Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates wrote an Op-Ed in WaPo. Check it out and meet me back here. Bring the sentence or paragraph that most sticks out to you. Go.

Here's what stuck out for me:

In one class, we observed three teachers leading small groups of students in integrated bio-engineering and world health exercises. By urging students to ask penetrating questions about the diseases of the developing world, the teachers were simultaneously helping them master the basics of biology. The lesson plan bore no relation to the passive lecture format that prevails in many schools.

Now I'm an unabashed Gates Foundation fan. Not just cuz they flew me to LA the other week for an interesting conference. No. Remember their $1 billion effort to fix high schools? Well they said: "Um, yeah, so that didn't work." Who does that? That's huge.

Second, I think they're on the right track with this initiative. I mentioned Tom Kane's work in my very first blog. Dude is a genius. Not just cuz he did a randomized study of Boston charters that helped change the law blocking new ones! No. He will learn some stuff. They were smart to hire him away from Harvard.

With that said, this freaks me out a bit. Gates describes a "wow" moment in KIPP teaching. But it's almost a fantastically unrepresentative moment of KIPP teaching.

Typical No Excuses school teaching is generally almost exactly the opposite: not project-based, not highly integrative, not three teachers at once, not super-connected to the real world.

We call a lesson like that the 5-star meal. This lesson is VERY rare. Even Especially at KIPP and other No Excuses schools (like ours).

I know it's just an Op-Ed. And just one example. And it's appealing. And maybe she didn't even write it, a press person did. But I hope Melinda Gates doesn't actually believe that's what their effort to reform teaching is all about. The future ain't gonna be lessons like that.

The type of teaching that KIPP has shown works for kids is not fancy. It's "simply" good execution of MEAT AND POTATOES lessons. The proof of that is the various databases of KIPP lesson plans.

If I were Ms. Gates (hey we're both Blue Devils, I believe), I'd have written:

Bill and I have learned a few things from KIPP teachers.

1. First, KIPP often bypasses the nation's Ed Schools, often searching for anything besides education majors. Why? The beliefs taught sometimes fundamentally conflict with those of KIPP.

2. Second, KIPP gets each individual teacher to sacrifice his or her preferred way of managing a classroom, so all teachers row in the same direction.

The result is a school culture where kids are often alert, sitting up, and working hard.

3. Third, KIPP teachers mostly teach meat-and-potatoes lessons. But they sweat obsess over scores of little things. Good Aim. Exit ticket to measure which kids learned what. Ratio (maximizing the work that kids do, reducing the teacher talk).

4. Fourth: while a typical KIPP school has a few superstar teachers, most would characterize themselves as "solid" (and most are 27 or younger). A "solid" teacher in a system like KIPP's can generate really big learning gains.

We don't need an All Star team of teachers to close this pernicious Achievement Gap. As Ann S told me recently, we need a few great teachers and a bunch of good ones.