Dear Bill and Melinda,
As 2013 comes to a close, we thought we would highlight the top 10 posts on Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates that most resonated with teachers and parents this year. Due to your continued silence, we also ask that you provide us with your beloved data – evidence – of the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of your reforms as they relate to the above-mentioned posts.
We started our blog to you on June 9, 2013 with an open invitation to dialogue with teachers around the world. To date we have had 115,144 hits on our blog. We then thanked our supporters for publicizing our work on the Internet.
“Susan and I so appreciate Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates profile of our website, as well as Diane Ravitch’s strong endorsement on her blog An Amazing Website: Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates.
We appreciate Anthony Cody’s recognition on his blog here: Bill Gates Discovers Money Can’t Buy Teachers.”
On July 9th, we launched a campaign, in conjunction with the Badass Teachers Association, asking teachers to write to you both to voice their concerns regarding high stakes testing. That day we had 6,959 hits, and we posted approximately 30 letters from public school teachers all over the United States. These teachers were outraged and appealed to you to end high stakes testing.
We have written you 132 letters after your promise to “make nice with teachers,” as posted by the Seattle Times. Although you have not answered one letter to date, your track record has not dissuaded us from our mission, which is much broader than simply soliciting a response from you.
Below you will find our “best” of 2013; our top 10 most widely viewed posts, stack-ranked in descending order. After each post, we ask you to provide data related to each post’s topic.
#10 (1,874 views) – This Indiana teacher wonders, how many real life problems are teachers held accountable for solving?
An anonymous Indiana teacher wrote:
“My largest classroom was 43. I was considered a good classroom manager. New and struggling teachers would be sent to observe my classroom, until the two years before we were to be “taken over”.
That’s when “reform” pushed the district into triage mode, and to keep down suspensions and expulsions, the kids who made too much trouble in the valuable schools were sent to schools like mine.
We had active gang members from every working gang in the city. Imagine how difficult it would be to manage a classroom of 43 teenagers in “normal” circumstance, let alone where at least 10 people in the class want to kill or maim each other, let alone all the posing and disregard for “collateral” damage.”
Our data questions for you: How many of the private schools that the corporate reformers send their children to have these kinds of learning and teaching conditions? What is the average class size for the children of corporate reformers?
#9 (1,883 views) – Claudia Swisher, a 4th generation teacher, chastises your reforms for causing the death of her class, and, more importantly, for what they do to her students.
“My class, ten years of documented success, will dwindle to nothing so students can take more AP classes…because AP enrollment raises OUR school grade. My class, ten years of documented success will die as my former school focuses more and more on test scores, school scores, in a desperate attempt to game the new system and the system after that. No longer is school a place for students to discover who they are, and what they love. Now, because of your reform ideas, school is a constant pursuit of test scores. The joy and love and passion is draining out of every classroom. I hold you and your money partially responsible.
Your ‘reforms’ have killed my class. Common Core will hammer the last nail into the coffin of true student-centered learning and teaching. No longer will students be allowed, as they were in my class, to choose what to read, to read for their own reasons, to write reflectively (David Coleman, also with no teaching experience, has decided Readers Response, a time-honored tool for helping students reflect about what they’ve read, is of no value), to become part of a reading community for the first time in their lives. No longer will students discover they ARE good readers, they CAN comprehend. They DO have good ideas.
So, you, the non-educator, have deeply affected me, the educator and all my students. You have helped destroy a class that truly allowed and demanded students find their passions, their gifts, their way in the world.”
Our data questions for you: How many inventors, artists, musicians, politicians, humanitarians, scientists, architects, economists, teachers, etc. have become who they are as a result of a scripted curriculum, devoid of electives, and coupled with high stakes tests? Provide us with multiple pieces of evidence, Danielson style.
#8 (1,926 views) – We responded to your Impatient Optimist blog post in which you provided a summer reading list for everyone. We asked teachers across the nation to make book suggestions for you, Melinda, and all the other “reformy billionaires.” From their responses, we created an annotated bibliography that can be found here:
One Badass Teachers’ Association co-founder wrote:
“Mr. Gates it is nice that you are providing a summer reading list for children. I am also happy to see that you are a summer reader. I would like to invite you to do something else over the summer. Please take about a week to reevaluate your education policies launched through the Gates Foundation. Some of them are destroying public education in this country. I invite you to speak to real teachers and return them back to the table of education policy making. So put your book down for a week and speak to “real” teachers then please take another week and ask the Gates Foundation to revisit their education policy.”
~ Marla Massey Kilfoyle
Our data questions for you: Since we sent you this reading list and since you claim to be an expert on education, how many books on this suggested list have you read? Which book on this list has influenced you most in your decisions about policies that impact the lives of all of America’s public school children and teachers? Provide us with a form of evidence, such as a reading response.
#7 (2,021 views) – We wrote to you to discuss a challenging topic: the impact of poverty on student performance. We also wanted clarification regarding your role and teachers’ roles in serving children who live in 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.” ‘
Our data questions for you: What evidence do you have that your corporate reforms are working to lower poverty rates in the US? In particular, what evidence do you have that the Common Core, which you argue makes all students “college and career ready,” will improve the socio-economic status of the next generation? Exactly what are your plans for the 70% who are likely to fail to graduate based on the data from New York and Georgia to date? Please provide multiple sources of evidence.
#6 (2,233 views) – Corporate education reform is a disease that has infected teachers and children in America’s public schools. Millions of teachers feel demoralized; in fact, many find themselves at rock bottom. Katie and I offer a 12-Step Recovery Program for teachers. We are still working on creating a similar 12-Step Recovery Program – modeled after Al-Anon – for parents and students.
“We now embark on the process of recovery from this devastating disease that is killing public education. As we take the first steps, we ask others to join us in reclaiming our profession:
- Hi, I am Susan DuFresne, and I admit that I am powerless over corporate education reform and that my teaching, my profession, and my philosophies of teaching for the whole child have become unmanageable. I admit that I have become a TESTER, not a TEACHER.
- Hi, I am Katie Lapham, and I admit that I am powerless over corporate education reform and that my teaching, my profession, and my philosophies of teaching for the whole child have become unmanageable. I admit that I have become a TESTER, not a TEACHER.
All teachers under the influence of corporate education reform are welcome to join us. Let the Testers Anonymous meetings begin.
Perhaps the corporate reformers need their own 12 steps… but that is your personal inventory, Bill and Melinda. Have you considered taking one lately?”
Our data questions for you: Provide a log of daily personal reflections about the consequences of your corporate reforms in light of school closings in places like Chicago, Washington, DC, New Orleans, New York, and Pennsylvania. Provide us with evidence that supports that stack-ranking methods have worked at Microsoft and are working in public schools. Write a 12-Step Recovery Program for billionaire reformies. Create a portfolio for this evidence.
#5 (2,486 views) – An anonymous teacher wrote about that little voice we all have in our heads called a conscience.
This anonymous teacher wrote:
“By pushing children into test taking and developmentally inappropriate “standards” education, the important social skills and relationships they need don’t develop. In my classroom, I’ve spent more time trying to “test prep” kindergarteners than allowing them to be children. I quit my job, because it is wrong on soooo many levels. I cannot continue, in good conscience, to push these little ones to such stress levels that they do not WANT to come to school. By raising the bar for “standard” children, you are hurting the children who cannot yet reach the bar… who will care for the kids at the bottom? There will ALWAYS be someone at the bottom if our society continues with this ridiculous “Race to the Top.”
Our data questions for you: In portfolio format, outline each of your corporate reforms. Include a reflection piece, from that little voice in your head called your conscience, on each reform. Cite multiple pieces of evidence to justify your reforms from a moral standing.
#4 (2,827 views) – We noticed a response to Diane Ravitch from one of her readers and had to ask:
The comment on Diane’s blog was:
“Here in Clark County Nevada we have been treated to a special pep talk by our new superintendent, a 25 year veteran of the district and a former kindergarten teacher. He stated on Jon Ralston’s show that we will have to step up to meet the Common Core standards. He bluntly stated that from his experience kindergarten would be teaching what he said were 2nd and 3rd grade concepts in his time. I am glad for his honesty, but I am sure reality will intrude on his wish that children attain and perform at levels that are developmentally inappropriate. I am not sure he is enough of a bureaucrat to know he made an admission that others should amplify. Our kids aren’t stupid, our schools aren’t failing, the tests are not appropriate.”
Our data questions for you: Provide multiple sources of cold hard evidence that the authors of the Common Core sought out and followed the advice of Early Childhood experts. Provide multiple resources of cold hard evidence that these CCSS standards are developmentally appropriate and that they are having a positive effect on our children.
#3 (4,474 views) – As both a teacher and a mother suffering under corporate ed reform, Jill O’Malley Conroy appeals to Melinda.
“I’ve decided to go against the grain here and write to you instead of Bill, in the hopes that, as a woman and more importantly as a mother, you will hear what I’m saying and will do something about it before it really is too late.
The damage that I have witnessed in Boston over the past decade is alarming. YOUR ED REFORM IS HURTING CHILDREN. As a mother yourself, are you prepared to ignore this message that I and many other public schoolteachers are so desperately trying to convey to you and to those who have become the sole decision makers of public education?
It’s clear that an underlying presumption made about us (teachers) is that we are objecting to your “reform” measures because we don’t want to be held accountable for what we do in our classrooms. This notion is the polar opposite of our reality.”
Our data questions for you: Melinda, please read 100 blogs managed by teachers who are fighting your corporate reforms. Write an honest personal response – as a mother – to each one of these bloggers in which you speculate how these reforms might impact your own children. Provide a log of reading responses to these blogs in your portfolio.
#2 (5,386 views) – National Board Certified Teacher, Michelle Cosgrove, writes a powerful letter questioning the very idea of “failing children” and “failing teachers”:
“I am a National Board Certified Teacher and hold 4 certifications on my state certificate. I have taught every grade K-5 in my 13 years teaching, and I currently teach 3rd grade, a high stakes testing grade for retention in my state. Every single one of my students “failed” the state test this past school year, and only 1 student passed in the entire 3rd grade at my school. Does this mean my colleagues and I are poor teachers? Maybe in the eyes of those who believe in your agenda. But what if I told you that our students are deaf and come from homes where the parents do not know sign language? What if I told you that many of them didn’t even learn ANY language until they were 3 years old (or older!), and yet had to take this high stakes test a mere 5 years later? What if I told you that for someone who cannot hear to learn to read English print requires memorizing EVERY word they see, along with EVERY possible meaning and EVERY nuance in order to choose the correct one for comprehension, despite the fact that there is no written equivalent to American Sign Language (which they also have not mastered)?…
Children are individuals, with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and need to be viewed as such. “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.”
Our data questions for you: Provide ample evidence that children can be molded into your standards. Provide ample evidence that teachers can be scaled up to meet your standards and still meet the individual needs of children. Provide ample evidence that Common Core authors took into consideration the particular needs of English Language Learners and Special Education students, and that CCSS/CCSS test “laws” can trump IDEA and ADA laws without throwing out the “Individualized Education Plan” for our students with special needs.
#1 (7,704 views) – Susan’s post about the Grand High Witch is our number one post receiving over 5,000 views in just two days. Melinda, I don’t think people were fully aware of your role. We here at Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates want the public to be very aware and to heed our warning.
I wrote a modern day Grimm-like fairy tale that is -unfortunately – grounded in truth. It begins…
“Like the grandmother in Dahl’s Grimm-like fairy tale, Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates is here to warn children, parents, and the public that – in fact – our democracy itself is at high risk. However, this tale is different from fantasy for it is a true horror story. In that regard, I guess it could be used as a Common Core-approved informational text. Be sure to use your close reading strategies. Teachers and parents, heed my warning:
Once upon a time, the Grand High Witch Corporate Reformer became one of the most powerful and influential aristocrats in public by marrying a terrible
WarlockMonopolist. Behind the closed doors of her castle Medina compound and her glitzy foundation she and her coven of witchescorporate reformers planned exactly how to cast a spell and turn all of the children into mice (or sheep). The Grand High Corporate Reformer was never satisfied with good results. She always wanted higher achievementprofits and power .
The modern technocrat version of the Grand High Corporate Reformer looks attractive. She is very wealthy, at the very top part of the wealthiest 1%. She is highly connected to technology, and has minions working in the government to control her agenda. She knows friends in very high places, like the World Bank for example. She uses her powers and riches to build very well designed traps. She uses marketing, media, and technology to keep her prey in a consumer coma, and she sells you a story that lures you into her web of deceit.”
2014 begins tomorrow. What will teachers be inspired to write to you about in the new year? What will be their greatest outrage as reforms mount on top of reforms? How many states will be required to administer high stakes Common Core tests? Will our unions divorce themselves from all corporate education reformers and stand up for children and members? How many children who have attended school for 13 years with a great GPA and enough credits to graduate will be denied graduation due to the high-stakes nature of a single end-of-course exam? How many schools will be closed? How many teachers will be fired? How much money will be funneled from public taxpayers to private pockets? How widespread will standardized test resistance be as a result of the growing opt-out movement? How many children will be sent to prison over zero tolerance policies? Will the Badass Teachers Association’s non-partisan march on Washington this summer spur the GOP, democrats, and President Obama to abandon corporate education reforms, including Common Core?
Time will tell. Much is up to teachers, parents, and students to educate and attract others to this fight. It is our duty to continue our work in 2014- with even greater vigor – in order to save the threatened democratic institution of public education.
Happy New Year, Bill and Melinda. May 2014 be the year you step out of the role as reformers of public education and give us all peace.
Susan and Katie,
Co-Authors of Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates