Bill Gates vs. the teacher-union boss

This interview in Newsweek is one of the most fascinating things I’ve read lately. You have Bill Gates, a multibillionaire and someone who is very interested in reforming our public schools, paired with Randi Weingarten, the head of one of the nation’s largest teachers unions and someone who has spent her career fighting against many sensible attempts at reform.

Time and again, Gates exposes the complete emptiness of the positions held by Weingarten and her charges — and does so without coming across as attacking teachers themselves. Not once does Weingarten respond with anything we haven’t heard hundreds of times before: It’s the school managers who aren’t doing their jobsthe evaluation process is broken (but we oppose all the proposed solutions for fixing it) … tenure is about fairnessblah blah blah.

You’ve heard the unions’ excuses before. You can go to the interview itself to read them one more time, but I’m excerpting some of Gates’ retorts here (emphasis added throughout):

On Weingarten’s notion that, among other actions, we need to invest more in the “preparation and support of teachers”: I agree with all that, except we spend more money by every measure than any other system. Any way you look at it we spend by far the most money. So that is a dilemma. What are we going to do to get more out of the investments we make? Are there practices in terms of helping teachers be better that we can fit into our system? What can you do to help the teachers be better? You know, a quarter of our teachers are very good. If you could make all the teachers as good as the top quarter, the U.S. would soar to the top of that comparison. So can you find the way to capture what the really good teachers are doing? It’s amazing to me that more has not been invested in looking at how does that good teacher calm that classroom? How does that good teacher keep the attention of all those kids? We need to measure what they do, and then have incentives for the other teachers to learn those things.

On the interviewer’s question about whether every teacher is “amazing” in countries with better education systems than ours: They actually run a personnel system, which is kind of an amazing thing. You have a review, and you’re told what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. If over a period of time you’re not improving, then you move to another profession. So, Finland, Korea, Singapore — they run teacher personnel systems. In the U.S. we have one of the most predictive personnel systems mankind ever invented — try to remember how many years you’ve worked, and you will know your salary.

On Weingarten’s assertion that “in almost all places if you don’t do well under an evaluation system, you can be let go”: There is no evaluation. For 90 percent of the teachers in America there’s no feedback. Now, we don’t need to argue about how it got that way. Was that the management? Was it the union? That is the way it is. And there aren’t many professions like that. So that’s got to change.

On Weingarten’s statement that teachers are also unionized in countries with high-performing schools: Yeah, but you won’t find any other country that has the work rules that we have. Go read the American Federation of Teachers New York work rules. It’s a mind-blowing document. They [other countries] don’t have anything like this. There is nothing that says you only have to work this many minutes on this, you only have to work this many minutes on that. In any of the top-10 countries you won’t have anything like that. We’re the only one without a real personnel system.

On Weingarten’s argument, again, that the problem is our lack of support for teachers: No, we spend more on professional development than they do. We spend more on salaries than they do. We spend more on pensions than they do. We spend more on retirement health benefits than they do. But we have less evaluation than they do. In many districts you have to give advance notice before anybody can come into your classroom. That’s part of the contract. So there are some real differences in terms of the personnel system in these other countries.

There are some other great exchanges in there, so read the whole thing. What we really need out of people like Weingarten are fewer excuses, less of a circling-the-wagons mentality, less focus on protecting the most mediocre in her ranks at the expense of everyone else in the country.

Gates is right when he says this shouldn’t be an attack on teachers. What he didn’t say is that people like Weingarten are the very ones telling teachers they should feel besieged.

(Links added at 12:25 p.m.)

– By Kyle Wingfield

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40 comments Add your comment

Jimmy62

December 21st, 2010
11:25 am

Yes! I don’t know the answers, but I know that not letting people investigate and experiment and change things, and doing everything possible to preserve the status quo is not going to solve anything. And that seems to be all people like Weingarten and Arne Duncan are interested in.

Libby

December 21st, 2010
11:37 am

That is all posturing – he wants our schools to fail so he has an excuse to keep using cheap third world labor.

CJ

December 21st, 2010
11:44 am

Kyle,

Forgive me if I’m missing it, but I can’t find the link in your post to the Newsweek article.

I’m specifically curious about this statement: “No, we spend more on professional development than they do. We spend more on salaries than they do. We spend more on pensions than they do. We spend more on retirement health benefits than they do.”

This is very different from what I’ve heard or read. I’m under the impression that some of our competitors pay teachers on par with doctors and lawyers (China, for example).

Road Scholar

December 21st, 2010
11:56 am

Kyle, how much do lawyers and doctors make in Europe and Canada? Please keep the “socialist” comments to a minimum!

William C Smith

December 21st, 2010
12:03 pm

I don’t know all the arguments about needing education reform. I only know one thing, and that being a great decline in our quality of education. When something isn’t working it is time for change, and that time is now.

Lee

December 21st, 2010
12:05 pm

Sorry, neither Gates nor Weingarten are addressing the core problem in education today.

The politically correct have squelched all discussion about the role of IQ / ability and the role it has on the education process. The current education model is to throw all ability levels into the same classroom, from the borderline retard to the future valedictorian, from the ESOL students who can’t speak a lick of English to those who have lived here all their lives, from the well mannered to the future felon. All these students are sitting in the same classroom from Pre-k through middle school. The poor teacher at the front of the class is supposed to “differentiate” [whatever the hell that means] the method of instruction to reach these disparate groups. It is only at the high school level that the students are able to distinguish themselves by taking Honors, AP, college prep and vocational classes.

And the reason the politically correct do not want to talk about the role of IQ in academic achievement? Because there is a race factor and they cannot bring themselves to admit that the IQ hierarchy from high to low is Asian, Causcasian, non-white Hispanic, and black.

The very moment you group by ability and start to have blacks and hispanics over represented in the lower ability classes, the politically correct will scream discrimination and racism.

Much better to muddle along with our head in the sand.

Jefferson

December 21st, 2010
12:10 pm

There is no teacher’s union in GA.

The state, not the counties or cities, has the constitutional requirement to provide public education.

The GOP led gov’t does not fund education in this state at the proper levels.

Half of the problems have to do with parents.

Those who send their kids to private school want the public schools to do a poor job in hopes their kids will get a leg up AND want vouchers to pay because they want it both ways.

Tax cut to businesses is the wrong approach when you have bills and obligations.

This is not an accident.

Is it bad teachers or dumb students?

I guess because Gates is rich, he is wise. (appears to be a graven image)

rant and roll

December 21st, 2010
12:10 pm

Where are the 90% of systems without teacher evaluation or feedback? The difference between the world of Gates and real world teaching: In business if your employees stink they can be fired. If a teacher has bad students – the teacher is accountable not the students.

The problem with education is bureaucracy. Small minded bureaucrats and politicians stand in the way of real reform.

CJ

December 21st, 2010
12:13 pm

Kyle Wingfield

December 21st, 2010
12:28 pm

CJ was right about my failure to link. It’s fixed now.

Road, were you addressing me or CJ? I didn’t say anything about lawyers or doctors…

SwamiDave

December 21st, 2010
12:32 pm

Jefferson:

I suppose you have never heard of the Georgia Association of Educators.

I suppose you missed the constitutional basis in Georgia whereby authority for education is most heavily vested locally.

I suppose you think that Georgia should spend more on education while I might like to see Georgia’s taxpayers get more out of the students and teachers for what they already spend.

I suppose you missed the reality that those who send their children to private school want to provide the best opportunity for their kids to succeed. In that vein, their tax dollars that are being directed toward education should be directed where it can make the most impact for their kids.

Tax cuts (to whomever) is not a relevant discussion to “bills and obligations”. Government should quit spending more than it has taking on “bills and obligations” for things that it has no business doing or doing for specific groups what they should be doing for themselves.

I suppose that you miss the reality that someone who is successful and has developed a successful organization might have more perspective on addressing the challenges of an inefficient and bloated education system than someone whose power base is made up of a membership avoiding moves toward efficiency and achievement.

Good try, but no sale!

-SD

Jefferson

December 21st, 2010
12:36 pm

Dave, I wouldn’t sell to you anyway…don’t let it bother you.

CJ

December 21st, 2010
12:38 pm

Never one to let facts get in the way of a good media meme, it looks as though Kyle has it backwards about which person’s positions assertions are empty and which person’s assertions have merit.

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/40/60/43634212.pdf

“In the United States, salary cost as a percentage of GDP per capita is well below the OECD average [the United States ranks 20th for primary, 24th for lower secondary, and 25th for upper secondary], despite the high overall spending (Tables B7.1, B7.2 and B7.3). This is mainly because the United States spends an above-average share of its educational spending in primary and secondary education on capital investments as well as for the compensation of non-teaching staff. Above-average student learning hours and below-average class sizes are pushing spending up, while below-average salary levels and above-average teaching working time for teachers are pushing spending down.”

Espy62

December 21st, 2010
12:56 pm

Kyle Wingfield

December 21st, 2010
1:03 pm

CJ @ 12:38: The data you’re talking about compares salary costs per student in a given country to overall per capita income in that country, and then ranks OECD member-countries according to that ratio. Our ratio is lower than those of most other countries, but that doesn’t necessarily mean our teachers have lower incomes than other countries’ teachers do. In fact, I’m not quite sure what exactly this ratio tells us of any consequence.

For example, Turkey and Portugal are two of the countries with higher ratios than ours. But our per capita income is so much higher than theirs — and there are a number of other factors go into this particular calculation the OECD is making. I think it’s safe to say our teachers make more money than do teachers in Turkey and Portugal.

Ranking these ratios may tell us something about how different countries value teaching relative to other occupations, or it may tell us something about how difficult it is in various countries to get people to be teachers. But it does not tell us about the actual salaries for teachers across countries. The reference to “below-average salary levels,” which you highlighted, is therefore to below-average “salary cost per student as a percentage of GDP per capita.”

My experience with the OECD is that the hard numbers they collect are very reliable. But when they manipulate the data to produce this kind of comparison — rather than just saying, “In the U.S., teachers make $xx,xxx a year; in the U.K., they make $xx,xxx a year…” and so on — it’s because they’re trying to reach a predetermined conclusion. And that conclusion, more often than not, is that the U.S. should spend more money on social programs.

You may have time to reverse-engineer the salary levels from the OECD data, but I don’t.

scrappy

December 21st, 2010
1:17 pm

Swami – Belonging to an Association is not the same as a UNION. There is no teachers union in GA.

I happen to believe that teacher evaluations are an excellent idea, and keep it going all the way thru the college level. However, evaluating the teacher based on student achievement is the wrong approach and will not work.
Someone needs to come up with a way to evaluate teacher performance in the classroom, not linked to the kids grades and test scores, and then maybe we could get some compromise and see some results.

JDW

December 21st, 2010
1:18 pm

@Kyle, you are correct on salaries…here is some data.

http://www.worldsalaries.org/teacher.shtml

I am pretty sure Gates doesn’t use bad nums.

The model he is talking about is a competency based evaluation model. It is a leading edge best practice and would make a world of sense in the education environment. We could do away with that silly test based evaluation mandated by No Child Left Behind. All that does is encourage teaching the test answers and cheating.

Implementing a competency based model in a educational system would be hard…best case you would do it nationwide and that means federal control…we all know how that would play with certain segments of our population. Doing it state-by-state will depend on who drives education in the state. In Georgia it would have to come from the Governor and I don’t see that happening either.

Kyle Wingfield

December 21st, 2010
1:23 pm

Thanks, JDW. I, too, am pretty sure Gates doesn’t use bad numbers. I doubt that many multibillionaires do…

JDW

December 21st, 2010
1:24 pm

@Kyle…that has been my experience :)

Kyle Wingfield

December 21st, 2010
1:27 pm

I would also note, for those who haven’t/won’t click your link, that it’s not even close. The U.S. net salary figure is 14% higher than the second-place country (Britain) and 32% higher when you account for purchasing power.

JDW

December 21st, 2010
1:33 pm

@Kyle, right it is not even close…we spend way more for lots of things but don’t get a fair return for our investment. Education is one and healthcare is another.

JDW

December 21st, 2010
1:39 pm

As if this fire needed more fuel….

Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the military fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can’t answer basic math, science and reading questions.

http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/apnewsbreak-23-percent-cant-784298.html

Jimmy62

December 21st, 2010
2:06 pm

I don’t know about salaries specifically, but I’ve read time and time again that we spend more PER STUDENT than any other country. So if that money isn’t going to teachers, it’s probably going to top heavy administrations. The education system is a bureaucracy, and school administrations are just bureaucrats, and like any bureaucrats, they care a lot more about protecting themselves and their comfortable status quo than actually improving anything.

Kyle Wingfield

December 21st, 2010
2:08 pm

Jimmy62 @ 2:06: Agreed.

get out much?

December 21st, 2010
2:30 pm

I wonder how many of those other countries have school boards that made up of professional administrators rather than elected officials.

JDW

December 21st, 2010
2:33 pm

We rank number 3 in spending per student expressed in dollars….

http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/edu_spe_per_sec_sch_stu-spending-per-secondary-school-student

But frankly we should on the high end of the scale. Problem is we aren’t getting the value for our dollar.

Ran across these scary bits…

1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.

42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.

80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

57 percent of new books are not read to completion.

70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance.

70 percent of the books published do not make a profit.

No wonder our society has devolved into a celebrity sound byte driven way of life.

CJ

December 21st, 2010
3:18 pm

Kyle: “…when they [OECD] manipulate the data to produce this kind of comparison — rather than just saying, “In the U.S., teachers make $xx,xxx a year; in the U.K., they make $xx,xxx a year” and so on — it’s because they’re trying to reach a predetermined conclusion. And that conclusion, more often than not, is that the U.S. should spend more money on social programs.

Kyle,

If I read you correctly, you’re suggesting that the OECD manipulated their numbers to specifically influence teacher salaries in the U.S.? Sounds like a conspiracy theory to me, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s out there.

Of course you can’t reasonably compare absolute dollar amounts between U.S. teachers and U.K. teachers any more than you can reasonably compare such figures between Macon, Georgia teachers and San Francisco, California teachers.

I believe you are correct when you write that these figures tell us something about how different countries value teaching relative to other occupations.

Linda

December 21st, 2010
3:18 pm

The same folks who believe the govt. can spend its way out of illiteracy also believe the govt. can spend its way out of unemployment & debt.
More of the money the US spends per student should go to the students, rather than to the administrators. What we have is a trickle-down education system. It is getting “progressively” worse.

Kyle Wingfield

December 21st, 2010
3:37 pm

CJ: “If I read you correctly…”

I’m assuming this is your attempt at some holiday humor, because — like everything else you’ve written today — it’s laughable.

If so, merry Christmas back at ya.

JDW

December 21st, 2010
3:59 pm

@CJ,

The salaries I cited are expressed in PPP or Purchasing power parity which reflects the variances between locales. We do indeed pay our teachers more, in relative currency, than anyone else.

Now I don’t mean to suggest we should pay them less, but when you look at what we spend in salaries we should be able to employ teachers at the high end of the capability scale. When you look at our expenditures per student we are not extravagant but are on the high end of that scale.

We spend enough money to be competitive but we are not getting the results…that means we are doing something else wrong. I think Gates is on the right track, question is how would we move towards a model based on competency for both teacher and student?

JDW

December 21st, 2010
4:18 pm

Another point of clarification on the dollars spent.

The other educational systems we are measured against are for the most part centrally controlled. In the US we have both Federal and State influence. That is a complication and leads to disparate spending numbers from state to state. While the US ranks favorably with other countries on both teacher salaries and dollars spent it is worth noting that Georgia is on the low end of the US scale.

We ranked 26 in 2001 and had dropped to 36 by 2006…not the right direction.

Kyle Wingfield

December 21st, 2010
4:24 pm

I’m curious about that state-by-state data, JDW. The data I’ve seen tends to rank Georgia fairly high on teacher pay — particularly compared to other states in the region (i.e., our main competition for hiring teachers) and when cost of living is considered.

The data at this site is more representative of what I’ve typically seen: http://teacherportal.com/teacher-salaries-by-state

CJ

December 21st, 2010
4:26 pm

Great analysis, JDW. Thanks.

JDW

December 21st, 2010
4:38 pm

@Kyle, I was just pulling spending by student. National center for education data has lots of good stuff.

I just found one for 2006-2007 that breaks it out by pupil by category…say instruction vs. admin.

http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2010/section4/table-ifn-1.asp

I think you are right that on raw salary data Georgia does ok. Spending per pupil could decrease when class size increases as it has over the last few years.

JDW

December 21st, 2010
4:53 pm

@Kyle, yep checked your link and we do real well salary wise…particularly when you look at PPP type measure.

In 06-07 we rank 27 in spending per pupil but 22 in spending on only instruction so we seem to be somewhat efficient.

So how can we stink so bad……………it is not money per say. Utah is number one and they spend the LEAST per pupil!

Linda

December 21st, 2010
5:48 pm

JDW @ 3:59, Does that “doing something wrong” maybe, just maybe include teachers’ unions & tenure?

JDW

December 21st, 2010
9:33 pm

Linda

December 21st, 2010
5:48 pm
“JDW @ 3:59, Does that “doing something wrong” maybe, just maybe include teachers’ unions & tenure?”

If you paid attention you would know that Georgia has no Teachers Union nor is there tenure on the Secondary Level. But, you got those mindless talking points going for you.

[...] helping to save his own country, because if it fails, much of this wealth will simply evaporate (he often shows strong instincts domestically), he stands as an example of how the very wealthy should behave and is an example that more of the [...]

MIke

December 27th, 2010
1:07 pm

Some good points, Kyle. However, to paint Randi Weingarten the way you do is a bit unfair. She has been far more willing to embrace the reform movement than the National Education Association- and has embraced evaluations based on student performance on tests (aka: Value-added modeling). It’s important to note, however, that to this point unions have resisted robust evaluation systems that attach performance on those evaluations to pay. This should change- and Weingarten has done her part. See Baltimore and Denver for starters.

Georgia Goose

December 27th, 2010
9:31 pm

I think you should hand over the keys to American schools to the Gulen Movement, they aleady manage 140 charter schools in the USA including Fulton Science Academy in Georgia. Do you know who exiled Islamic Imam Muhammed Fethullah Gulen is? Do your research, he can outsource your teaching jobs to other Gulen followers on the cheap. Hope you don’t mind if they teach the children Turkish Culture, and the National Anthem of Turkey. Then there is the Turkish Character classes and trips to Turkey.
http://www.gulencharterschools.weebly.com
http://www.charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com (complete list of Gulen schools in the USA)
http://www.charterschoolwatchdog.com
http://www.gulencharterschoolsUSA.blogspot.com