To the Editor:
In proposing larger classes for the best teachers, Bill Gates assumes mistakenly that teaching in K-12 classrooms is just like lecturing to university students (“Gates to NGA: Tie Class Sizes to Teachers’ Skill,” March 9, 2011).
What makes a teacher of young learners effective is his or her ability to work with individuals in ways that are appropriate to their needs. During whole-group lessons, such teachers move around their classrooms, spotting those who are having difficulty and taking the time to give a little help and encouragement. Later, when planning future lessons, they include modifications for the range of abilities in their classrooms and figure out ways to have most students working on their own or with a partner, so they can meet with small groups.
It is only the least-competent teachers who stand in front of their classrooms and give the same instruction to all, blind to the boredom of those who already know the material, the confusion of those who aren’t ready for it, and the tuned-out state of the few who don’t care.
Although the notion of getting extra pay for taking on more students might have seemed attractive to most of the teachers responding to a survey funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2008, the situation at that time was only hypothetical.
Today thousands of teachers all over the country have classes of 30 and up. I wager that neither Bill Gates nor the governors who agree with him could keep order in such classrooms, much less teach anybody anything.
A version of this article appeared in the March 30, 2011 edition of Education Week as Linking Pay and Class Size Hurts Teaching Quality