As Bill Gates sees many of his health and education initiatives go up in smoke -- oh, if only those billions had gone into reducing class size -- Daniel Katz joins other bloggers in ripping apart the basic premises under which Gates operates. (And let's never forget his best friend Randi.)
For instance, Melinda Gates makes this asinine statement:
It may surprise you–it was certainly surprising to us–but the field of education doesn’t know very much at all about effective teaching. We have all known terrific teachers. You watch them at work for 10 minutes and you can tell how thoroughly they’ve mastered the craft. But nobody has been able to identify what, precisely, makes them so outstanding.Katz answers by pointing to just how much the field of education knows about effective teaching -- but those darn pesky kids and lousy school administration plus any number of factors get in the way.
What does Mrs. Gates risk missing in her ten minute assessment?
- The lesson that worked very well in the first period but worked far less well in the third period.
- The day when the lesson plan was simply off base.
- The work that teacher did outside of the classroom determining what students knew, selecting teaching and learning strategies that would help them build upon that, figuring out what would help the teacher know the students had learned.
- ANY of the uncertainty in the previously described process and the necessity to pivot if that uncertainty disrupts the plan.
- How the teacher self assesses and with what information.
- The week when that teacher has sick children at home, cannot get enough sleep, and has little time to plan.
- The week disrupted by excessive standardized testing or mandatory field tests of examinations.
- ANYTHING, really, beyond being impressed by Razzle Dazzle without thinking about substance.
These points by Katz really resonate with me --- at times I thought I had the best of times as a teacher -- and a few hours later -- or even the next period - I was the worst. No one can tell me that I would not be a better teacher in a class of 22 than in a class of 30 - or that I was often a better teacher in the morning than in the late afternoon. That was why I tried to get schedules that piled up morning teaching. When we had late lunch at 12:30 if I had an afternoon prep I would go straight on from 8:40. After lunch I had to work so much harder to focus the kids --- the breaks broke the magic.
Towards the end of last year, the Seattle Times provided coverage of the Gates Foundation’s report on the tenth anniversary of its global health initiative. After a decade of effort and a billion dollars invested, Bill Gates admitted that despite the investment he had been “pretty naive” about how long it would take to significantly improve public health outcomes in the developing world. Most notable was Gates’ admission that the problems in his approach were not merely ones about overcoming scientific hurdles, but rather they seriously underestimated the challenges of implementing highly technological “solutions” in countries where the majority of the population lack secure access to routine infrastructure which, in the words of Dr. David McCoy of Queen Mary University in London, are “the barriers to existing solutions.”
Both Peter Greene of the Curmudgucation blog and Anthony Cody of Living in Dialogue have written excellent pieces on this somewhat quiet but very important admission by Bill Gates. Greene astutely notes that Gates’ realization of his limitations does not actually lead him to understand why his approach is flawed:
Gates wants to use systems to change society, but his understanding of how humans and culture and society and communities change is faulty. It’s not surprising that Gates is naive– it’s surprising that he is always naive in the same way. It always boils down to “I really thought people would behave differently.” And although I’ve rarely seen him acknowledge it print, it also boils down to, “There were plenty of people who could have told me better, but I didn’t listen to them.”This is an important observation because it shows that there is a flawed perspective rooted at the heart of the Gates Foundation, and while the man and the institution may be able to recognize failures, they are not inclined to understand why they have failed. Anthony Cody also recognizes this observation as he lines up quotes from the central figures at the Gates Foundation that demonstrate little regard for the knowledge about teaching held by teachers and wonders if the “humility” earned in Grand Challenges project will translate to humility about the foundation’s approach to education reform.
The non-success of Grand Challenges is just like the failure of the Gates Common Core initiative. Gates did not take the time to do his homework about the pre-existing structures and systems. He did not value the expertise of people already working in the field, and so he did not consult it or listen to it. He put an unwarranted faith in his created systems, and imagined that they would prevail because everyone on the ground would be easily assimilated into the new imposed-from-outside system. He became frustrated by peoples’ insistence on seeing things through their own point-of-view rather than his. And he spent a huge amount of money attempting to impose his vision on everybody else.