Gates’ advice on school budgets flawed

While I’m sure the state superintendents welcomed budget advice from mogul Bill Gates, and that advice was given in all sincerity, there is at least one part that needs re-thinking:

Gates Urges School Budget Overhauls – NYTimes.com.

He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.

Giving the most effective teachers larger classes is NOT a way to reward them, but it is a way to lessen their effectiveness. It also begs the question: What kind of teachers will be working with the students that can’t be crammed into the overcrowded classes of the “effective teachers”?

Similarly, getting effective teachers to come and stay in more challenging schools is a great goal. But just offering more money for accepting those assignments is not the best way to accomplish that goal. A teacher can be effective in one setting or school, and much less effective or even struggle in another. The financial support should be to help meet the needs of the school (such as lack of resources and poorly maintained facilities) and to (as Gates himself points out) provide more training for teachers to handle these more challenging settings. Those teachers who do distinguish themselves as effective in those settings should then be eligible for additional rewards, which should also include leadership opportunities.

As I’ve said before, I am not opposed to teacher pay being structured around performance rather than seniority or degrees (see the Teacher Solutions report on Performance Pay for Teachers). Such new pay systems will be necessary for both  public education and the teaching profession to advance. What’s critical is that those new systems be developed by and with teachers, particularly those who have proven themselves effective. Now that’s a reward.

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