Billionaire Bill Gates versus Education Historian Diane Ravitch

In a recent magazine article, billionaire Bill Gates, who has used grants from his philanthropic foundation to assume a key role in steering educational policy across the nation, reproaches education historian Diane Ravitch for saying his version of education reform is hurting America’s schools. Unfortunately for Gates, Ravitch has now responded to telling effect, in the online version of the Washington Post, to a series of rhetorical questions he posed to her. Here’s an excerpt:

“Gates: ‘Does she like the status quo?’
Ravitch: ‘No, I certainly don’t like the status quo. I don’t like the attacks on teachers, I don’t like the attacks on the educators who work in our schools day in and day out, I don’t like the phony solutions that are now put forward that won’t improve our schools at all. I am not at all content with the quality of American education in general, and I have expressed my criticisms over many years, long before Bill Gates decided to make education his project. I think American children need not only testing in basic skills, but an education that includes the arts, literature, the sciences, history, geography, civics, foreign languages, economics, and physical education.
‘I don’t hear any of the corporate reformers expressing concern about the way standardized testing narrows the curriculum, the way it rewards convergent thinking and punishes divergent thinking, the way it stamps out creativity and originality. I don’t hear any of them worried that a generation will grow up ignorant of history and the workings of government. I don’t hear any of them putting up $100 million to make sure that every child has the chance to learn to play a musical instrument. All I hear from them is a demand for higher test scores and a demand to tie teachers’ evaluations to those test scores. That is not going to improve education.’

“Gates: ‘Is she sticking up for decline?’
Ravitch: ‘Of course not! If we follow Bill Gates’ demand to judge teachers by test scores, we will see stagnation, and he will blame it on teachers. We will see stagnation because a relentless focus on test scores in reading and math will inevitably narrow the curriculum only to what is tested. This is not good education.

‘Last week, he said in a speech that teachers should not be paid more for experience and graduate degrees. I wonder why a man of his vast wealth spends so much time trying to figure out how to cut teachers’ pay. Does he truly believe that our nation’s schools will get better if we have teachers with less education and less experience? Who does he listen to? He needs to get himself a smarter set of advisers.

‘Of course, we need to make teaching a profession that attracts and retains wonderful teachers, but the current anti-teacher rhetoric emanating from him and his confreres demonizes and demoralizes even the best teachers. I have gotten letters from many teachers who tell me that they have had it, they have never felt such disrespect; and I have also met young people who tell me that the current poisonous atmosphere has persuaded them not to become teachers. Why doesn’t he make speeches thanking the people who work so hard day after day, educating our nation’s children, often in difficult working conditions, most of whom earn less than he pays his secretaries at Microsoft?….Gates probably doesn’t know this, but 50% of all those who enter teaching leave within the first five years. Our biggest problem is not getting rid of deadbeats, but recruiting, retaining, and supporting teachers. We have to replace 300,000 teachers (of nearly 4 million) every single year. What are his ideas about how to do this?’”

You’ll find the full Ravitch response to Gates here: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/diane-ravitch/ravitch-answers-gates.html.