Imagine you’re a doctor…

Dear Bill and Melinda ~

One of our readers responded to our blog  where we are asking you the question: “Would you consider sending your child to a pediatrician who was required to implement tests and procedures mandated by the state and created by businessmen?

Overworked Doctor

Imagine you’re a doctor. You’re required to diagnose and treat 30 patients at a time, all in the same room, all with different ailments.

Some are rapidly losing blood from gaping wounds, while some suffer from minor scrapes or sniffles; others have chronic conditions – potentially serious, but manageable. A few are healthy but striving to become more physically fit. You want them all to thrive.

Some patients absolutely refuse to take the medicine you prescribe or simply can’t afford it, and some have no one at home to help them get around. Others are able to pay for the very best specialists to supplement the care you give them.

A number of “medical reformers” spend the bulk of their time criticizing how you do your job, despite the fact that they have no medical training themselves. And when you need to take time off, you are required to leave explicit directions for a surrogate – who most likely also has no medical training – to treat your patients for the day.

On top of all of that, there’s a series of standardized wellness exams, created by for-profit companies, which each patient must pass at the end of a fixed number of weeks. The state has approved a law connecting your pay to the percentage of your patients who pass these wellness exams.

Colleagues who practice at exclusive clinics in the posh part of town handle only 20 patients at a time (patients who must apply to be admitted to the clinic and show that they can afford the most expensive treatments). They have no trouble keeping their patients healthy; all of their patients pass the exam easily. Those who see 40 patients at a time in a run-down facility with no resources are not so fortunate.

What medical student in her right mind would ever specialize in oncology under those circumstances?

It sounds ridiculous because it is. We would never expect anything like this scenario from our medical professionals – or legal professionals, or business professionals. And yet it is precisely the demand we place on professionals in the field of education.

In an effort to quantify in the simplest terms that which is phenomenally complex – i.e., student growth – we often rely on standardized tests. Now, when I measure student growth in my class, I consider many factors in a wide variety of formats: essays, projects, class discussions, notes, quizzes…. But by all means, let’s reduce everything to a multiple-choice score. That will tell us how much each student has learned; also, it’s super-easy to score, and it results in huge profits for the testing industry!

Except. Some kids walk into our classrooms already able to excel on the first day; their passing the exam at the end of the course does not necessarily indicate growth. Others have backgrounds that make it impossible for them to have any hope of passing in the short time we have together: learning disabilities, problems at home, poor teachers in previous years.

So look at that group of 30 diverse individuals and ask yourself, what test can measure what’s going on in each of their brains? How do you plan to measure the effect of each teacher on that brain? Most importantly, will any of this help a single student to thrive?  ~  Deborah Carter

We hope you will answer our questions and engage with our readers.  We understand that you plan to focus more attention on real teachers and listen to their feedback.

Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates


About Highlighting Members' Needs

We are running for the following Renton Education Association positions because we believe in the following planks: Becca Ritchie, Candidate for REA President, Nelsen Middle School, Computer Tech Susan DuFresne, Candidate for Primary Executive Board, Maplewood Heights Elementary, Integrated Kindergarten ✅  Demanding a healthy work-load/life balance. ✅  Bargaining competitive professional compensation. ✅  Challenging the status quo test culture with: Less is more! ✅  Emphasizing our professional expertise. ✅  Prioritizing equity and access for all. ✅  Utilizing 2-way 21st century communication tools. ✅  Acting in solidarity with all unions. ✅  Supporting ALL members. ✅   Implementing developmentally appropriate K-3 curriculum/assessment.
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5 Responses to Imagine you’re a doctor…

  1. Susan Hoenig Hansen says:

    June 9, 2013

    Dear Bill Gates and friends,

    I will try to make this as brief as possible. I’ve been teaching for twenty four years in a low income school where 90% of the students are ELL (English Language Learners) and 89% Free Lunch. In addition, the majority of homes in our area are rental units where, for the sake of their finances, three families will share an apartment, one family in each bedroom. I have had students who lived in garages also.

    When I heard about NCLB (No Child Left Behind) years ago and learned about the requirement that 100% of students would be proficient by 2014 (that’s in seven months), I was horrified to say the least. How could anyone who has ever worked with groups of children think that’s an attainable goal? Do all children walk at one year old? Do all children read at five years old? Can all adults run an eight minute mile?

    My own children were younger then, and I immediately started comparing their experiences with those of my students. My sons were raised in a two parent home with parents who have no addictions, no violent ex boyfriends/spouses, two incomes and both college degrees, multiple teaching credentials, and one master’s degree. My sons have had a dream childhood, and they have done very well. They were taken to the zoo, the beach, trips to New York City, Washington D.C., New York state, Canada and Mexico. My husband and I provided Baby Play n Gro classes, swimming lessons, martial arts lessons, chess lessons, AYSO, etc. We also provided books, many books, along with trips to museums, and historical sites. We even took them to Coloma so they could actually see where gold was discovered. I’ll bet you and Melinda have provided many of the same experiences for your children.

    My students, however, have few or none of these experiences. I will share just a few of their experiences here as I’m trying to show you some reasons why some students don’t do well no matter how great their teachers are or how many tests they take. Christy, early in my career. One morning I asked for homework and she started sobbing and telling me that her mother’s boyfriend had pushed the mom down the stairs while holding their baby, and then came back with a knife outside their window and threatened to kill them all. Second grade, homework excused. I have had parents tell me they can’t do two digit addition with regrouping to help their kids. Homework excused. Last year we had a student removed by Child Protective Services (far from my first) because her mother and the boyfriend were sexually abusing her together. Homework excused. I could go on and on, but I hope I’ve made a point here.

    Very sadly, not all children are being raised in loving, supportive homes. Teachers, no matter how hard we try and how much we care, can not make up for what our students do not get at home. When standardized testing is used, it is comparing apples and oranges. It is not fair to the students or the teachers. I tell the teachers at my school that we are miracle workers because of what we DO accomplish, although no one will ever tell us that. Thankfully, I don’t teach because I look for glory, I teach because I care. And you know what? No test can measure that.


    Susan Hoenig Hansen

    BTW, we have no computer lab at our school as it was dismantled two years ago because none of the computers worked and there was no money to pay someone to run it. I wonder how our students will take the Common Core State Standards Test.

  2. Pat says:

    This is excellent. I would, however, suggest someone puts an apostrophe after the s in Teachers (Teachers’) since it’s used as a possessive.

    • livingbehindthegates says:

      Yes, it is corrected. We have been writing it for Twitter so many times that we accidentally dropped it here. And of course, we know better… silly Twitter habits. 🙂

      Please consider writing a letter to Mr. Gates and we will blog it for you here.

      We appreciate the feedback!

      Teachers’ Letters To Bill Gates

  3. Kelly F. says:

    I understand that the medical analogy is a point to be made for teachers and wholeheartedly agree with that point. Sadly, I’m a physician and what I can tell you is that your “imagine” scenario is actually what is happening in American medicine. We too are being regulated on how we can do our jobs. I am judged on how well my patients’ chronic conditions are controlled-even if I have spent hours talking with them, trying to explain why the insulin is important for their diabetes, I am the one who is penalized when they choose to simply not believe that they have diabetes. More regulation isn’t the answer in either field.

    • Teachers'LettersToBillGates says:

      Hi Kelly,

      Thank you for your comment. I am sad to hear that corporate reforms are taking over the medical profession as well. Perhaps the medical profession would like to join hands with teachers to fight corporations. Bill Gates has his hands in medicine as well and is equally misguided due to his lack of knowledge in either area of expertise.

      Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates

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