are stifled by a system that doesn’t treat them professionally.

A recent survey that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation undertaken with Scholastic shows that teachers believe they’re asked to work in no-support/low-expectations working conditions.

“The Scholastic project found that teachers are desperate for more support. Three kinds rose to the top: more involvement from parents, more engagement from school leaders and higher quality materials to use in the classroom.”

In the survey, teachers were given a list of 15 things that might help retain the best teachers. Interestingly, ‘higher salaries’ ranked on 11th on the list, behind benefits like more time for preparation and opportunities for professional development.

Another key finding was that teachers are open to being evaluated in a comprehensive way, writes Bill and Melinda.

“The research shows, in short, that teachers want to be treated as professionals. They want to be put in a position to succeed, and they’re open to having their performance measured, as long as the measurement system is fair.”

The Gates’ don’t believe that teachers should be like commissioned salespeople, receiving pay based on end-of-year test scores.

“When we think about the kinds of teachers we hope our children have, we realize that it’s impossible to capture everything in a single metric. We believe you need multiple measures to make evaluations accurate and fair.”

And they don’t concede that teaching is so nuanced that it is simply impossible to measure.

“Because we have been unable to define effective teaching, we now reward teachers for easy-to-measure proxies like master’s degrees and seniority, even though there is no evidence that these things help students learn.”

They claim that as a result tenured teacher with a master’s degree whose students aren’t learning much will always earn more than a recent college graduate whose students are sweeping the academic decathlon.

“In our society, you pay somebody a compliment when you say they’re “a pro.” But the truth is that professionalism is a dynamic relationship, not one person’s responsibility. We have to hold up our end of the bargain, too.”

A new report, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and carried out by the American Institutes for Research, shows that too few students are making it through freshman to sophomore year, writes Diane Knich at The Postal and Courier. That poor record of retention costs federal state, and local taxpayers about $1 billion per year.

The report, “The Hidden Cost of Community Colleges,” looked at student retention data from the 2004-05 to the 2008-09 school year.

It found that after taking into account students who transferred to other schools, about 20 percent of students failed to return for a second year of study, writes Knich.