Teaching Profession

Bill Gates’ Speech: ‘As Long As You Keep Pushing’

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 10, 2010 2 min read
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Bill Gates, who really needs no introduction, gave an address to the American Federation of Teachers today.

I got an opportunity to chat with Gates after the speech and will have more for you on that next week, but here’s a rundown of the address.

You can think of it as somewhat akin to AFT President Randi Weingarten’s earlier one at this convention: very carefully balanced. Gates congratulated the union for committing to reforms in places like New Haven, Conn.; Hillsborough County, Fla.; and Pittsburgh, and thanked the AFT teachers participating in his foundation’s “Measures of Effective Teaching” study. He acknowledged that reform efforts should be focused on developing an evaluation system, not for sorting teachers, but to help them improve the effectiveness of their craft.

And he recognized that such reforms should be carried out in partnership with unions, saying they won’t succeed unless they are shaped by teachers’ knowledge and experience.

But he also called on teachers to continue to engage in what are some pretty new and scary changes to their profession.

“I believe these reforms can make a huge difference for students, as long as you keep pushing and bring all of America’s teachers along with you,” Gates said.

You can read and parse the speech (linked above) yourself, but a couple of lines are particularly worth highlighting. One that went unnoticed tweaked the National Education Association a bit. “You are driving the changes that will accelerate student gains,” Gates told the AFT. “No other union is doing what you are to make this happen.”

Near the end, he told the union that conversations about student achievement ultimately will need to include tenure.

“You owe it to your profession and your students to make sure that tenure reflects more than the number of years spent in the classroom. It should reflect the quality of the work in the classroom. And that means student achievement should be a factor in decisions about tenure,” Gates said.

Delegates, who had started to applaud, broke into agitated murmuring at the mention of student achievement.

Still, given the rumors that there could be an en masse walkout in the middle of the speech, Gates received a pretty good reception from the union. He got a standing ovation when he took the podium. He initially received some measure of booing, too, but Weingarten, who had repeatedly implored her union’s delegates to be gracious, was having none of that.

“I thought you guys were leaving?” she said sweetly to the hecklers, who were subsequently drowned out by laughter and applause. And as some of those hecklers exited the convention hall, delegates opting to stay began a chorus of “Nah nah nah nah, hey hey, goodbye.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.