How Bill Gates Wasted $575 Million Dollars on Education

The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation had spent the last 10 years doing a $575 million dollars program in which the aim was improving teacher effectiveness and increasing student achievement. Conclusion after those 10 years and $575 million dollars? The program has completely failed.

How did the program look like, and what actually happened?

Basically, they Gates foundation decided to give money to three schools, which agreed to incorporate a new way of recruitment and hiring of new teachers, and awarding the ones who show good performance. They hoped that would increase teachers’ satisfaction with their jobs which would increase their effectiveness, meaning the students would perform better in schools.

None of those things happened. Here’s why:

The schooling system is based on seven false assumptions:

1) Every student is at the same level of knowledge as other students on their year

The school year has started and thus the lectures. The teacher starts lecturing expecting that all students are at the same level. That’s simply not the case. Some students retained the last years information from that particular subject better than other students. The reasons can be several: that subject interests them more, they generally retain information better, etc. That’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is that that assumption is false.

2) Everyone learns at the same pace.

Some students have a higher IQ than others. Other students learn some subject faster simply because it interests them more. There are students with learning disabilities. Some students have personal issues. The list goes on. This assumption is obviously false.

3) Children are interested in all subjects equally.

This is self explanatory. If Jane likes math she will study it more than her least favorite subject, let’s say history. In fact, she will study math to learn it but history just to pass it.

4) Children are robots. Outside influences don’t affect performance in school.

There’s this weird characteristic of the schooling system that school is like a special kind of universe and outside influences such as students’ emotional problems, family situation, students’ level of fitness and other factors don’t affect students’ performance in schools. This is simply false. Take any kid from a troubled family. How do you expect him to perform when every time he tries to study his mother starts screaming at his father because he’s hitting her with a beer bottle? That kid is doomed.

5) Teachers are robots. There are no differences between teachers in terms of quality and treatment of students.

This one is also obvious. How many tales of injustice have you heard when a teacher has mistreated a student? How many times have you heard that one teacher gives hard exams, but the other easy ones. As long as there are human teachers there will always be subjectivity.

6) If I explain something to you, you now know it.

This is the biggest misconception in the schooling system but the entire system rests on it!

Let’s say you don’t know how to code. You take a 1.5 hour lesson where there are 25+ students listening to a teacher. Tell me, will you be able to code perfectly after that 1.5 hour session? Will you be able to immediately apply the knowledge and code a program without making an error? Obviously not. You will code something, it would not work, you would debug it, and after several trials and errors you would have coded your first working program.

Then why does the school system expect the contrary from the students? Why do the teachers punish errors by giving the students Fs, instead of encouraging them to make errors because making errors and being wrong is an integral part of the learning process

7) Grades/exams measure knowledge

So, students are naturally interested in some subjects and are not in other subjects. What does happen when there comes an exam of a subject a student is not interested in? They will study for it, get a mark they’re satisfied with, it doesn’t matter if it’s A, B, C or D, they will then proceed to forget the information in the matter of days because it’s no longer relevant, they passed the exam.

So, if a student learns some information for an exam, passes it and then forgets what they learned, did they actually learned anything?

But the entire schooling system is based on this false assumption. The students are not learning useful knowledge in schools, they’re learning how to pass exams.

Now that we’ve established the faults in the schooling system, let’s look into the results of the study once again.

The school sites agreed to design new teacher-evaluation systems that incorporated classroom-observation rubrics and a measure of growth in student achievement.

Madeline Will, in the Education Week report article.

Basically, what this means is that they rated teachers by their performance. We’ve already established that teachers are not sole factors in students’ performance and by improving teachers you will not solve other problems such as 1), 2), 3), 4), 6) and 7). Thus, students’ performance wasn’t raised one bit.

They also agreed to offer individualized professional development based on teachers’ evaluation results, and to revamp recruitment, hiring, and placement.

Madeline Will, in the Education Week report article.

Again, all the focus is on improving teachers’ performance, ignoring all the problems we laid out.

Schools also implemented new career pathways for effective teachers and awarded teachers with bonuses for good performance.

Madeline Will, in the Education Week report article.

This sounds like it could have had a positive impact since teacher’ wages are quite low (at least in Croatia which is where I’m from) but the problem here is defining good performance. Again, the only thing that’s being proven when students perform well on an exam is that the teacher prepared their students for that particular exam well. But what about the retention of information? What about, the more important, retention of knowledge? Knowing a certain factoid is less important than being able to connect certain pieces of information to form new conclusions which will enable you to solve more complex problem.

Conclusion: Nothing will change in terms of students’ performance until we tailor the schools to fit the individual and not the other way around. Students shouldn’t be divided by years but by interest. Math lectures are for students who like math, history for history buffs etc. Second, stop grading performance. Do that and you’ve solved 50% of the problem. After we do this, we can talk about the rest.