An open letter to Bill Gates…

Due respect, Mr. Gates, but you have no clue.

None. Nada. Zilch.

Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, in this puff piece — or ode to you, if you will — published on Newsweek.com today, does everything but say that you are the savior that our educational system needs right now (I’m saving my critique of Mr. Alter for tomorrow – I’m so beyond disappointed in this piece of “journalism” that I need some time to cool off).

Mr. Gates, you are now calling for larger class sizes – of course, I guess we’re to forget that this is a complete 180 from your former vision of smaller schools and smaller classes. So let’s just throw some big time money at the wall and hope that it sticks this time. And since your name is Bill Gates and Newsweek is kissing your butt, more and more people will mistakenly think this is the way to go.

Beyond your extraordinary wealth, what exactly are your qualifications when it comes to education? Do yourself a favor and move beyond the pay system. If you truly believe that merit based pay, in which the merit is based upon a high stakes test score, well, then I’d like to know what you’re smoking — or who your advisers truly are. This is beyond a joke and you need to come to this realization. You’re obviously an intelligent guy — why are you so blind when it comes to this topic?

While I agree with you when it comes to seniority pay having “little correlation to student achievement,” I think that people need to truly understand that the converse of this is also true. A new teacher does not guarantee a good teacher any more than experience guarantees a good one (or a bad one as so many people are wont to say these days). I wish that people could truly come to this realization sooner rather than later. You should know better than to base your theories (and comments to Newsweek for that matter) upon such a horrid assumption. By the way, I’m with you on the rest of your ideas concerning how pay and promotion are determined — just not by basing it on these idiotic tests. And please don’t take my disdain for these standardized tests as not wanting to be held accountable — this would be the furthest thing from the truth.

Mr. Gates, your influence is incalculable. Do yourself a favor and sit down with some teachers. Don’t announce that you’re coming. Don’t take a television or documentary crew in with you. Just walk in, observe and listen. I have a feeling that any school in the country will grant you the visitor’s pass to do this. Ask the teachers for an honest response concerning how these high stakes tests are ruining our system of education. Ask the teachers what kind of support they’re getting on a daily basis from the parents they need to have this support from.

And then quit blaming seniority and teachers in general. Are lazy, bad teachers partly responsible? Absolutely. But no more so than the lazy, bad parents. Or the lazy, bad administrators, for that matter. We all must take responsibility to turn things around. And you could help us greatly in turning this around. (By the way, why is it that nobody will take the parents to task for their misgivings in this situation??)

While on your visit, take the time to speak with some of these new teachers. These teachers who are the supposed saviors are being poorly prepared to teach. The state of our nation’s training programs is — well, it’s just horrendous. Walk into their rooms unannounced and see just how ready — or not — they are. And I hope when you do this that you truly see what is going on in our schools — both the bad AND the good. The vast majority of our teachers are caring, well-educated human beings who are doing everything they can even though we are being trashed on Oprah and by Davis Guggenheim, and now Newsweek.

The money you’re throwing around right now is being wasted. Your investment is failing you and the return will be small, if anything. If you want to be a reformer, then you need to truly do your homework. And if you’re willing, I’d love to have you come to Greensburg Salem High School’s Room 273. I’ve got some great kids who’d love to speak with you as well. I’m 100% confident I can get you that Visitor’s Pass.

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11 thoughts on “An open letter to Bill Gates…

  1. Is there a way you can actually send this to him? I know Steve Jobs actually reads some of his complaint mail (then replies sarcastically).

  2. “Beyond your extraordinary wealth, what exactly are your qualifications when it comes to education? Do yourself a favor and move beyond the pay system. If you truly believe that merit based pay, in which the merit is based upon a high stakes test score, well, then I’d like to know what you’re smoking — or who your advisers truly are. This is beyond a joke and you need to come to this realization. You’re obviously an intelligent guy — why are you so blind when it comes to this topic?”

    But Sir/Ma’am, is not Bill Gates the genius of the modern time period. Sir/Ma’am, he quit Harvard University (and not just any other University but Harvard) in order to establish Microsoft.
    Sir or Ma’am, this is from Wikipedia:
    “He scored 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT[19] and enrolled at Harvard College in the autumn of 1973.[20] While at Harvard, he met Steve Ballmer, who later succeeded Gates as CEO of Microsoft. In his sophomore year, Gates devised an algorithm for pancake sorting as a solution to one of a series of unsolved problems,[21] presented in a combinatorics class by Harry Lewis, one of his professors. Gates’ solution, which was later formalized in a published paper in collaboration with Harvard computer scientist Christos Papadimitriou,[22] held the record as the fastest version for over thirty years;[21][23] its successor is faster by only one percent[21]. Gates did not have a definite study plan while a student at Harvard[24] and spent a lot of time using the school’s computers. He remained in contact with Paul Allen, joining him at Honeywell during the summer of 1974.[25] The following year saw the release of the MITS Altair 8800 based on the Intel 8080 CPU, and Gates and Allen saw this as the opportunity to start their own computer software company.[26] He had talked this decision over with his parents, who were supportive of him after seeing how much Gates wanted to start a company.[24]”

    Ma’am/Sir, is this not intelligence? Ma’am/Sir, most teachers teach students to rely on test scores and the number of answers they give as a measure of intelligence. What right is there in this? Children’s creativity is trampled upon and buried away. Children are taught that “Life is a Race. If you don’t run fast, you’ll be trampled and someone else will get ahead of you”. What right is there in this?
    Teachers are tested. And have not children been tested for years then thrown away hopelessly?
    Ma’am/Sir, he is spending millions of dollars in this economy. Why can we not be grateful of his effort? Mr. Gates is not investing for financial profit. He is investing in children’s futures. He does not want more money to come back to him.
    His investment is going to waste? According to the foundation website, ” in 1999, the foundation pledged $1 billion to fund college scholarships to deserving students. To date, the Gates Millennium Scholars Program has helped 13,000 high-potential, low-income students improve their lives through higher education. ”
    Ma’am/Sir, why can we not be grateful for this?
    And the students? How do I believe all this? Do you wish to ask the students, Ma’am/ Sir? I myself am a high school student.

  3. Ma’am/Sir, what we need is simple reformation. After everything has been done, policies made and decisions taken, I think that the end result should be benefit for everyone. It is an idealistic view, yes, but then again, it is how we can make the world, not how it is. We can definetely improve.

  4. jaswrites – thank you for taking the time not only to read my post, but also for taking the time to contribute to the discussion. Respectfully, I disagree with your stance on this. While I have no doubts that Mr. Gates is extremely intelligent, much more so than myself, the decisions that he’s making concerning the state of education are not good ones. I am definitely not grateful when it comes to the money he’s pumping into this economy when this money could be much more wisely spent. As it is now, this is a complete waste, just as was the $2 billion Gates spent roughly 10 years ago to break schools up and lower class sizes.
    Again, though, thanks for your time.

  5. “Ma’am/Sir, what we need is simple reformation. After everything has been done, policies made and decisions taken, I think that the end result should be benefit for everyone. It is an idealistic view, yes, but then again, it is how we can make the world, not how it is. We can definetely improve.”

    Unfortunately, reform in the field of education has proven to be anything but simple. It’s as political a subject as there is, and the fight continues to rage on with fingers pointing and not much actually being done.

  6. Mr. Jeremy,
    Thank you for the post, Sir! Allow me to apologize for any offense I may have caused. You see, Sir, it is a bit difficult to see farther than your own eyes when you have been exposed to nothing but goodness for a person. That is the case for me. In truth, and this is my ignorance, I am not too familiar with Mr. Gates’ policies. I am sure you understand that news headlines only promote positive aspects of a decision. Reading your post certainly does enlighten me on some of the negative points of the money being spent. I actually read your initial post only at face value without any analysis and I did not understand the significance of it. However, now that you have explained for me in more simple terms, it is more agreeable. Thank you!

  7. I didn’t take any offense at your comments – honestly, I truly appreciate that you’re reading and took the time to comment. It means a lot to me that, as a student, you are also taking the time to read up on things like this – best of luck to you in the future.

  8. Check out episode 11 of season 20 of the simpsons ( how the test was won). I feel it’s very apt for your gripe with high stakes standardized tests.

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