Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bill Gates: Great Teachers Don’t Allow Fidgeting

Bill Gates recently told the Wall Street Journal that the nation spent a "mind blowing" amount of money on education, an impressive statement coming from some who possesses a mind blowing amount of money, if it weren’t for the dollar signs dancing before his eyes and his scheming to get his hands on more of it. Despite these mind blowing expenditures, Gates called for even greater funding, and for it to come through tax increases, "if we hope to substantially increase graduation rates."

Time for the Clown Act, I'm Boring My Class Again (Image by Stefg74)
While he is correct that tax increases are the only way to provide more funding to schools, which is one prerequisite for improving them, his ostensibly progressive statement is vague enough to be alarming. First, increase taxes on whom? California Gov. Brown wants to save K-12 funding by extending regressive taxes that disproportionally affect lower income much more than the wealthy. This will not only fail to provide much to schools, it will actually have a negative impact on graduation rates and the achievement gap because it will add to the economic stress facing low income people.

This brings me to the second problem with Gates’ proposal. Increasing taxes and school funding does nothing to address poverty and the host of factors related to income that impact children’s academic achievement. Poor kids are much more likely to be born with low birth weight, suffer iron deficiency anemia and have lead poisoning, each of which can impair cognitive development and create learning disabilities. Poor kids have much higher rates of absenteeism, mostly due to lack of health insurance, which makes them fall further and further behind in their school work. Poor families read less to their infants and toddlers, resulting in a significant class-based vocabulary and pre-reading achievement gap by the age of three.

Despite Gates’ sane request for increased taxes and educational spending, the rest of his Ed Deform shtick remains the same. He continues to call for an elimination of teacher raises based on seniority and degrees, to be replaced by merit schemes based on student test scores. He still wants to privatize the schools and replace them with charters. His notion of a great teacher is one who is so obsessively self-critical that a single student fidget is considered a sign of failure. The WSJ quotes him as saying, “We video a great teacher and then she watches it and comments on her video, saying, "that kid's foot is jerking. I'm not making this interesting enough."

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