Gates: Spending cuts don't have to harm learning

Feb 28, 2011 By KEVIN FREKING , Associated Press
Bill Gates addresses the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(AP) -- Even in the midst of large spending cuts, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said Monday that schools can improve the performance of students if they put more emphasis on rewarding excellent teaching and less emphasis on paying teachers based on seniority and graduate degrees.

Gates spoke to the nation's governors mindful of the severe financial woes that many of them face as they try to bridge deficits totaling about $125 billion in the coming fiscal year. He said there are some clear do's and don'ts. Among the do's: Lift caps on class sizes and get more students in front of the very best . Those teachers would get paid more with the savings generated from having fewer personnel overall.

"There are people in the field who think class size is the only thing," Gates said in an interview with The Associated Press prior to his speech. "But in fact, the dominant factor is having a great teacher in front of the classroom."

Among his recommendations on what not to do, Gates told governors that they should not use furloughs to reduce costs because it's only a temporary fix that leaves compensation demands intact for future years. Nor should they put more dollars into compensating teachers based on the advanced degrees they've obtained and their years of service as a teacher. He said the ideal scenario would be to classify teachers and to compensate them based on how well their students learned.

Gates is recognized as one of the wealthiest people in the world with assets valued at $54 billion. He still serves as the chairman of Microsoft's board of directors, but much of his time and considerable resources are devoted to improving the health of people in developing countries and to improving in the United States. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working with school districts in six states on changing how teachers are evaluated. The evaluations include student surveys as well as video cameras that reinforce for teachers the most modern communication techniques.

Gates said the systems currently used to evaluate teachers too often rate the vast majority at the top. The problem with that system is that "the great teachers stayed great, but the average teachers remained average," he said.

In speaking to the governors, Gates noted that the number of teachers and support personnel has increased from about 40 adults per 1,000 students in 1960 to about 125 adults per 1,000 students today. His point was that states have made costly changes that have not led to higher student achievement. High school scores in math and reading have been flat since the 1970s.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island pointed out that some of the increase in personnel has been required by the courts as states have taken on a much greater role in educating students with special needs. He recalled visiting a classroom of eight children with disabilities and noted that there were three teachers for those students.

"So there's our costs," Chafee said.

Gates said that educating special needs students is an important factor in increasing costs, but he also said it accounted for only about 15 percent of the increase.

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue said while expanding class sizes sounds easy, she wondered what the effect on students would be if a bad teacher were asked to take on five or six more children.

"There's nothing worse than having a bad teacher, and that's why our key priority is the evaluation system," said Gates, who stressed that teachers must have a major role in creating that evaluation system.

Gates was asked in an interview to weigh in on events taking place in Wisconsin, where workers belonging to unions, many of them teachers, are protesting efforts that would hurt their ability to negotiate labor contracts. In particular, would it be easier to improve schools if unions had less say in how resources are spent?

"We're not involved in those issues at all. No system is going to work unless teachers like it," Gates said.

He also noted that unions have partnered with his foundation in the school districts where they are trying to change how teachers are evaluated.

Gates said the United States is still a worldwide leader in many aspects of its educational system, noting that its top universities are viewed as the best in the world. But there are too many areas where the system fails.

"The place where you really see the inequity is the inner city," he said.

Gates also said he's still confident about the economic future of the United States, even as other countries have gained or moved ahead on key measures of learning. He said the country will benefit from the innovation that takes place in those countries, even as they buy airplanes, software and pharmaceutical drugs from the United States.

"It's a win-win type thing" Gates told the Associated Press.

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geokstr
1.3 / 5 (15) Feb 28, 2011
Well, Bill, the SEIU and the NEA know where you live. Advocating for this fascist, racist far right extremist concept of merit-based compensation is likely to get purple-shirted thugs protesting outside your door and threatening your wife and kids. You might just as well demand that they don't get solid gold pensions at an early age and dollar one lifetime health care too, while you're at it.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.7 / 5 (6) Feb 28, 2011
Your vitriol is ringing more and more hollow.

The process of tenure in the public education system and how incredibly easy it is to get a "job for life" deal is the problem in the educational system. Simply change the laws and process of tenure and you will see drastic changes in the educational system.

Public school shouldn't be a political system, and that is what tenure was originally invented for. Professors would be booted from their jobs for expressing views that were contrary to the University leadership during the various social conflicts in our past which resulted in the first application of tenure.

The ridiculous bureaucracy in the various interplay between state and federal education is also a problem.
Sleepy
5 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2011
I think Geokstr was attempting to employ "sarcasm." While he may have missed on that, I do agree that a merit based system is good.

However, I also feel that teachers, and all employees for that matter, need job security. I don't know if their benefits, like pension and health care, are actually any better than someone of similar position in the private sector, though. So, I'd say keep the benefits, but restrict pay increases by implementing a merit system.

And I'm totally against Bill Gates on removing class-size caps. Smaller classes are key in allowing the best teachers the most time with each student.

And Skeptic, you mention state and federal bureaucracies. I would like to see a federally standardized education system, eliminate local politics and economics from schools.
geokstr
1 / 5 (9) Feb 28, 2011
Professors would be booted from their jobs for expressing views that were contrary to the University leadership

That's already happened. If you are right of center, plan on doing something other than being a professor, since you won't get hired because your views are contrary to "University leadership". The leftist tilt to faculties has been known for decades and studied in depth.
I don't know if their benefits, like pension and health care, are actually any better than someone of similar position in the private sector.

Then you need to look up the available studies on the matter on the internet. Public employee benefits are solid gold compared to workers in the real world. You can retire much earlier with a much bigger pension, because these are mostly defined benefit plans vs defined contribution that are prevalent in the private sector, plus get dollar one health care for life.

Thanks also for recognizing my attempt at sarcasm. Some here are too dim to get it.
Sleepy
4.3 / 5 (4) Mar 01, 2011
Good point, Geokstr. A little googling says you're right, public employees have a sweet deal. And why shouldn't they? They unionize and actively bargain for their benefits. I'd do the same thing in their position, anyone would. A systemic overhaul would be beneficial, but they still deserve the right to bargain.

The problem I see is that private sector employees are getting screwed. They don't unionize and don't have a say in their benefits. I know giving employees more benefits reduces competitiveness, but that's the price a company should pay. They can use "American Ingenuity."
Beard
not rated yet Mar 01, 2011
All through Highschool my classes had between 30 to 35 kids. There was never a backlog for one-on-one help ever, even before exams. I'm confident that even a class of 60 kids wouldn't have a backlog.

I'm not from the states though, what is the average class size there?
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (4) Mar 01, 2011
That's already happened. If you are right of center, plan on doing something other than being a professor, since you won't get hired because your views are contrary to "University leadership". The leftist tilt to faculties has been known for decades and studied in depth.
Yes of course, the university system is designed to keep the common man and conservative down on his knees before the almighty liberal....

Or maybe trying to teach creationism and skewed morals isn't appreciated in higher learning institutions.
FrankHerbert
2.6 / 5 (10) Mar 01, 2011
Google 'geokstr'. When he isn't ripping people off as a stamp dealer (lol) he's trolling science and news websites. Also he looks like your typical fat, racist, conservative fool. Who'd have thought!
geokstr
1.3 / 5 (13) Mar 01, 2011
When he isn't ripping people off as a stamp dealer (lol)...

Yes, that's why I have nearly 5,000 positive feedback, and have had a number of articles written about my investigations to chase stamp crooks off the internet, and formed an organization to help collectors protect themselves against being defrauded.

Scumbag.

And taking part in commenting at various sites on a regular basis is not trolling, moron.

When it boils down to it, all you leftlings have left is to shreik "racist". It ain't working anymore.
geokstr
1.3 / 5 (13) Mar 01, 2011
Or maybe trying to teach creationism and skewed morals isn't appreciated in higher learning institutions.

Yes of course, all conservatives believe in creationism, just like all leftlings worship St Karl of Marx.
dnatwork
5 / 5 (4) Mar 01, 2011
Sleepy: A little googling is like a little knowledge: it's dangerous. Public sector employees are compensated the same (at higher levels) or worse (at lower levels) than private sector workers, and that's after including pension and health benefits. Paul Krugman has been writing about this in the Times, and he links to the research on it.

The story that geokstr is parroting from the right is a lie designed to help the ongoing right-wing attack on the rights of individuals to assemble and speak. It's all about gathering all power to the wealthy and their tools, the corporations, which are never mentioned in the Constitution and had no right to claim any rights before the radical activist Supreme Court created it out of thin air in "Citizens United." The PR for this campaign is both ubiquitous in the media and very ingenious, so that many common people internalize it and come to think that they are acting in their own interests by supporting the interests of their masters.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Mar 01, 2011
It's all about gathering all power to the wealthy and their tools, the corporations, which are never mentioned in the Constitution and had no right to claim any rights before the radical activist Supreme Court created it out of thin air in "Citizens United."
I have no problem with corporations having the abilities of citizens, as long as they receive the detriments as well.

What's the individual income tax rate on 2 billion in capital gains?

How many citizens get a multibillion dollar bailout when they fuck up their check book?

Can I take out a "life" insurance policy on a failing business and cash in when they fail?

How many corporations go to jail when they're responsible for someone's death due to negligence?

Like I said, corporations can be citizens, as long as they want to pay the dues as individuals do.

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