In his first education speech in 7 years, Bill Gates did not back down.  His two prong offense continue to be teacher effectiveness and common academic standards—even as both initiatives have sparked a turbulent transformation in the nation’s schools and become deeply politicized…..

Due to the timing of the speech, it quickly became apparent that the one person responsible for making these policy across the nation, was complete unmentioned in the speech… Arne Duncun.

He spread the foundation’s work faster and more thoroughly than could ever any foundation alone…

As a listener, I am grateful for the speech because it illuminated the flaw of reason in the Gate’s foundation’s otherwise hard to resist argument.

For who among us ever wants children to not get educated when they have spend 12 years in school?  We all want results and we know that to educate children well we do need decent teachers to do it.

Since 1999, the Gates Foundation has spent about $4 billion on K-12 education since 1999, including $90 million on educational standards and $980 million on teacher effectiveness and supports

Gates said that he believes that he is “working on the right problem.” That problem, he said, is teachers who are unprepared, unsupported and ineffective – especially in low-income schools….

Despite the friendly handpicked audience, among educational experts in attendance serious doubts were expressed over his claim that focusing solely on teacher quality would guarantee 80% of students being rated proficiently in ELA and Math by the Common Core tests as they currently stand.

Gates said that evidence shows that a good teacher could dramatically improve learning, and argued that top-quality teachers “would completely close the income inequity of learning in the entire country” if they were in place for three years nationwide.

We could also if we put our collective national mind to it,  roast coffee beans on Jupiter’s moon Io.

(One sees he has come catching up to do since his last speech 8 years ago.)

In a subtle shift in the teacher evaluation debate, Gates seemed careful not to use language that has provoked teacher backlash against the reform movement. He never spoke of a need to fire “bad” teachers, and he said that test scores, while a “key outcome,” were only one way to measure teacher quality…

“The area we need to invest the most in is the idea of classroom observation,” followed by constructive feedback, said Gates. “I never met a teacher who said, ‘Yeah I got those test scores and now I know what I need to change.’

Unfortunately, listening to the debate over this subject, you might think that we’re forced to choose between two extremes: either using test scores exclusively to determine a teacher’s evaluation, or not using them at all. That’s a false choice. In fact, states are trying to figure out how to balance test scores with observations, student feedback, and other factors. No state uses them for more than 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Eight don’t require test scores at all, and everyone else is somewhere in the middle.

In my view, test scores should be one part of the mix. But we also need to make sure that every evaluation system is transparent, makes sense to teachers, and is embraced by teachers.

Gates mentions in a recent study, researchers at Harvard University gave teachers video cameras and allowed them to record as many lessons as they wanted, and choose the ones to send to the principal to discuss. The study found that when you put teachers in charge of deciding which lessons to seek feedback on, it redefines the power dynamic between them and their principals. The teachers are leading the discussion, and they focus it on what they want to improve.

“Even worse, for many teachers, feedback isn’t even tied to helping them improve. When the only purpose of an evaluation system is to decide who gets hired and who gets fired, it makes teachers more guarded, and less likely to embrace new ideas. That approach doesn’t strengthen good teaching—it strangles it.

Every teacher has the right to ask of every evaluation: “How will this help me get better?” That needs to be the first purpose of every effort to evaluate a teacher.”

The progress we have seen so far is fragile. In places where feedback and improvement systems are well designed, they’re generating excitement, and teachers are embracing them. But in places where the systems hold teachers accountable without giving them the support they need to improve—those systems are provoking resentment and distrust. Teachers are rejecting them, and students are losing out on the opportunity to make big gains in achievement.

Will the districts and states with the most effective systems keep those systems in place? Will their best practices be adopted throughout the country? Or will we retreat from these reforms, and go back to a time when all teachers are forced to make their way up the learning line on their own?  

The future of our students hangs on the answer. And the answer depends on all of us.

That answer is to cut the cord tying teachers’ performance evaluation from their students’ test scores….. and use the tests solely for evaluating student progress and helping students achieve..

Near the end he specifically signals out Jack Markell and our former superintendent Mark Murphy……

If you’re a governor or state chief, I urge you to take a hard look at whether your system is giving teachers the support they need. Here’s a three-part test you can apply:

  • First: Is your system balanced? Are you using multiple measures that reflect the complexity of teaching? ( No, we are not..)
  • Second: Is it trustworthy? Are you using valid, accurate data that teachers will embrace?  (No we are not…)
  • And third: Is your system focused on improvement? Are you using evaluation to help teachers learn—or simply as an exercise in compliance?  (No, we are not…..)

This is exactly the opposite of what our DOE, Earl Jacques, Dave Sokola, and Jack Markell each have stressed for Delaware…. Those four (based on all their public statements) seem only intent on crushing public schools to allow mega-charter corporations their small toe-hold entry into this state.

Their approach is hurting parents, students, teachers, schools, colleges, careers, and districts.  Opting out is the only solution parents currently have.