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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bill Gates: Get Thee to School Young People

This article appeared in the Seattle Times under the title, "Bill Gates Sees Engineer Shortage Looming". In the article, he makes a lot of pertinent points such as:

-"The overall picture is that the United States is not turning out, from any group, as many of the great engineers as there will be jobs for," he told an energetic audience gathered at the company's Redmond headquarters for a weekend conference of the National Society of Black Engineers."

-Fewer people remain interested in technological work as they progress through school, and there's a particular drop-off among women and minorities, groups that are already underrepresented in computer science, Gates said.

"We have to think, what is it, in high school, in college, that really knocks things off track," he said.

Later, drawing on his work through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with U.S. high schools, Gates said solutions include smaller classes; curricula focused on specific themes and immersion of students in them; and new ways of measuring teachers and holding them accountable.

I thought it was cool that the group he was speaking before - the National Society of Black Engineers recited their goal:

"The group is working toward its mission, which the crowd recited in unison shortly before Gates took the stage, to "increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community."

Mr. Gates was also honest about his life. "Gates said that along with passion, focus and hard work, one needs good fortune." He talked about his relationships with Paul Allen and Steve Ballmer.

I thought a couple of things were interesting in what he said about high schools. I'm not sure I agree that specialization in high school is the best idea. However, I think it would be better to have a lot more kids exposed to what jobs there are AND bringing in professionals to talk about them (and not just on Career day if your high school even has one). I think the whole educational commuity needs to be held accountable and not just teachers.

It was ironic he spoke of class size because we all know that despite I-728 none of us has seen class sizes go down. There are lots of reasons but none of them particularly good. (At my son's school, some of it is overenrollment, what's the reason at your school?) Also, Sally Soriano, in her last remarks did not take the time to talk about herself but, to the end, talked about education. One of the things she mentioned was the need to have a commitment, in every school, to 15-student class size in k-3 to get those kids started off right.

It's like the weather; everyone talks about smaller class size and no one does anything about it.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

money money money

that is why it never gets done. It takes money to build new schools (if reason is due to over enrollment) and it takes money to hire more teachers and it's hard to spend the money available if there are needs for what appears more dire things than small class size like necessities. Small class size cannot become an all around priority until the funding is there. Maybe it's good to start out at the at risk schools. Even the schools with a known commitment to small class sizes and decent fundraising struggle because the small class sizes attract so many students that they come down to issues of over enrollment/not having room to have as small of class sizes as they would like.

Anonymous said...

Better student:teacher ratio does not require different physical space. Training everyone - librarians, volunteers, aides, in how to provide meaningful small group instruction can happen with two groups learning in one room. Editing paragraphs with students can happen in one half of the room with the expert teacher while the less-expert educator works on grammar worksheets with an answer key with the other half of the group. Do-gooder volunteers need curriculum and training. Paid educators need supervision.

Anonymous said...

Goodloe-Johnson spoke at our school recently, and specifically said that lowering class size was not a priority. She emphasized that 15-ish students per class only made a difference for "high needs" areas, and our North End school will continue to be just peachy with 30+ kids in a room because our teachers are good. Yes, for the most part they're good/great, but how long until they're burnt out teaching those 30+?

Anonymous said...

Was Goodloe-Johnson speaking about elementary school, middle school or high school in regards to class size being "peachy in the North end of 30+ students?

Anonymous said...

Elementary.

Anonymous said...

If a student does not get it by end of 3rd grade, there are really big problems. That is why Project Follow Through studied disadvantaged learners K-3.

This district often selects materials that are the opposite of PFT recommendations, in particular math materials TERC, and now Everyday Math. The result is an ever growing achievement gap in math for Black and Hispanic Students in math at all grades.
The inquiry and discovery model does not work for students without tutors or knowledgeable involved parents. Seattle's insistence on little to NO direct instruction in Mathematics has not worked for many children and families. Finally this year there may be some small movement away from this past nonsense.

Dr. G-J is at least not a bait and switch person. She has pretty much stayed true to what she said in that first 90 minute SPS TV audition before being selected Supt. [Why the board selected her as Supt. I have no idea. Her record in Charlestown was not particularly impressive and many of her ideas have not been very effective elsewhere (too many platitudes not enough substance). It appears Seattle wishes to follow the Eli Broad foundation model.]

There will not be smaller regular class sizes this year when $7.2+ million is put into Pathways Math and Academic coaches for teachers. The I-728 money is going there.
We have huge class sizes and yet we hire more administration and create more bureaucratic levels with academic coaches.

Dr. G-J is following the Mike Riley Bellevue model of greater standardization and control of everything. In any class of 25 students there is great diversity, even when ability grouped. In the SPS there is even greater diversity because their are no necessary skills required to advance from grade to grade. Differentiated instruction is held to like the Holy Grail for bringing about wonderful results in this chaotic situation. Little wonder many families leave Seattle at Middle School as the skill disparity is too great at many Seattle Middle Schools for efficient learning. Mr. Gates exhortations to be in an effective school is a great idea. Schooling is far less than optimal in a school system with a school board so incompetent they avoid enforcement of their own promotion/non-promotion polices that require effective interventions for required necessary skills.

Mr. Gates is wrong if he thinks this can be fixed in high school. That is way too late. This is a k-12 problem with its origins in K-3.

Mr. Riley's Bellevue leadership produced math achievement for Blacks and Hispanics about the same as Seattle's for those same populations on the WASL math at grades 4, 7, and 10. The idea that Dr. G-J's standardization plan will bring about quality learning for all, in an urban district as diverse as Seattle, is totally without foundation. This idea is right in line with the idea that West Seattle needs to move to a 6 period day so that there can be greater standardization (watch out alternative programs).

Mr. Gates currently is hiring many employees from Asian countries. Most of these countries have math specialists teaching above grade 2. They use considerably more direct instruction in math; and ability group by grade 7.

Due to work Visa requirements Mr. Gates can pay these foreign workers less than the going US rate. This holds down MSFT expenses. There is a lid on work visas, so MSFT has recently completed a BC campus as Canada is more generous to the importation of foreign workers.

Thus the question could be raised:
Is Mr. Gate's statement just for the purpose of improving technical education in US schools or also for creating a public environment more favorable to an increase in work visas?

The idea that SPS will increase Special Ed mainstreaming and not lower class sizes much speaks to increasing middle school chaos in a district that prefers that RCW 28A 600.020 did not exist.

Would you recommend teaching in this system to a prospective teacher? I doubt Mr. Gates would.

Anon said:
our North End school will continue to be just peachy with 30+ kids in a room because our teachers are good. Yes, for the most part they're good/great, but how long until they're burnt out teaching those 30+?

Teachers may be good because they had the flexibility to teach creatively to the needs of their students. That has disappeared with the Scripted Uniformity of the Everyday Math pacing plan. The district is leaving both teachers and students in an extremely poor position by their refusal to provide a list of grade level necessary skills. The teachers are required to follow a pacing plan rather than bring about particular skills. The Everyday math curriculum has far too many topics at each grade level and skips about so rapidly that students never have time to learn a topic effectively before moving on to the next.

I keep hearing the school board, at the school board meetings, congratulating themselves on hiring an educator for superintendent.
I am looking for well thought out sound programs that can be effectively implemented. The results will be hard to determine until some nationally normed test is used for unfortunately all we get is spin, smoke & mirrors in Seattle and Washington.

Vote Dr. Richard Semler for Supt. of Public Instruction in November of 2008.

We need to make a greater effort to save our schools and not rely too heavily on Mr. Gate's advice. In several cases his small schools initiative has created additional chaos instead of inprovement.

Anonymous said...

Couple of questions:
Is it the experience of most of you that teachers are teaching 30 kids a class all the time? Are there no pull outs, no teacher aids or parents doing one-on-one or one-on-five tutoring?

And while class sizes have not decreased, have they also not increased? Meaning, what little money there is may be going toward holding the ratio to the union mandate?
Don't know the answers, thought someone on here might.

Anonymous said...

I don't think aides are anything like as effective as just having a smaller, less chaotic environment would be to begin with. That said, smaller class size doesn't necessarily make teachers use their time well. The smallest classes my kids have been in (which were pretty small, for public school) were not any better differentiated.

Helen Schinske

Melissa Westbrook said...

For class size, I think that it is very different from elementary to elementary with some making K-2 or 3 smaller. At my son's elementary school I did do some one-on-one tutoring (which I really enjoyed). I think it depends on the teacher/school.

I did tutor in middle school (again a great experience) but that was a fairly unique experience. Middle/high school teachers have little use for parents unless you have some great skill. Middle school/high school tend to have bigger classes. My experience at Eckstein was that we had many student teachers from Seattle U who were great (and a help to the teacher). This has occurred less frequently in high school.

I don't think class size has increased although at some high schools in some courses you see 32-35.

Anonymous said...

We are in a Shoreline MS, and class sizes are 33-34 in the honors classes. Teachers seem to be able to handle it, and they do have high behavior standards, but space is tight. It just seems like way to many people in one small room.

Anonymous said...

Bill Gates is very interesting to learn about and i am very in to computers. when i grow up i want to make a better computer thing than bill gates.