A "C" for Bill Gates NYT Column

I have nothing against CEO’s taking to the op-ed pages of major newspapers to promote their favorite cause or share their deep corporate wisdom or do some special-interest pleading so long as they don’t lapse into pedestrian drivel. But that’s exactly what Bill Gates did in The New York Times this morning. Weighing in on education reform – a cause on which the Gates Foundation has done yeoman’s work – Gates begins soundly enough, pointing out that a New York Sate Court of Appeals ruling endorsing a plan to publicize the performance of public school teachers would be a big mistake.

Says Gates:

I am a strong proponent of measuring teachers’ effectiveness, and my foundation works with many schools to help make sure that such evaluations improve the overall quality of teaching. But publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning. On the contrary, it will make it a lot harder to implement teacher evaluation systems that work.

In most public schools today, teachers are simply rated “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” and evaluations consist of having the principal observe a class for a few minutes a couple of times each year. Because we are just beginning to understand what makes a teacher effective, the vast majority of teachers are rated “satisfactory.” Few get specific feedback or training to help them improve.

O.K. Ditto. I agree.

But then what is Gates’ plan to induce teachers to do their job? This is where he gets lost in corporate BS combined with social science mumbo jumbo and loses sight of the only thing that matters: incentives.

Teachers need “specific feedback,” he says, noting:

At Microsoft, we created a rigorous personnel system, but we would never have thought about using employee evaluations to embarrass people, much less publish them in a newspaper. A good personnel system encourages employees and managers to work together to set clear, achievable goals. Annual reviews are a diagnostic tool to help employees reflect on their performance, get honest feedback and create a plan for improvement. Many other businesses and public sector employers embrace this approach, and that’s where the focus should be in education: school leaders and teachers working together to get better.

But here’s the thing: the reason why Gates employees “internalize” (to use another pop-psychology buzz word) their annual evaluations and strive to achieve the “clear goals” they have "jointly established" with their managers is because they’d be fired if they didn’t (or get bonuses and pay raises when they do). If they had fire-proof jobs with guaranteed pay increases like public school teachers, Gates could give them “specific feedback” or report cards or sacred counsel from God Almighty himself and it would matter not one iota. So if Gates wants to do something for the children, he should write an op-ed recommending such private sector practices as pay for diligence and pink slips for sloth.

That effort would deserve an A+ for rigor and courage.

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  • Hugh Akston||

    Another difference between Microsoft employees and public school teachers is that public school teachers are paid with tax money, and therefore directly accountable to the public.

    So publishing their performance evaluations should be a standard procedure.

  • protefeed||

    public school teachers are paid with tax money, and therefore directly accountable to the public.

    HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

    Oh wait, you prolly meant "in theory are directly accountable ..."

  • wareagle||

    what he meant to say is that public school teachers, unlike MS employees, are protected by a union and are mostly beholden to it. Also unlike MS, the value of the end product is immaterial.

  • yy||

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  • Konfounded Kristen||

    Your "neighbor", eh?

  • AlmightyJB||

    that made me laugh:)

  • ||

    I'm not a teacher, and never was....but...in what universe are you living? Great...publish the performance evaluations, especially in a crazy school district where the school board is filled with loons who quite school after 5 years in 8th grade. Surprisingly, these do exist, in more states than you can believe.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Joez law! (I think. I always mix up the two).

  • Sevo||

    alittlesense,
    Are you griping that those paid by taxpayers shouldn't be judged by their employers?
    Or are you just not real bright?

  • Mr Whipple||

    ...pedestrian drivel...

    Been a while since I've heard that.

  • AlmightyJB||

    999

  • Vote Green||

  • shrike||

  • ||

    Does Gates understand the difference between private "at will" employees versus public employees represented by a collective bargaining agreement?

    Try giving a teacher a performance review without the union rep stopping you in your tracks. Try to fire a poor teacher. Try to give a good teacher a raise or promotion ahead of another with more seniority. Good luck smarty pants.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Can't get more specific feedback than "You suck. You're Fired".

    Take that possibility away and the system is nothing but a positive-feedback loop which will eventually render the system useless.

  • Joe M||

    So if Gates wants to do something for the children, he should write an op-ed recommending such private sector practices as pay for diligence and pink slips for sloth.

    Teachers are a public good, and should therefore be above such things. Or some such gobbledegook.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    So valuable that I pay for them as well as pay for my child to attend a private school . . . oh wait.

  • SIV||

    If we eliminate public schools the public school teacher problem solves itself.

  • ||

    I'd like to see his comments if Microsoft was unionized with collective bargain, and his ability to fire bad employees was removed.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Hello China

  • yonemoto||

    what? Incentives often create perverse consequences. It's generally accepted cognitive science work that strong positive incentives work for repetitive mechanical work but crash and burn for challenging, creative work, a category in which i would put effective teaching.

  • ||

    IF ONLY we were getting creative work from our public school teachers...

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Gates is also disingenuous about review systems, as while I concur that from a management perspective, I wouldn't discuss individual goals of any one person with another, however using defined metrics which lead to 'public' rankings is used by effective managers everywhere.

    The results of course are only public within the group, but since its a private company, as others here have stated, it's not quite the same.

    Tie that with what we know - humans tends to be competitive and publicly ranking them can provide incentive to change (this assumes what is being tracked is worth while) just not to be last. Or to be in the top 10%.

    It will differ of course individually, but to argue it's not useful ignores basic human behavior.

  • Sevo||

    Michael S. Langston|2.23.12 @ 7:52PM|#
    "Gates is also disingenuous about review systems, as while I concur that from a management perspective, I wouldn't discuss individual goals of any one person with another, however using defined metrics which lead to 'public' rankings is used by effective managers everywhere."

    When I was in industrial sales, the monthly (and annual) results of each of us were published within the company, and discussed at the meetings.
    That top spot was the goal of everyone, and was rewarded in ways that encouraged long-term results.
    Yep, got my attention.

  • AlmightyJB||

    If your going to rank you really have to have well defined metrics to rank against. For sales that's usually not a problem. A little more difficult in the classroom because there are so many variables: how far behind the kids already are when they enter that teachers grade,parental involvement, etc. Evaluating teachers for performance should be just common sense. Problem is that just as teachers have "fire-proof jobs with guaranteed pay increases", so does the administration. That's why I think school choice is the best answer to the problem. It needs to be set up to insure that if your school isn't performing Miss Principal and Mr. Teacher and the kids leave you will be out of a job . There won't be a bailout. That's the competition you need.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Also, with competion , they can come up with whatever incentive methods they want. If they don't work, they're out of business.

  • Sevo||

    AlmightyJB|2.23.12 @ 8:51PM|#
    ..."A little more difficult in the classroom because there are so many variables: how far behind the kids already are when they enter that teachers grade,parental involvement, etc."

    No doubt, but the LA rankings looked at schools where classes were fairly consistent over time spans that tended to 'average-out' (this is the first google reference http://projects.latimes.com/value-added/)
    And the Union went ballistic!
    BTW, the awards in my case were pretty well thought-out; a 'lucky spike' (that's what they were called) were discounted compared to those who kept profitable accounts.

  • AlmightyJB||

    That's pretty awesome. Obviously you hit the other big if not biggest problem. The Union scum. Competition would take care of that as well assuming you don't have corrupt politicians that would require all schools use union labor. The Unions would probably do a signing drive to get it on the ballots and the stupid peopl would be convinced that if they didn't vote for it that teachers would be eating alpo for dinner and living in boxes.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    That's the very main problem I have seen with most metrics. They are measuring, and thereby inventing the wrong things.

    Like call centers for customer service who measure both a) random callers surveys and b) the total number of calls taken.

    But if you hurry people, they won't like you that much.... but if you don't hurry, then you average volume could hurt you...

    The genius is in understanding the real needs of your clients and devising good, known and publishable metrics, that drive expected behavior.

    Then always, always, always test assumptions once program is in place.

    The smartest among us are wrong enough, that if new metrics and incentives in those metrics were say supposed to increase client retention,... you might want to check to see if it actually worked (though plan for a transition phase....I'm digressing...).

  • ||

    When I worked in a call center we had a shit ton of metrics that were tracked, but they all had a descending order of importance.

    Since the company was huge on first call resolution, reducing repeat calls was the main goal. Quality, as measured through QA reviews was another one. If you showed up on time, and did well on those you were never going to have much of an issue.

    After that things like average call length, hold time, and time spent out of the queue were measured but they were definitely behind the number one goal: Fixing the problem the customer called about.

    I think in the case of schools using things like the LA metric, in conjuctions with other reviews is a tool that can allow assessment of teachers and schools in a way that can give parents an opportunity to make an informed decision.

    Which means the teacher's unions will NEVER allow it to happen.

  • Sevo||

    ".I'm digressing..."

    Or maybe you really don't have anything to say.

  • F Hart||

    A "C" for Bill Gates

    C'mon. Melinda can't be that bad.

  • Fluffy||

    At Microsoft the performance evaluations of employees who are fuckups might not go in the newspaper, but they at least go to someone at Microsoft who has the power and the incentive to fix the situation.

    The only way to achieve that in a public school context (or any government context, really) is for the information to go into the paper. The school administrators certainly don't give a shit.

    If everyone in the chain at command at Microsoft didn't give a rat's ass if employees performed or not, ultimately you'd reach a situation where evaluations had to be handed out directly to the stockholders. That's all that is happening when teacher evaluations go in the paper.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I don't see that as a good idea. It may seem like a good idea. You'll probably lose more good teachers with that method than bad ones. The good ones are going to care what other people think of them and will be mortified at the thought of that.Eespecially if they feel that their boss will give good evaluations to the fuck ups that kiss their ass and cover for them and bad ones to the people who actually care about the children. The bad ones still won't give a shit and if the administrations not going to do anything about it than what have you solved. That's public sector for you.

  • ||

    Considering how subjective a performance review is and how much more emotional people get about schools and their child's education, I can't see how this is an effective way to anything except some slashed tires and egged houses.

  • Sevo||

    curiousgeorge|2.23.12 @ 11:15PM|#
    "Considering how subjective a performance review is and how much more emotional people get about schools and their child's education,..."

    So teaching is some sort of angelic calling and the public isn't smart enough to figure out who's doing well and who isn't?
    Well, it that case, we'll just leave it to the Top Men! They'll figure it out for the poor, stupid public!
    Go away.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    The school administrators certainly don't give a shit.

    And even if they did, union contracts specifically forbid them from acting on their desires to fire a bad teacher.

  • Jeffersonian||

    I'm married to a woman who has been a government school teacher for over 30 years, and while I'm sympathetic to using a set of objective metrics for teacher performance, I'm skeptical that it can be done effectively because of the complex nature of the classroom. How would metrics take into account the presence of kids who, 20 years ago, would be in a self-contained classroom for behavior- or learning-disabled kids? I can tell you, these kids are huge disruptions to the learning of others, even with good teachers and good students.

    I think the market would better sort this out. I don't see it being resolvable in the government school setting.

  • Sevo||

    Not that hard, regardless of claims by the teacher's unions:
    The LA rankings looked at schools where classes were fairly consistent over time spans that tended to 'average-out' (this is the first google reference http://projects.latimes.com/value-added/)

  • ||

    Like Lil Wayne says, Hittem up Hittem up!

    www.Going-Anon.tk

  • Nike online||

    It's how I get bait.QBStimPL4

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