Bill Gates delivered a speech on education for Ted Talks on PBS this week. He started out his speech by talking about the need for America to be more competitive internationally. He claims reforms are needed based on the dismissal rankings of the U.S. in math, science and reading. Among those reforms is a project he has been piloting called Measures of Effective Teaching where cameras are placed in the classroom to observe teachers. These videos are then shared with other teachers to provide communication about best teaching practices. According to Gates, we must look to high performing countries, like China, and model their systemization of the teacher improvement process.
“The U.S. is tied for 15th in reading, but we’re 23rd in science and 31st in math. Let’s look at the best academic performer: the province of Shanghai, China. Now, they rank number one across the board, in reading, math and science, and one of the keys to Shanghai’s incredible success is the way they help teachers keep improving. They made sure that younger teachers get a chance to watch master teachers at work.”
First of all, China is not number one across the board and the US isn’t 35th in math. On the latest international test called TIMMS, the fourth grade results show China was 3rd and the US was 11th. In eighth grade, China was 3rd and the U.S. was 9th. In fact, several states entered as their own country which ranks Massachusettes 6th, Minnesota 7th, and Indiana 10th on the international scale. It clearly shows that we have some pretty good examples of what works in education in our own backyard. Personally, the less we resemble the practices of a country like China, the better off America will be. He further describes our process of evaluating teachers in the U.S. as unfair:
“The system we have today isn’t fair to them. It’s not fair to students, and it’s putting America’s global leadership at risk.”
Seriously, holding up China as an example of a fair system for America to emulate? With all the cruelty and oppression China represents, it seems far from the American ideal. I would be very surprised if a teacher in China has any job satisfaction. I wonder what happens to a Chinese teacher who has a hard year. Do they get asked back? Do they stick with her and help her improve? I doubt it, she is probably sent off to be retrained to serve the state in another position. It’s a similar system for their students, who are tested at a young age and placed by the state into certain educational paths with very little self-determination. Maybe Bill Gates forgot that America will never be like China because we are a constitutional republic, where the government does not rule teachers, students and citizens like cogs in a machine with big brother cameras watching them from above.
I’m tired of education reform leaders using scare tactics to get “buy in” from the American people. They paint a deceptive picture of a decimated education system in dire need of a complete makeover. A makeover in which they will be the artists. These few individuals will decide what colors are used and which subjects get painted. Oh yeah, and the ones who get the commissions.
“Building this system will also require a considerable investment. Our foundation estimates that it could cost up to five billion dollars. Now that’s a big number, but to put it in perspective, it’s less than two percent of what we spend every year on teacher salaries.”
I’m wondering who Bill Gates thinks will supply all the computers and cameras for this 5 billion dollar experiment to shape our teacher training and evaluations like China’s.