Friday, April 1, 2011

Bill Gates on Small High Schools

Q. Your spent hundreds of millions to create small high schools, including breaking apart scores of large, low-performing schools into smaller campuses. What did you darn from that effort?

A. “We had some very good results in a lot of the high schools, and it’s a tactic we absolutely believe in. But in terms of our big goal of getting lots and lots of kids to go to college, that effort alone wasn’t going to close that gap much at all. If you don’t actually deal with this issue of helping teachers be better by helping them make a leap of faith to a real personnel system, you just aren’t going to get there.”

Comment: I question the goal of education as getting “lots of kids to go to college” (Gates himself did not graduate from college). And I do not know what he means by helping teachers becoming “better by helping them make a leap of faith to a real personnel system.” What is a “real personnel system”? But he seems to be saying that spending millions of dollars to break up large high schools to create small high schools did not, by itself, solve the problems of education. Only good teachers can do that.

There’s a problem in defining the characteristics of a good teacher. As a k-12 supervisor of language arts for twenty years, I have seen all kinds of teachers. I’ve seen the dynamos who were effective teachers. I’ve seen dynamos who intimidated students. I’ve also seen the quiet teachers who never raised their voices, but whose students paid rapt attention and were completely absorbed in learning. I’ve seen child-centered teachers who were terrible and created chaotic classrooms. I’ve seen child-centered teachers who were very effective in helping students learn how to learn. I’ve seen teachers who lectured and were excellent at what they did. I’ve seen teachers who lectured and bored the students to tears. I don’t think it’s possible to package good teachers according to style of teaching.

Maybe the lesson is that students learn best when they learn how to adapt to different styles of teaching. RayS.

“Bill Gates Turns Attention Toward Teacher Improvement.” Stephanie Banchero. Wall Street Journal (March 21, 2011), Internet.

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