Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bill Gates: Charter Schools and Good Teachers

Bill Gates wrote a very interesting article in the New York Times today about his experience in trying to reform the public school system. It’s a must read for those of us who care deeply about our children’s future.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Nine years ago, the [Bill and Melinda Gates] foundation decided to invest in helping to create better high schools, and we have made over $2 billion in grants.

Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students' achievement in any significant way. These tended to be the schools that did not take radical steps to change the culture, such as allowing the principal to pick the team of teachers or change the curriculum…

But a few of the schools that we funded achieved something amazing. They replaced schools with low expectations and low results with ones that have high expectations and high results. These schools are not selective in whom they admit, and they are overwhelmingly serving kids in poor areas, most of whose parents did not go to college. Almost all of these schools are charter schools…

It is invigorating and inspirational to meet with the students and teachers in these schools and hear about their aspirations. They talk about how the schools they were in before did not challenge them and how their new school engages all of their abilities…

It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one. Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.

Gates is right. Parents need to be able to choose where their kids go to school. The principals of those schools need to have the authority to hire, fire, and change the curriculum. This is how American colleges and universities work and we have the best higher education system in the world. The public school system doesn’t work this way and it’s among the worst in the developed world.

Hopefully, Gates' research will provide a powerful catalyst for changing our hidebound and failed public education system.

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