Mike Kueber's Blog

April 4, 2013

Bill Gates on teacher accountability

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 12:53 pm

Bill Gates recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post titled, “A fairer way to evaluate teachers.”  According to Gates, America’s education system is creating a well-deserved backlash by moving too quickly toward firing, promoting, and compensating teachers based primarily on student test scores.  Instead, he suggests a three-pronged approach:

  • What the country needs are thoughtfully developed teacher evaluation systems that include multiple measures of performance, such as student surveys, classroom observations by experienced colleagues and student test results.

Gates starts his attempt at persuasion by telling the story of NFL QB Tom Brady’s disappointing 40-yard-dash performance at an NFL combine.  Despite this dismal showing, Brady went on to star with the New England Patriots and win three Super Bowls, and according to Gates, this exposes the flaw in relying on numbers or test scores. 

I think Gates’s use of the Brady analogy is totally in error.  Brady can be effectively and efficiently evaluated by test scores, with the testing taking place every Sunday.  If Gates had his way, Brady would be evaluated by player surveys and observations from scouts.  In that case, Todd Marinovich and Chris Simms would have been NFL stars.    

Most of Gates’s piece is focused on the issue of teacher compensation based on student test scores, but I think it is more important to focus on teacher effectiveness.  There’s an old saying about the impossibility of paying an effective teacher enough and of paying an ineffective one too little. 

Well-designed tests can help identify not only who is ineffective, but also where, how, and why those teachers are ineffective. Something is wrong with the current education system if it holds 98% of the teachers in high regard while so many of the kids are failing. 

As Gates suggests, teachers should be given the opportunity to correct deficiencies.  The rub comes from dealing with those teachers who are unable to become effective, and Gates is signaling an unwillingness to take action.  That would be wrong.


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