Dear Bill: We’re teachers, and we can do so much, but… “What we can’t do, however, is address all of the problems that put or keep families in poverty.”

“Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives.”  – Bill Gates


Dear Bill and Melinda ~

Bill and Melinda, we’d like to take on a complex issue with you.  We’re teacher activists.  We’re taking on the big inequities.  Teaching children in poverty has been one of the greatest experiences of our lives.

We’d like to discuss the impacts of poverty –– specifically: your role, and ours in serving children who live in poverty.

Stephen Krashen recently submitted this to the New York Times.  It caused us to think about asking you some serious questions about poverty, since “addressing the impacts of poverty is the Gates Foundations central philanthropic mission.”

We’d really like to know what you think since it seemed to be on your mind when  you and Melinda wrote a letter posted on The Gates Foundation, where you write about poverty too:

Our friend and co-trustee Warren Buffett once gave us some great advice about philanthropy: “Don’t just go for safe projects,” he said. “Take on the really tough problems.”

We couldn’t agree more. Our foundation is teaming up with partners around the world to take on some tough challenges: extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, and the failures of America’s education system. [Teachers’ Letters To Bill Gates added emphasis.]

And on The Gates Foundation website  on your “what we do” page, it states:


Nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide live on less than US$2 a day, and more than 1 billion suffer from chronic hunger. For these people, the basics of food, water, shelter, and sanitation are in short supply, and healthcare and education can be unaffordable luxuries. Our Global Development Division aims to identify and fund high-impact solutions that can help hundreds of millions of people lift themselves out of poverty and build better lives. We work closely with our partners to support innovative approaches and expand existing ones so they reach the people who are most in need. [Teachers’ Letters To Bill Gates added emphasis.]

Anthony Cody entered into a dialogue with you last August, 2012 and asked you important questions about poverty.   In part of that dialogue,  there was a guest post by Chris Williams of the Gates Foundation, The Gates Foundation Response:  Poverty Does Matter — But It Is Not Destiny.  Chris wrote in part:

When Bill and Melinda Gates started their foundation more than a decade ago, they made addressing the impact of poverty its central philanthropic mission.

But then, it seems you kind of lay a great portion of the responsibility at the feet of teachers to solve the impacts of poverty as Chris writes:

Evidence tells us two things: a good education is one of the best avenues out of poverty and a strong teacher at the head of every classroom is one of the most powerful ways to improve education.  [Teachers’ Letters To Bill Gates added emphasis.]

Later in this same response to Anthony Cody, Chris Williams added:

What we can’t do, however, is address all of the problems that put or keep families in poverty. We just don’t have the resources to do that. But we are part of a community of donors who are committed to eliminating the causes of poverty.  [Teachers’ Letters To Bill Gates added emphasis.]

We like those first two statements.  There is truth in them.  We believe, even as wealthy as you are,  that it simply isn’t possible to address all of the problems that put or keep families in poverty.  We agree, you just don’t have the resources to do all of that.

And we are going to tell you the same thing.  

Guess what?  

Neither can teachers!

We are GREAT professional teachers.  

We do amazing things with our professional experience!  

We make a major difference in the lives of many of our children, and we are proud of our work!

Our readers will be telling you some of the great things we do for children in poverty.

But for most, unfortunately:

“What we can’t do, however, is address all of the problems that put or keep families in poverty.”

child poverty

Teachers can’t solve poverty and neither can corporate education reforms or Common Core State Standards — nor can all of the high stakes testing that comes with Common Core from PARCC and Smarter Balanced Consortia being developed by your partnerships with test corporations like Pearson — and neither can an iPad in the hands of every student in America.

Can we agree that neither the Gates Foundation, you and Melinda personally, nor teachers have enough resources to solve poverty?  Certainly the resources you have far outweigh the resources mere teachers have to create a dent in this struggle.

What if you listened to the teachers who worked closest to the children in poverty and their families to determine what would best help them instead of deciding for them?

Well,  first of all, let’s stop blaming teachers for the impacts of “all of the problems that put or keep families in poverty.”

We would like to add that the current corporate education reforms that you are supporting are not helping solve this problem.  In fact, many of these reforms make poverty far worse.   [Teachers, please tell us more about this, as teachers have been writing about the negative impacts of corporate education reforms on children of poverty for years now.]

We’d like to get back to Stephen Krashen’s post to the New York Times, because he writes about these points very clearly here:

Protecting children from poverty a better investment than the common core.

Protecting children from poverty a better investment than the common core.
Submitted to the New York Times
Re: Who’s minding the schools? June 9. (Andrew Hacker and Claudia Drefus)
Hacker and Drefus’ statement that attacks on the Common Core come “mainly from the right” ignores or dismisses serious criticisms from well-respected experts.
They include these points:
There is no rationale for the common core: The major reason for our unspectacular school achievement is our level of child poverty, now 23%, the second highest child poverty level among 35 “economically advanced” countries.  Poverty has a devastating impact on school performance. When we control for poverty, American children’s international test scores are near the top of the world.
There is no evidence that more rigorous standards and increased testing improve school performance.
There is strong evidence that that protecting children from the effects of poverty will increase school performance: Strengthening food and health care programs, and providing better support for libraries and librarians is a much better investment than the common core.
These criticism do not come only from the “right.”
Stephen Krashen
Some sources:

Child Poverty rate: UNICEF, 2007. An Overview of Child-Well Being in Rich Countries. UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Report Card 7. The United Nations Childrens Fund).
Control for poverty:
Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012.
” … no evidence that installing more rigorous standards and increasing testing has ever increased school performance”: There is no evidence standards and tests have improved student learning: Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). OECD. Tienken, C., 2011. Common core standards: An example of data-less decision-making. Journal of Scholarship and Practice. American Association of School Administrators [AASA], 7(4): 3-18.
“Strengthening food programs,  increading health care, providing more access to books”: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential:  Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.;   Krashen, S., Lee, SY, and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is The Library Important? Multivariate Studies at the National and International Level Journal of Language and Literacy Education: 8(1).

So we have an idea.  We’d like to run it by you.  

Food or Common Core

How about we take ALL the money that is being invested to implement Common Core, PARCC, Smarter Balanced, Pearson tests, etc. and provide:

  • Healthy food programs
  • Wraparound services
  • More teachers and para-educators
  • Small class sizes like those at Lakeside Prep School where your own children attend [16 max.]
  • Full-time music and art teachers in all schools
  • Full-time librarians and more books 
  • Full-time  mental health counselors in all of our public schools
  • Full day kindergarten for all children in America

Are you serious about  “addressing the impact of poverty its central philanthropic mission” at  the Gates Foundation?

Imagine what more than $16 billion could do towards the ideas above that would  help the children in public schools who live every day in poverty?

Then there’s the the $20-$50 billion spent each year on standardized testing… we can add that to the pool to support the costs of the interventions above also.

You are right: “We can’t address all of the problems that put or keep families in poverty. We just don’t have the resources to do that.”

But more than $16 billion [cost to implement Common Core] can go a long ways in the lives of many children in our public schools lives if we prioritize what they REALLY need.  It is not a new curriculum.  It is not a new set of standards.  It is not more tests.  And it is not the high stakes that don’t allow them to graduate high school.

We think our ideas are just the beginning.

What do other teachers think?  

Which is better: Our ideas?  Or Common Core, corporate reform, and more testing?

Do other teachers think investing more than $16 Billion in Common Core will address many of the  issues of poverty or do they prefer our list above?

Feel free to add to our list, teachers.

Bill and Melinda, what do you think?


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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6 Responses to Dear Bill: We’re teachers, and we can do so much, but… “What we can’t do, however, is address all of the problems that put or keep families in poverty.”

  1. Anna says:

    Love this but where is the support for full-time school counselors in every school?

  2. I am a lawyer, not a teacher but I know a little about poverty having lived in it for most of the first eighteen years of my life. I agree that schools can’t work miracles. What happens to a child during the eighteen or so hours outside the classroom has an enormous impact. $16B can cover a lot of lobbying in Congress for quality child care for working moms or mental health services for addicted parents, or drug law reforms so more fathers can meet their responsibilities to their children. I’m so tired of hearing about how education is failing our children. Our society is failing our children. We need to value them as much as we value the bank executives who trashed the economy and still managed to hang on to their multi-million dollar bonuses. We need to invest in our children as much as we invest in the lethal toys we give to our generals. Our values are skewed.

  3. Nancy Grady says:

    There is a school in Detroit where I volunteer, in which the 2nd grade teacher has 45 children.
    Forty-five youngsters in one class with one woman is impossible. I’m sure there are many more classrooms just like this. The school is called “Palmer Park Preparatory Academy” and is in the Detroit Public School system.
    Please help!
    Nancy Grady, Troy, MI

  4. Sue Kuseske says:

    The 40 years of raising my own children and teaching has given me insight “somewhat” to the situations we are finding in our schools. I have lived with teaching 26 to 30 high school students (all from different situations) in one class room and trying desperately within my abilities to help each student at least once during a total of 45 to 50 minutes in a class period. Then there are those students who are in your classroom as soon as you open the doors for the day so that they will have a safe, secure, and an atmosphere that says they do matter to me. Any testing that is done will only give you a measurement of that child’s performance on THE test on that day and time. Since we are using so many resources to find out that information wouldn’t it be great if we could have the same investment in our schools and other factors that affect a child during their formative years. Plus a society who feels our children has the right to an education without regard to their societal background. My own children had to “work” hard for their schooling besides being a part of a farm family. I cherish children and know they are going to be the future of our great country. We will only remain great if we can provide for our children to become the thinkers and doers of tomorrow. If a child can learn basic life skills and the ability to transfer knowledge from one level to another that child will succeed in life.

  5. Ben St. Hilaire says:

    I used to be a public school teacher. I became a teacher because I believed that education was the antidote to social injustices such as poverty and racism. While I do still believe that a good education is important, I now know that I had it backwards; social injustices such as poverty and racism are toxic to education. I have a deep, abiding love and respect for teachers, but having been one I know that there are limits to what we can realistically expect them to accomplish by themselves. The social problems we expect teachers to overcome through brilliant classroom performance are beyond the scope of any individual to singlehandedly negate. Until we as a society hold *ourselves* to account for *our* collective failures to alleviate poverty, and stop scapegoating teachers, expecting anything to change is sheer delusion.

  6. Pingback: Our Top 10 from 2013, but Bill Gates is Still Not Making Nice with Teachers | Teachers' Letters to Bill Gates

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