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Why a new Bill Gates interview depressed Larry Ferlazzo

Bill Gates speaks at a conference at the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization in Berlin on Tuesday. Among the members of the vaccination alliance are governments, vaccine manufacturers, NGOs and health and research organizations. (EPA/Bernd Von Jutrczenka)
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Larry Ferlazzo is an award-winning veteran educator who teaches English and social studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif.  He has written seven books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher and has his own popular resource-sharing blog. Ferlazzo just read an interview that Bill Gates — the biggest education philanthropist in the United States and probably the world — gave to Ezra Klein of Vox, and wrote on his blog that he found it depressing.

Gates was quoted by Klein as saying:

When we think of the potential for online education, there are two different ways to look at it. One is to say, ‘What about the motivated students that really know they want to learn?’ You know, this is the equivalent of when a Carnegie library would go up in a town, who were the strivers that actually went in there and started checking out books and got a real uplift because of that availability. Is that 10 percent of the kids, 20 percent of the kids? Now add online support, bulletin boards, interactivity, feedback, personalized progress. We will get those things in different languages for different subjects in extremely high quality for free, delivered even to fairly small screen sizes, connected up over mobile networks.
The much harder question is the goal of motivating and educating virtually every child in the society. Without a very strong teaching core that can create the strong social structure and the sense of why you need to do those things, you’re not going to get every kid in the inner city in the US or the global equivalent. There, you’ve got to improve the teaching itself. But that, too, is subject to online tools where teachers can see what others do well, or they can get feedback.

Ferlazzo is not a fan of Gates’s philanthropy in public education, including the Gates Foundation’s multimillion-dollar program to develop teacher assessment systems that linked evaluations to student test scores. Ferlazzo aggregated Web responses to a Gates blog post and published them on his resource-sharing blog under the title “The Best Posts Responding To Bill Gates’ Appallingly Clueless Op-Ed Piece.” Then there was Ferlazzo’s aggregation of posts about the Gates Foundation’s education philanthropy, which he assembled under the title “The Best Resources For Learning About The Role Of Private Foundations In Education Policy.”

Ferlazzo wrote on his blog that he believed there were some recent signs that Gates was beginning to understand that there are problems with his approach to education philanthropy. Gates has said in recent months that he is not sure if his education philanthropy will actually work, and he admitted in a speech last fall that he had been “naive” in his expectations for his “Grand Challenges” project, in which billions of  foundation research dollars were awarded in at least 80 countries to do research on improving health and development for the neediest.

But also Ferlazzo wrote that Gates’s latest interview with Klein had disabused him of thinking that Gates had changed his vision:

I think it’s great that he first recognizes that online education primarily serves the most motivated. In that regard, he’s ahead of many other vocal proponents of that idea. But it’s all downhill from there. He then puts the responsibility of student motivation all on teachers, and that the key to teachers learning to be better is through online education.
There is no recognition of how issues of student motivation also related to many challenges outside of the teacher’s control (see The Best Articles About The Study Showing Social Emotional Learning Isn’t Enough and The Best Places To Learn What Impact A Teacher & Outside Factors Have On Student Achievement).
And it sounds like he’s doubling-down on the generally awful conclusions of the Gates Foundation report touting videotaping teachers as the cure-all for teacher professional development (see A Beginning List Of The Best Posts On Gates’ Final MET “Effective Teaching” Report and The Best Posts & Articles About Videotaping Teachers In The Classroom).
I just hope he finds something else soon that catches his interest so he stop experimenting with the lives of our students, their families, and us teachers.
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