Teaching Profession

Hot Story: Gates, Ravitch, Seniority Pay, and Lawn Mowers

By Anthony Rebora — November 30, 2010 1 min read

In his latest column, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter highlights—quite uncritically—Bill Gates’ campaign to curb teacher seniority pay, which appears to offend the Microsoft founder’s business sense: “Is there any other part of of the economy where someone says, ‘Hey, how long have you been mowing lawns? ... I want to pay you more for that reason alone.”

In a lengthy response, NYC teacher the Reflective Educator (in addition to taking offense at the lawn-mowing analogy) argues that removing seniority, nice as it may sound, would only diminish the overall quality of education at many schools by heightening the already growing emphasis on drill-and-kill instruction:

Teaching experience matters, but it doesn't matter as much if you're only drilling for a test. It takes significantly less skill in the classroom to ensure your kids memorize than it does to teach them how to read, write, speak, and listen critically about tough issues. Therefore, if your goal is to improve test scores, you might do just as well with a third-year teacher as you would with a fifteen-year veteran.

Meanwhile, Diane Ravitch, whom Alter calls the “Whittaker Chambers of school reform” and whom Gates indirectly accuses of “sticking up for decline,” responds bitingly in an e-mail to Valerie Strauss. A sample:

I wonder why a man of his vast wealth spends so much time trying to figuring out how to cut teachers' pay. Does he truly believe that our nation's schools will get better if we have teachers with less education and less experience? Who does he listen to? He needs to get himself a smarter set of advisers.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.