Thursday, July 28, 2011

Was the $5 Billion Worth It?

A great interview with Bill Gates on school reform from the weekend WSJ, where he gives a great plug for KIPP:

"I bring a bias to this," says Mr. Gates. "I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts." Compared with R&D spending in the pharmaceutical or information-technology sectors, he says, next to nothing is spent on education research. "That's partly because of the problem of who would do it. Who thinks of it as their business? The 50 states don't think of it that way, and schools of education are not about research. So we come into this thinking that we should fund the research."

Of late, the foundation has been working on a personnel system that can reliably measure teacher effectiveness. Teachers have long been shown to influence students' education more than any other school factor, including class size and per-pupil spending. So the objective is to determine scientifically what a good instructor does.

"We all know that there are these exemplars who can take the toughest students, and they'll teach them two-and-a-half years of math in a single year," he says. "Well, I'm enough of a scientist to want to say, 'What is it about a great teacher? Is it their ability to calm down the classroom or to make the subject interesting? Do they give good problems and understand confusion? Are they good with kids who are behind? Are they good with kids who are ahead?'

"I watched the movies. I saw 'To Sir, With Love,'" he chuckles, recounting the 1967 classic in which Sidney Poitier plays an idealistic teacher who wins over students at a roughhouse London school. "But they didn't really explain what he was doing right. I can't create a personnel system where I say, 'Go watch this movie and be like him.'"

…On the fraught issue of school choice, his foundation has been a strong advocate of charter schools, and Mr. Gates is particularly fond of the KIPP charter network and its focus on serving inner-city neighborhoods. "Whenever you get depressed about giving money in this area," he volunteers, "you can spend a day in a KIPP school and know that they are spending less money than the dropout factory down the road."


Was the $5 Billion Worth It?

A decade into his record-breaking education philanthropy, Bill Gates talks teachers, charters—and regrets.



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