Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 3, 2009


Kelly Flynn, Flint Journal - How do you make a teacher great? Bill Gates posed that question at the prestigious Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference last month. And though it's unlikely there were many public school teachers in the audience, with tickets at $6,000 a pop, they could have set Gates straight on a few things.

Gates says great teachers are being made at KIPP charter schools (Knowledge Is Power Program).

"When you actually go and sit in one of these classrooms, at first it's very bizarre. . . The teacher was running around, and the energy level was high," he said. "And the teacher was constantly scanning to see which kids weren't paying attention, which kids were bored, and calling kids rapidly, putting things up on the board."

But all teachers do that, to one degree or another. It's certainly not the aberration that Gates implies.

According to Gates, in a "normal" school, teachers are not told how good they are because teachers' contracts limit the number of times the principal can come into the classroom--sometimes to once per year, and they must provide advance notice.

"So imagine," he said, "running a factory where you've got these workers, some of them just making crap and the management is told, 'Hey, you can only come down here once a year, but you need to let us know, because we might actually fool you, and try and do a good job in that one brief moment.'"

Aside from the disturbing comparison of teachers to "workers making crap" and the insinuation that they only work well when watched, the blanket statement about teacher contracts is misleading at best, inaccurate at worst.

At my school principals dropped into our classrooms whenever they chose and stayed as long as they liked.

But Gates has a solution.

Because digital video is cheap, Gates suggests putting cameras in classrooms to record regularly in all public schools. Every few weeks teachers could review the clips and work together to improve their teaching.


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