In the the November 28, 2010 issue of Newsweek, Bill Gates posed some questions for Diane Ravitch, NYU Professor and education historian who, despite her initial support of No Child Left Behind has examined the evidence and reconsidered her position on high stakes testing and emerged as an opponent to the Obama administration's education reform policies, as well as many of those supported by Gates and his foundation. In today's Washington Post Answer Sheet, Valerie Strauss got Ravitch to answer Gates, point by point.
Both articles are must-reads for any of us interested in the current political debate surrounding public education, but I'll tip my hand as to which side of the fence I'm on and quote Ravitch in response to Gates's question, "Is she sticking up for decline?"
"Of course not! If we follow Bill Gates' demand to judge teachers by test scores, we will see stagnation, and he will blame it on teachers. We will see stagnation because a relentless focus on test scores in reading and math will inevitably narrow the curriculum only to what is tested. This is not good education.
"Last week, he said in a speech that teachers should not be paid more for experience and graduate degrees. I wonder why a man of his vast wealth spends so much time trying to figure out how to cut teachers' pay. Does he truly believe that our nation's schools will get better if we have teachers with less education and less experience? Who does he listen to? He needs to get himself a smarter set of advisers.
"Of course, we need to make teaching a profession that attracts and retains wonderful teachers, but the current anti-teacher rhetoric emanating from him and his confreres demonizes and demoralizes even the best teachers. I have gotten letters from many teachers who tell me that they have had it, they have never felt such disrespect; and I have also met young people who tell me that the current poisonous atmosphere has persuaded them not to become teachers. Why doesn't he make speeches thanking the people who work so hard day after day, educating our nation's children, often in difficult working conditions, most of whom earn less than he pays his secretaries at Microsoft?"