Teaching Profession News in Brief

Gates to NGA: Tie Class Sizes to Teachers’ Skill

By Ross Brenneman — March 08, 2011 1 min read
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Bill Gates closed the National Governors Association’s 2011 winter meeting last week by urging the governors to consider increasing the class sizes of the best teachers.

Under the Microsoft founder’s model, a school’s most effective teachers would be given an additional four or five students. Less effective teachers could then work with smaller classes and receive professional development.

A 2008 study supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation determined that 83 percent of teachers would support increasing their class sizes for additional compensation. (The foundation provides grant support to Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week.) In 2009, a Goldwater Institute report argued for tying teacher effectiveness to a higher pupil-teacher ratio and a higher salary.

The endorsement by Mr. Gates now could push the proposal further into the mainstream, given the level of support shown at the NGA meeting.

“You’re the ultimate example of why capitalism works,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, said Mr. Gates’ ideas about teacher effectiveness made a lot of sense. “All of our students have to read at a grade-appropriate level,” she said. She noted that Oklahoma has embraced a pay-for-performance model, and she said that “social promotion” of teachers needs to end.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, said that no actual standard of what constitutes teacher effectiveness exists, however.

Now that most states have adopted the work of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which was spearheaded by the NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Gov. Perdue suggested that designing a national teacher-evaluation system would be the NGA’s next logical step.

While Mr. Gates refrained from offering a specific effectiveness model, he agreed that devising one should be a priority. “Your schools of education aren’t motivated to do anything spectacular, because they don’t have a measure that would tell them ‘doing this is good; doing this is not good,’ ” he said.

If any of the governors disagreed with Mr. Gates, they didn’t take the opportunity to debate him. The bipartisan group of 19 governors seemed largely supportive, suggesting that the NGA would weigh his proposals when the governors meet this summer in Utah.

A version of this article appeared in the March 09, 2011 edition of Education Week as Gates to NGA: Tie Class Sizes to Teachers’ Skill

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