Melinda and Bill Gates recently said that attempting to reform the public education system in the United States has been the hardest philanthropic work they’ve ever done. The Seattle Times reported on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-sponsored event last month:

He [Gates] said he’s been surprised that education work can actually “go backward,” saying that if teachers don’t trust new evaluation systems, then they might opt for saying they don’t want any feedback at all.
That’s quite different from the foundation’s global-health work, where there’s been steady progress.
“If we come up with a new malaria drug, a new malaria vaccine, nobody votes to uninvent our malaria vaccine,” said Gates, to laughter from the audience.

That caught the attention of  Nancy E. Bailey, a longtime special education teacher who left the classroom because of standardized test-based school reforms that she thinks hurt children. Bailey, who has a doctorate in educational leadership and bachelors and master’s degrees in special education, wrote a post on her blog about the remarks by Gates, listing what she considers really hard in education from the point of view of students, parents and teachers.

Bailey, who wrote the 2013 book “Misguided Education Reform: Debating the Impact on Students,” challenged Melinda and Bill Gates to spend “some serious time in poor public schools” to learn what is really hard in education for teachers and students — and to “spend time with the many moms of students with disabilities who home-school not because they want to, but because schools have cut special education services.”

Here is a shortened version of her admittedly incomplete list of what’s really hard in education (and you can see the full blog post and list here):

  • Being an over-tested kindergartner, not getting any recess, and being made to feel you are a failure before you get started in your schooling.
  • Working as a teacher on a day-to-day basis with students who come from abject poverty and must deal with the many troubling consequences that come with a life lived in hardship.
  • Being a child with disabilities and being afraid of a high-stakes test (or several) you don’t understand and feeling like a failure!
  • Being made to read before you are ready,
  • Failing third grade based on one test.
  • Being a high school student who has to focus on test-taking and not given ample time to explore real career options.
  • Being poor and working only in math and reading with little opportunity to participate in music or art classes.
  • Deciding if you can afford to leave teaching because you hate the changes that negatively impact children, including all the high-stakes Common Core testing.
  • Knowing you have to teach to pay the bills but understanding why parents dislike you for being forced to implement harsh reforms.
  • Being told you will have to reapply for the job you need in the career you hold dear because your school has been turned into a charter school.
  • Working with overcrowded class sizes because some reformer doesn’t know better and thinks class size doesn’t matter.
  • Not being able to get to all your students because your paraprofessional has been let go. 
  • Not being able to go to the bathroom when you need to because your paraprofessional has been let go.
  • Not being paid for a master’s degree on which you spent time and money to better yourself professionally.
  • Working in a crummy school building while a brand new charter school is opened down the street.
  • Getting judged for your teaching by the test scores of students you don’t have.
  • Being forced to focus more on data than children, and filling out mounds of time-consuming and often useless paperwork.
  • Watching your young students fail computer-based tests because they can’t type fast enough.
  • Knowing how much time you spent learning to be a teacher and watching others with inadequate training get jobs.
  • Being forced to put away your developmentally appropriate student play kitchens, puppets and costumes in kindergarten.
  • Seeing your school put money into iPads when there are so many other things needed.
  • Working in a school with no librarian or media specialist.
  • Sending your child to a school that has no school nurse.
  • Not having enough guidance counselors to work with you when your student has mental health issues.
  • Not having appropriate special education services to offer children who need them.
  • Being a student in a no-excuse charter school and knowing that you could be punished for the smallest  disciplinary infraction.
  • Having your local school board ignore your pleas to keep your public school open.

And Bailey wrote:

A lot of children and their teachers are not being treated well in a country that should honor both.