Teacher Town Hall Recap

Here's the video for the MSNBC Teacher Town Hall that occured over this weekend, in case you missed it

Part one:

Part two:

Here's a good recap of the event from the perspective of the pernicious effect billionaires like the Gates are having on public education discussions.

Mrs. Gates begins by acknowledging that good teaching cannot be reduced to a test score - or at least that this is often said. She then asserts that the half billion dollars they have spent on research in this area have uncovered a number of things that can be measured that allow us to predict which teachers will have the highest test scores. A great teacher is defined over and over again as one who made sure students "learned the material at the end of the year."

If you look closely at how she describes peer observations, the method at work is even clearer. Teachers tend to support peer observation, because it can be a valuable basis for collaboration, which yields many benefits to us beyond possible test score gains. But what does Melinda Gates say about it? It can be worthwhile, BUT: only the models of peer observation that have been proven to raise test scores should be used. And presumably we can count on the Gates Foundation to provide us with that information.

In spite of all the billions they have spent, it appears that the Gates Foundation is laboring under the same logical fallacy that doomed No Child Left Behind. In a way which employs circular reasoning, they have defined great teaching as that which results in the most gains on end of year tests, and then spent millions of dollars identifying indicators of teaching that will yield the best scores.

The most deceptive strategy is how they then try to pretend that these indicators are "multiple measures" of good teaching. In fact, these are simply indicators of teaching practices associated with higher test scores. In spite of Mrs. Gates' feint at the opening of her response, everything she describes, all these things that supposedly go beyond test scores - peer observations, student perceptions - are only deemed valid insofar as they are correlated with higher test scores.

Melinda Gates begins with the question "How do we know a teacher's making a difference in a student's life?" That is an excellent and complex question. However, when we look at her answer, we find she commits the logical fallacy known as "begging the question." One begs the question when one assumes something is true, when that is actually a part of what must be proven.

The question she begs is "what defines great teaching?" This is not answered by finding teaching methods associated with higher test scores. This question remains hanging over the entire school reform enterprise. Until we answer that question, we are devising complex mechanisms to elevate test scores assuming this will improve students' lives, when this is manifestly unproven. In fact, I would argue that many of the strategies used to boost scores are actually harmful to our students.

This episode should remind us of the crucial need to teach critical thinking in our schools - and apply such thinking to the dilemmas we face.

For more on the Gates Foundation you can read our 3 part series, "THE GATES FOUNDATION EXPOSED" Part I, Part II, and Part III.