What The Gates Foundation Really Believes

When Marguerite Roza, PhD, Senior Data and Economic Advisor for the U.S. Program of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, started her presentation, I pursed my lips, anxiously awaiting the Q and A session. I was really annoyed at The Gates Foundation’s position on class size.

Except, as I listened to  Roza, it became clear that I didn’t have all the information.

Class Size

In fact, The Gates Foundation’s position is that the research shows that unless class size get around 16 students, lower class size doesn’t affect student outcomes.

“Research shows that the benefit of lower class size doesn’t really kick in until you get down to 16-17 students. If you have 21 students, what is the best way to spend that incremental savings?” asked Roza. “Maybe the best way is to giving teacher strategies to deal with slightly higher-class size.”

Now that’s not something I had read before. If it’s true, and I’m not doubting it is, then I can see what their point was when quoted about larger class sizes.

The Gates Foundation is “trying to use our resources in the most effective ways to promote effective teaching.” Roza quoted a survey of 5,000 Washington state teachers who were asked if they’d rather have two fewer students in class or $5,000 more annual pay. “88% said they’d wanted $5,000 more.”

What would you say if it were your class?

Teacher Pay

“That’s an interesting thing. We’ve been looking at what’s going on in other countries, countries that are seeing more academic growth that are investing more in teacher pay. There are a lot of ways to think about teacher pay. Now it’s about master’s degrees and time. “

Roza said that The Gates Foundation wants to reward effective teachers — not teacher who have logged in time and degrees. But first, they must find a better way to evaluate teachers.

Teacher Evaluation

The system needs a better teacher evaluation system said Roza. “What we normally have now is principals going into a classroom with a checklist. Teachers in surveys will say it’s not very useful for them.”

As a teacher, I agree. Not only is it not useful, it’s a joke. So much of the time, the principal isn’t well qualified to evaluate your teaching or doesn’t stay long enough to see enough of the lesson. I had one entire year of evaluations done by an English speaker, when I was teaching my bilingual 4/5 class in Spanish. Not that I wasn’t brilliant, but really, how could she really evaluate me?

At the moment, The Gates Foundation is studying and data collecting. 3,000 teachers are video recording what they’re doing in the classrooms. Students are filling out survey questions. Roza said, “We’re to try to figure out what makes really great teachers great and correlate with student data.”

Budget Cuts

“There is an opportunity in a lot of districts for us to dismantle all of the great things we’ve done. Limit electives, or cut summer schools, . . . these are terrible ideas!”

Roza said, “We are facing really difficult trade-offs. We have many different years ahead of constrained resources.”

Gates Study: America’s Teacher’s on America’s Schools

Empowering Effective Teachers Report

My Question

It’s true that we need a better system to evaluate teachers. Certainly, we must not evaluate teachers on test scores or a drop in visit from the principal.

But, if The Gates Foundations does come up with a great system, IF, . . . what then?

How would The Gates Foundation get states and districts to adopt their new teacher evaluation?

My Answer

Oh, yeah. It has to be us, you and me, advocating in our schools and districts. Change won’t happen until we step up.

Are you up for it?

P.S. My thoughts on what an excellent teacher looks like HERE.


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  1. says

    Interesting findings that make a lot of sense. It’s just too bad that the budget cuts prevent anything good from happening. My school’s class size is going up and its was rare even in the good years to have a class size at a public school at 16 even for k-2. As for teacher pay, I am in total agreement with more investment in teachers but my town had to close a budget deficit of several million which, I am sure, did not leave more money for this. Thanks for this post… really interesting ideas that really hit the nail on the head. I hope Arne Duncan is reading!


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