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Education The Almighty Buck

A Gates Foundation Education Initiative Fizzles 459

Posted by kdawson
from the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time dept.
theodp writes "Three years ago, Sarah-Palin-bogeyman William Ayers published a paper questioning the direction the small school movement was taking (PDF) with the involvement of would-be education reformers like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And now, after $2 billion in grants, Bill Gates concedes that in most cases his foundation's efforts in that area fell short. 'Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students' achievement in any significant way,' said Gates. Bill does cite High Tech High as one of the few success stories, but even there has to limit his atta-boys to the San Diego branch — the Gates-backed Silicon Valley High Tech High closed its doors abruptly due to financial woes (concerns about the sustainability of Gates-initiated small schools were voiced in 2005). Not surprisingly, some parents are upset about the capital that school districts wasted following Bill's lead."
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A Gates Foundation Education Initiative Fizzles

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  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:21AM (#26693097)
    ...and say that nothing that Microsoft contributes to schools facilitates education, but that would be unfair. Gates is not the first, and will not be the last, businessman to try to give money to schools to encourage them down a path that he supports. I am sure they all mean well - but education is too big and complicated, and depends too much on local factors, to benefit from this kind of investment. It's been said that the only thing that businessmen should do is to take a leaf out of Carnegie's book and donate libraries. Not a bad place to start, especially if you are big enough to realise that you will profoundly disagree with some of those books, and that is actually a good thing.
    • by canUbeleiveIT (787307) * on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:28AM (#26693153)
      I am sure they all mean well - but education is too big and complicated, and depends too much on local factors, to benefit from this kind of investment.

      I'm not an educator but it seems to me that we're all in search of a process. Maybe outcomes are less of a product of the system that is used and more a result of the skill and effort level of the educators and parents in question.

      Not that I have much experience with the subject; merely an uninformed opinion...
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:33AM (#26693207)

        Not that I have much experience with the subject; merely an uninformed opinion...

        Don't feel bad. Most school boards have the same problem....

      • by stewbacca (1033764) on Monday February 02, 2009 @10:09AM (#26693607)
        The process you are seeking is making parents accountable and making sure their children actually go to school.
        • by mabhatter654 (561290) on Monday February 02, 2009 @11:20AM (#26694443)

          By the time kids are 12 or so they are able to think for themselves a little bit. At that point it's up to schools to "win" students over to their own education. The idea that you "have to" go to school doesn't fly..

          "You can lead a horse to water.." applies here when the quality of the "water" is really bad.

        • by Jedi Alec (258881) on Monday February 02, 2009 @11:26AM (#26694521)

          The process you are seeking is making parents accountable and making sure their children actually go to school.

          How about, while we're at it, we stop telling the little brats and their brats about how special they all are and instead start sending the message that it takes hard work and dedication to amount to anything in this world?

          No ma'am, your little Jimmy really only has himself to blame for that F. So unless you think a future where he spends his time shining my shoes is a good idea, how about you ground his disobedient little ass for a week till he starts doing his homework?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hvm2hvm (1208954)
          Yes, it's time parents take responsibility for their kids and the kids take (some) responsibility for their actions. You can't expect the government to solve all your the problems. Or if you want that, don't expect any freedom or right to make a fuss about the government being unfair when they do this or that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Metasquares (555685)

        Sort of. The problem is that there is no one process that will work well for everyone (that would be the holy grail of education), but if you can:

        a. Devise a process that works for a certain type of learner.
        b. Enroll only the people whom that process will actually benefit.

        Then you can accelerate learning. Doing so is quite a challenge, however, and is nigh impossible in a public school system that mixes the entire population into one classroom and proposes a uniform style of instruction for everyone.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Ok, at what part of the process did someone come up with the plan to pass people for just showing up? I'm a little biased against public schools, but come on, this makes me think that there is no way Gates could have done worse.

        Why Easy Grading Is Good for Your Career [washingtonpost.com]

        washingtonpost.com â" New Jersey high school teacher
        Peter Hibbard flunked 55 percent of the students in his regular biology class
        the year before he retired. There were no failures in his honors classes, he
        said, but many of his regular stu

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by afidel (530433)
        result of the skill and effort level of the educators and parents in question.

        This is the number one reason that education reform fails to make any meaningful inroads in a short period of time, if the parents are the product of a failed school system then they will be unable/unwilling to put a concerted effort into helping in their childrens education. Without the full involvement of the parents no education system will be successful for even the majority of students let alone all students.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Having worked with a small non-profit in this regard, I agree with you. Education can't be fixed with broad brush strokes -- it can only be fixed at the local level, one community at a time and one school at a time. It starts with analyzing the education requirements in the community. Throwing money at a problem doesn't fix anything: You have to have a real, sustainable plan that's customized to the community's needs.

      The biggest part of the problem isn't money, it's people. It's finding and attracting

      • by zappepcs (820751) on Monday February 02, 2009 @10:10AM (#26693625) Journal

        Are you trying to say that setting school curriculum and teaching goals is not best done at the federal level? You are unpatriotic and anti-American. I'd call you more words too, if they had taught us more words at school. People like you shouldn't even be here. There is no room here for original thinking, or people who are taking responsibility for themselves. You need to get with the program or GTFO! It's people like you who abuse the gift of federally mandated high fructose corn syrup snacks for our children. If you don't stop spreading your filth and down-right sacrilege, our children (god's gift to us) will end up being free thinking hippie types who don't support our troops.

    • by arpad1 (458649) on Monday February 02, 2009 @10:08AM (#26693589)

      No, education isn't that big or that complicated.

      We've made it big and complicated but the evidence is all around that it needn't be.

      There used to be little, red schoolhouses all over the place and their modern descendants, charter schools, are also all over the place. Neither one needed/needs a school district with its inevitable central administration bureaucracy and both had/have to concern themselves with teacher competence since parents can don't have to incur the expense of changing their residence if they're not happy with the school.

      Gates almost got it right with his small school idea but the problem isn't the size of the school so much as it is the lack of choices open to parents. A lot of small schools for parents to choose among would mean a lot of schools that live and die by parental satisfaction. Since parents are the only group that can legitimately claim to be interested primarily in getting kids a decent education that makes the concerns of the parents the concerns of the schools.

      In a school district the concerns of the parents may, or may not be, of any interest to the professionals because they don't have to care.

      • by bockelboy (824282) on Monday February 02, 2009 @11:11AM (#26694335)

        Do you have any friends who are teachers?

        Turns out, there's a *lot* of parents who either don't give two shits about their kids' education or really would like to participate, but happen to be working multiple jobs.

        Parents are some of the *worst* folks to deal with when it comes to their children's education: they find it hard to believe that their little Johnny doesn't deserve an A because he was up in his room studying *all night long*. I know a few who would call up their children's college professors because their dumbass kids didn't do any work, demanding to know why the professor didn't give them an A / wipe their ass / whatever the parent wants.

        I know of parents who don't want exit exams because they knew their kids couldn't pass them. A system which is based on the guidance of the parents would be the worst in the world -- it would give incentive to making parents happy, and the way to do that is give good grades to every dumbass which passed through its doors.

      • by LatencyKills (1213908) on Monday February 02, 2009 @12:28PM (#26695413)
        I'm of the belief that modern schools fail for two reasons. 1) Uninvolved parents. You can't learn math in 3 - 45 minute sessions a week (or at least most people can't). You need homework, and it's not as much fun as the Xbox 360. Kids in home where parents encourage learning and demand a level of studying will learn almost regardless of the quality of the school they attend. 2) Schools are unable to get rid of disruptive students, and believe me as a guy who taught high school for awhile, one disruptive kid can distract 30 others who are happy to learn. When I was in high school we had one of those - he got punted to some remedial school somewhere, I don't even know where, but he was gone. Good luck managing that one today. Oh, and take a completely uninvolved parent and tell them that there kid is disruptive and being sent to a remedial class, and you'll very quickly see just how much that uninvolved parent will climb up your ass to protect their snowflake.

        Oh, and schools/teachers/administrators/politicians can't/won't do anything to change either one.
      • by mshannon78660 (1030880) on Monday February 02, 2009 @01:01PM (#26695853)
        Wow - I think you've got your history very mixed up there. Those little red schoolhouses were few and far between. You didn't choose which one to send your kids to based on their performance - you hoped there was one close enough to send your kids to. And there would be ONE that was close enough. Mostly, those one room schoolhouses were successful because they weren't trying to do nearly as much as schools are asked to do today. There were no extra-curricular activities, no football teams, cheerleading squads, chess clubs. There were generally no art classes, and usually no music classes - if it was a city school, and the parents were fairly well off, there might be a piano. They did not teach calculus, or chemistry. And, depending on exactly what period we're talking about, there might absolutely be a school district consolidating some operations for multiple schools in an area. But the real reason those schools were successful is that they didn't have to educate everyone. They could expel troublemakers, and those who weren't interested in being educated could generally leave school when they had had enough (even after compulsory attendance was introduced, it was often possible to get exemptions, at least if you lived on a farm). Nothing against charter schools, but they are a different concept, with a different agenda, goals, and means of acheiving those goals, than the old one room schoolhouse.
      • by b4upoo (166390) on Monday February 02, 2009 @01:24PM (#26696243)

        Good Lord,
                    Please keep the parents isolated from the educational system. They are the problem.
                    If you want the solution it is to "DEMAND EXCELLENCE". Let kids know that they will either fly high or sweat in poverty in a coal mine. Be more than willing to flunk them out and more than willing to throw them out for bad behavior. Toss the failures in the front lines during war or keep them in starvation jobs. It worked forever.

        • by Slashdot Parent (995749) on Monday February 02, 2009 @03:27PM (#26698003)

          Please keep the parents isolated from the educational system. They are the problem.

          This is absurd.

          A child's parents are his single, biggest predictor of academic success. Don't believe me? Try this little thought experiment:

          1. Picture the best-performing school in your immediate area.
          2. Picture the worst-performing school in your immediate area.
          3. Now, consider what would happen if you were to wave a magic wand and switch the two schools. That means the physical building, the contents, the teachers, the administrators, the budgets--everything but the students.

          How long do you think it would take for the students that used to attend the worst school, but now attend the best school, to eclipse their best school to worst school student counterparts?

          1 year? 5 years? 12 years? 20 years? Ever?

          I'm sorry to say, but it's not the teachers who make the school. It's the students. And who makes the students?

          There really isn't a lot a teacher can do to get my kids to perform. After all, a teacher will only see them for 1 hour per day, whereas I have had them their entire lives. Teachers love to bitch about parents, but the fact is, teachers can't accomplish anything without the parents. Why do you think my kid is acing your class? Because you are a brilliant teacher? Or because I taught them to speak, read, and write in 2 languages at age 3?

          Teachers have very little control over education outcomes--A fact that they are quick to trumpet when a student comes from a wretched home life, but are slow to admit when a student arrives well-prepared to perform.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by westlake (615356)
        There used to be little, red schoolhouses all over the place and their modern descendants, charter schools, are also all over the place. Neither one needed/needs a school district with its inevitable central administration bureaucracy

        There were little red school house districts, of course - call them "townships," if you like or cities.

        The geek is never strong on history.

        New York state began funding public schools in 1795.

        By the mid 1850s you have an easily recognizable system of state supervision. New Yo [nysed.gov]

    • You know, even though I am a Microsoft basher I must say that at least Gates is big enough to realize that he was wrong/made a mistake. I'm glad he didn't let ideology blind him to reality unlike the previous administration. Or maybe that was just stupidity.

      He is one of the multi-billionaires who is spending a large part of his fortune actually trying to make a (BIG) difference (Carlos Slim are you listening?). (I realize there are some who take a much more cynical view towards his contributions, sorry I

  • What? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:21AM (#26693099)

    What does Sarah Palin have to do with anything? What the fuck is even the point? Protip: The election ended 3 months ago.

    Shit like that really makes the site look bad.

    • No it doesn't. It makes theodp look bad.

      Anybody who thinks it makes the site look bad is just looking for an excuse to be offended.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        No it doesn't. It makes theodp look bad.

        It doesn't even do that.

        Not everyone is a news junkie and not everyone is going to remember who Bill Ayers is, as the last time he was a regular topic of discussion in the proess in October of last year, nearly 4 months ago. Theodp was simply trying to remind the reader of who Bill Ayers and why he was noteworthy in the news.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jargon82 (996613)
          If we need to be reminded, is he really that noteworthy? ;)
        • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

          by operagost (62405) on Monday February 02, 2009 @12:17PM (#26695269) Homepage Journal
          He's noteworthy because he was the member of a group that firebombed a judge's house, not because Sarah Palin allegedly thinks he's the "bogeyman".
        • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Trailer Trash (60756) on Monday February 02, 2009 @12:23PM (#26695349) Homepage

          It doesn't even do that.

          Not everyone is a news junkie and not everyone is going to remember who Bill Ayers is, as the last time he was a regular topic of discussion in the proess in October of last year, nearly 4 months ago. Theodp was simply trying to remind the reader of who Bill Ayers and why he was noteworthy in the news.

          If he was trying to remind the reader of who Bill Ayers is, he would have used the term "domestic terrorist" instead of invoking Sarah Palin. He's trying to head off any reasonable discussion of Ayers by acting like Ayers is a normal guy that that old meany Sarah Palin was using as a punching bag.

          Ayers is an unrepentant terrorist. Perhaps many of you are too young to remember the Weather Underground, I barely remember as I'm just 40. But they set bombs, killed people, and only through their gross incompetence didn't kill many more. One of their foiled plans would have set a barrage of roofing nails into a black restaurant at lunch time.

          Not to sound like a snob, but gentlemen do not associate with Ayers and his ilk.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:23AM (#26693111) Journal
    ...to ask a drop out for advice to government on how to spend education dollars?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by advocate_one (662832)
      did he drop out, or did he jump before he got kicked out?
    • by Schiphol (1168667) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:30AM (#26693169)
      Many people (I venture to say that the majority, in the US) think that business success is a clear sign of overall excellence. A extreme version of this line of thought is Calvin's doctrine that worldly success was a clear sign of being pre-destined for salvation. Mutatis mutandis with Microsoft and being the saviour of higher education.

      There is no justification for Calvin's version of this idea, neither is there for most of its contemporary counterparts.
      • by canUbeleiveIT (787307) * on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:44AM (#26693325)
        Many people (I venture to say that the majority, in the US) think that business success is a clear sign of overall excellence.

        It seems to me that business or political success is *usually* more a result of some type animal cunning with a heapin' helpin' of ruthlessness thrown in for good measure.

        As for Calvinists, they always seemed to me like the people that Jesus warned us about [biblegateway.com] instead of the ones he advocated becoming.
        • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday February 02, 2009 @11:07AM (#26694275) Homepage

          It seems to me that business or political success is *usually* more a result of some type animal cunning with a heapin' helpin' of ruthlessness thrown in for good measure.

          Let's not forget luck and circumstances. I'm relatively successful (not "Bill Gates" successful, but well above the average income) and I would suppose than many Slashdotters are. It's very tempting to believe that you're there because of some kind of innate superiority, and so it's easy to underestimate the value of dumb luck. Sometimes the difference between a successful person and a failure is "what they choose to do with the opportunities in front of them," but sometimes it really is just "the opportunities in front of them."

          But even ignoring that, I don't see any reason to believe that "business success" is any kind of reflection of "overall excellence". Perhaps "business excellence", but successful use of one ability doesn't mean anything about excellence in other fields. Steven Hawking is a brilliant physicist, but I wouldn't want him as my surgeon.

          Microsoft itself is great at leveraging success in one part of the computer/electronics market to push other related products, but perhaps not the most fantastic at building the actual products-- and those are just two things within the scope of "business".

          Then, on top of that, I would side with you and point out that the skills to acquire success in business and finances are often (a) immense drive and ambition; (b) good connections and/or the ability to acquire good connections (c) animal cunning and political savvy; (d) ruthlessness and extreme moral flexibility. Having those qualities can be immensely useful, but they aren't necessarily the traits that you want exposed an masse in the population at large.

  • I stopped reading... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Silverhammer (13644) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:26AM (#26693131)

    ...after the following sentence in the first paragraph:

    [...] our vision of small schools was closely connected with issues of social justice, equity, and community.

    And you wonder why conservatives don't like Ayers?

    • by Notquitecajun (1073646) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:29AM (#26693159)
      No, we don't like Ayers because he tried to BOMB GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS. Also, he's a communist.
      • For what it's worth, this is why the moderation, and perhaps meta-moderation system is so annoying.

        The post is right (Ayers did bomb buildings) and may be wrong (I don't know about the communism part as of this minute). But it's just not a troll. At least not by any definition of "troll" I may understand.

      • by LittleLebowskiUrbanA (619114) on Monday February 02, 2009 @11:17AM (#26694393) Homepage Journal

        Parent is not a troll. He did bomb gov't buildings, his organization did kill an innocent cop, he was planning to bomb a dance at a military base, he did dedicate a book to RFK's killer Sirhan Sirhan.

            Not sure if he's a communist but he did some reprehensible things that cannot be forgiven nor should they be forgotten.

    • Why would that make you stop reading?
    • [...] our vision of small schools was closely connected with issues of social justice, equity, and community.

      That's a terrible foundation for any school curriculum. How about leaving politics out of education and teaching kids what they need to know to compete on a global scale.

  • On the other hand (Score:5, Informative)

    by Petey_Alchemist (711672) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:29AM (#26693161) Homepage
    Schools like Bronx Lab [nyc.gov], which are primarily funded by the Gates foundation, have been unbelievably successful. The SSI split a massive NYPS apart and chopped the building into sections, including this one, run by Mark Sternberg of Harvard Business.

    The first high school class is graduating this year. Their high school graduation rate has gone from less than 10% under the old school to 96% in the new school, with all graduates going to college.

    There are a lot of factors here of course. But that's what I'm saying. It's far, far too premature (and simplistic, and utterly reductionist) to say "well, small schools work" and "small schools don't work." Some small schools work well. Some don't. Some are more or less educationally sustainable than others.

    But some Gates foundation schools have had dramatic success, and we should keep that in mind before we universally condemn that mode of education. Tagging OP as misleading here.

    • Trouble is, if a small number do extremely well and most do little or nothing under the Gates foundation plan, that suggests that the plan is deeply inadequate. All it really tells us is that certain failing schools have the seeds of success and others don't(and not enough do to make depending on them worthwhile).

      It is good that Bronx Lab, and its all too rare compatriots, had the chance to succeed; but the trouble is that, since they are so rare, it suggests that we either don't know why they succeeded w
    • by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:47AM (#26693345)

      What should be really obvious is that well run schools succeed and poorly run schools fail. What is a bit less obvious is that not every school can be well run in exactly the same way because the needs of the student body, community, and dare I say faculty (yes they have needs too!) differ from one school to another.

      Much time, money, and ink has been spent on trying to find the magic bullet that will "reinvent our concept of education." Funny thing is, non-educators are rarely able to make their ideas work by imposing reform from the top down. What that suggests to me is that A) perhaps schools are harder to run than they appear to be, since outside "reformers" are no better at it than "insiders"; B) maybe professional educators are not the problem after all since no one else seems to be able to consistently do their jobs better than they can; and C) centralized mass production of education via curriculum mandates may not be the way to go (since when that approach is applied broadly, it still succeeds only narrowly).

      Instead maybe it's time to look at schools one at a time and recognize that properly running a school is a management challenge like any other.

  • by Brad_McBad (1423863) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:30AM (#26693173)
    ...you can't fix education by throwing money at it.

    Perhaps you have to know what you're doing.
    • Or, maybe money is a necessary but not sufficient condition for good schools!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Brad_McBad (1423863)
        You don't *need* money, you need good teachers. Paying more for a bad ones who can slither their way through interview, know buzzwords and can use a digital whiteboard won't fix it.

        I went to a State school in the UK. Half of the kids were rough as anything, and the other half weren't. There were blackboards ('chalkboards' in the colonial parlance) and textbooks.
        This is about ten years ago.

        Not a rich school.
        The teachers were good, so those who wanted to learn ended up going to a University of their ch
        • This is ridiculous. If you don't need good money, then I have a great idea for educational reform. Take all the money from the rich, suburban, white flight schools, and redistribute it to the poor inner city and rural schools. After all, if money is totally fungible and unnecessary for a good educational experience, than it shouldn't matter whether one school can afford computer labs and the other can't afford coloring books, right?
          • It's the teachers that make the difference. Go back fifty / sixty years and there's no difference between the technology, since it wasn't there. Technology is more or less irrelevant in schools (Unless you are specifically learning about the technology).

            Money would be irrelevant if America wasn't so broken that all the decent teachers can think is "100k a year" instead of teaching some people who could _really_ use their skills.
          • Tada. You've uncovered the secret of life. Poor kids live in poor houses which generate very low levels of property taxes, so the schools in that district have less money. How is that the "rich, suburban, white flight" schools' fault? We should punish the suburban parents for applying themselves, getting good jobs and buying nice houses in areas that have nice schools so their kids can get a good education? How does that help poor schools? That sounds more like dumbing everything down just to bring a
  • by Aranykai (1053846) <[slgonser] [at] [gmail.com]> on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:31AM (#26693181)

    "William Ayers writes"

    This kind of shit just bothers me. You know what? Anyone can claim something will fail and they have a 50/50 chance of being correct. Ok, so the guy is so brilliant, why isn't he the one with the multi-million dollar program trying to improve the school system?

    Please, this isnt news...

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:48AM (#26693359) Journal
      You don't have to like the guy; but you could at least read TFA. Ayers wrote in considerably greater detail than "OMG Gates will fail". He laid out his issues with the approach, and his concerns about it. Also, he has been involved, for a fair few years now, with educational improvement programs.

      You don't have to approve; but knowing what you are talking about can't hurt.
    • by wisebabo (638845) on Monday February 02, 2009 @10:01AM (#26693515) Journal

      Boy talk about bad logic. Are you a reporter?

      Just because there are two (more?) possible outcomes to a given situation/argument doesn't mean there is a 50% chance each one will come to pass.

      Let me guess, you'd say "well evolution could be true or not true so there is a 50% chance that it's not true". Or maybe "global warming will either occur or not occur so there is a 50% chance it will not".

      I can guess where you stand on both of those issues.

    • Anyone can claim something will fail and they have a 50/50 chance of being correct.

      That's a real abuse of statistics. Are you saying that because there are two possibilities (i.e. "fail" or "succeed"), that there's a 50/50 chance of failure? It's like claiming that you have a 50/50 chance of winning the lottery because there are only two possibilities (i.e. "win" or "not win").

      Not that I think Ayers is some terrific guy, but he could be a lunatic and still be right.

      why isn't he the one with the multi-million dollar program trying to improve the school system?

      Because unlike Bill Gates, Ayers's destructive and immoral activities have not made him the richest man on Earth?

    • Anyone can claim something will fail and they have a 50/50 chance of being correct.

      Ok. Let's try this:

      The sun will fail sometime today. It's going to go out.

      Computers will fail to protect users from themselves, when they go to install Internet Antivirus Pro 2009.

      See how that works? Not exactly a 50/50 in either case. Otherwise, I make the first prediction for three days in a row, and it's then virtually guaranteed to be true.
      I make the second prediction once, and you'll never, ever see that 50% where it turns out false.

      Predictions are not just a shot in the dark. At least, they should

  • Skimming... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Notquitecajun (1073646) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:32AM (#26693185)
    Skimming through the articles, I saw LITTLE mention of just about the only thing that really works in education - parental involvement. We Americans are FAR too convinced that throwing money at education is bound to fix the problem, when we spend more than any other country per student and don't get half as good results.

    It's not about wealth, equality, social justice, or any of that. It's about parents who care enough to push their kids to do well in school.
    • Re:Skimming... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:55AM (#26693441) Homepage

      That's all well and good, but what, are you going to *make* parents get involved? How are you going to do that?

      Not that I disagree. Parental involvement is extremely important, and "throwing money at a problem" usually doesn't do much to solve that problem. On the other hand, I would contend that at least part of the problem is that schools in the US suck. They do, really.

      It's not simply the parents' fault or the teachers' fault, but it's a whole culture-wide thing where we have horrendously inconsistent ideas about what "education" is. Is it for job-training, cultural conditioning, feel-goodery, enlightenment, or what? For many people, it's just another arbitrary thing that you have to do.

      Hell, I was extremely interested in math and science and even philosophy when I was a teenager, and I was in a school system that was considered one of the best in the country. Still, I almost dropped out because schools-- at least the schools I went to-- position themselves against learning, against curiosity, and against discussion. It was all about authority and power, and someone who was genuinely interested in the topic rather than interested in the grades was a "problem" to them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Wonko the Sane (25252) *

        Hell, I was extremely interested in math and science and even philosophy when I was a teenager, and I was in a school system that was considered one of the best in the country. Still, I almost dropped out because schools-- at least the schools I went to-- position themselves against learning, against curiosity, and against discussion. It was all about authority and power, and someone who was genuinely interested in the topic rather than interested in the grades was a "problem" to them.

        The modern public scho

  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:32AM (#26693193)

    Take a couple million dollars and set a prize.

    $100,000 for the best grades.
    $50,000 for the second.
    $25,000 for the third position.
    $10,000 for ten more students.
    etc.

    Then, if you discover the grading system is completely flawed and tells more about the test passing skills than the knowledge... Well, you only spent a couple million bucks for a valuable knowledge.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by homer_s (799572)

      $100,000 for the best grades. $50,000 for the second. $25,000 for the third position. $10,000 for ten more students. etc.

      We do not have that system in India. Instead, we have a simple system where the parents make sure the kids learn.
      And if the parents do not like the schools, unlike America, they can change schools without any hassle.

  • by ActusReus (1162583) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:35AM (#26693225)
    ... can a guy intentionally making homemade explosives that killed people, who had a role in major riots, who detonated bombs in public parks, and who never really apologized for any of it get cast as the GOOD GUY against Bill Gates!

    Yeah, I voted against GOP last year too, in part because this was 40 years ago and and it was cheap for the Republicans to wait so late to bring it up. However, the fact that Ayers was criticized by some lousy political candidates doesn't that he deserves no criticism. This guy is a symptom of why the Left is a minority philosophy in the U.S., and can't win a Presidency without a major recession or impeachment just before the election.
    • I didn't read the article as Pro-Ayers, merely reporting that the guy was the author of the study in question.

      Also I read a lot of the allegations against Ayers during the election campaign, and the guy was obviously somewhat nutty and disingenuous in terms of how he described what he did, but I specifically have not heard any non-discredited allegation that he "intentionally made homemade explosives that killed people", unless you're misusing the term "intentionally" to just mean "he made explosives" ra

      • by Trailer Trash (60756) on Monday February 02, 2009 @10:07AM (#26693583) Homepage

        Also I read a lot of the allegations against Ayers during the election campaign, and the guy was obviously somewhat nutty and disingenuous in terms of how he described what he did, but I specifically have not heard any non-discredited allegation that he "intentionally made homemade explosives that killed people", unless you're misusing the term "intentionally" to just mean "he made explosives" rather than "that killed people". Indeed, I'm not even aware of a bomb he made that actually killed people, though bombs made by his collegues certainly did - Ayers' girlfriend Diana Oughton managed to make one, for instance. Unfortunately for Oughton, the victim of her bomb was herself.

        Ayers was the leader of the Weather Underground, and as such, he ordered the bomb-making. He did nothing himself, he always had idiots more than willing to do his dirty work. You might be confused because of the fact that he never went to jail, but that's because the FBI decided to break the law in pursuing him and the case against him was dropped. His famous line was "Guilty as hell, free as a bird."

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:39AM (#26693255)

    You see stuff like this happening all the time in the private sector. Notable guy buys stuff, everyone else jumps in and buys the same thing he does. Notable guy sells stuff or stops funding everyone else does the same.
    When will people realize that even Notable people are human, are prone to mistakes just like everyone else. So except for blindly following what they are doing you should more carefully examine what they are doing. If you disagree with it, then don't follow, if you do agree with it then follow.

    I am sorry there are no quick fixes in life. There is no Messiah who will make things all nice and easy (Even if you are Christian, Jesus actually made peoples lives more difficult then easier, forced them to think about ethics of religion vs just blindly following the rules). Sometimes people will get lucky and become successful quickly however for the most part hard work and dedication is the way.

    To improve education there is no quick fix, small schools large schools, high-tech schools low-tech schools... All these are one detail in a more complex subject. If you say swap all the kids from an over achieving schools with those in an underachieving schools with the same budget you will find the overachieving kids will still overachieve. As they have parents who are more willing to participate in the child's education, they understand the value of education.
    There is no quick fix for education you will need changes on all levels. Improved Parental involvement, Classes that help integrate other classes, ability to evaluate teachers and reward them for good performance, A grading system that rewards learning and allows mistakes as part of the learning process , not punishes the students for mistakes, Fair market pay for teachers with their skills (Pay Math and Science teachers as much as Engineers). And I know I am missing a much more.
    Just putting money in education doesn't fix the problem, if that was true New York State would have the best education in the world. But how you wisely use the money and and work on changing the culture.

  • by lionchild (581331) on Monday February 02, 2009 @09:51AM (#26693401) Journal

    In order for IT to succeed in small schools, there is one thing that is key to keep in mind: Technology, especially IT, is a TOOL for the classroom, it it not a be all and end all for making a class. If you do not have a use for a tool in the classroom, then it only gets in the way.

    You can be as forward thinking and as technologically advanced, laptop/netbook in ever child's hands, but if you don't have lessons to teach that make use of that tool, ti's just dead weight.

    In order to overcome this issue, you first have to have teachers and instructors in place who have a learning plan, lessons, and other means that will utilize technology, such as smart boards, 'clickers' and other items in their day-to-day lesson plans in transfering knowledge to children. If these teachers aren't trained, aren't educated with how to use these IT-tools in their classrooms, then we are indeed, just throwing away money.

  • I am hardly a fan of teacher's unions but I do have to question the efficacy of educational testing. We seem to have this notion that we can create an institution that can make children want to learn. Learning requires individual initiative and exploration and that is something that I think children are either born with, or not. All too often, success in our present testing regime really means, how well do children follow orders or behave in a group-like fashion. The present practice of various power g

  • obviously (Score:5, Funny)

    by speedtux (1307149) on Monday February 02, 2009 @10:25AM (#26693805)

    Obviously, Bill Gates is bringing the same skill and insight to his charitable efforts that made Windows what it is today.

  • by Tom (822)

    Thanks, editors! Finally an article that tells me just why I've always had trouble cheering for the Gates Foundation, in the face of all the good it does.

    Because Gates is a trial-and-error visionary. The only reason he's got so high credits among the general population is that his failures are generally forgotten, even though they by far outnumber his brilliant ideas.

    When people's lifes depend on that, and education is a vital part of that, it becomes more than a game.

    I'm still not sure it's totally bad - w

  • by ghostlibrary (450718) on Monday February 02, 2009 @10:27AM (#26693829) Homepage Journal

    What most impresses me, ignoring all the Ayers stuff, is that Mr. Gates was willing to admit publically that parts of his initiative failed, and retool it. There's a little whining (some schools 'did not take radical steps', etc), but overall it was pretty frank at saying "we need to change some of our approach". I wish more school districts would take that approach, rather than requiring you remove the school board before they'll change off a destined-for-doom plan.

  • Gate's article does mention that lot of the schools had increased attendance and graduation, but the goal of his project was to get college graduates and that is the basis of him saying it was a failure.
    Mr. Gates still has plans to continue funding schools based on the ones the schools that worked, he also is going to expanded based on those that worked. He also plans to spend money on studing teachers who were more effective then the norm and spread those best practices around.
    As for the Ayers article,
  • by LittleLebowskiUrbanA (619114) on Monday February 02, 2009 @10:28AM (#26693843) Homepage Journal

    Anyone who dedicates a book to Sirhan Sirhan is worth castigating and maybe stringing up in my book. Killing innocent cops and idolizing Sirhan Sirhan should be reprehensible in everybody's views but of course it isn't....

  • by lordsid (629982) on Monday February 02, 2009 @10:41AM (#26693985)

    IANAFOBG, but I do appreciate his initiative in attempting to help our school systems. It may not have worked out but we certainly know what doesn't work now.

    I would attribute the failure to something similar of lottery shock. When people win the lottery they feel the urge to make up for a lifetime of pent up consumerism. These school districts suddenly had a ton of money thrown at them to buy and use new technology. (i.e. See the 2nd and 3rd Matrix Movies) Unfortunately it wasn't a slow, gradual, introduction. Instead the district, teachers and student were overwhelmed with trying to implement a brand new way of learning and it failed outright. In itself this is a lesson in teaching.

    As an example look at laptops on a college campus. There is not doubt in any students mind how helpful their laptop can be during class. It can also be equally distracting. Now the reason why laptops work in college is because they were introduced at the rate the market would bare. There was a trickle down effect as laptops became more affordable and portable. If you went out and bought MacBook Air's for an entire class of freshman high school students I doubt you would see any positive side effects because the students would once again be overwhelmed and not know how to manage such a valuable asset. In my opinion high school teachers would end up spending a large amount of the first couple of years too heavily policing what the students were doing with their laptops. After this cultural issue is conquered I believe laptops (or tablets) would be a wonderful resource to high school students. The problem I for see is the school district not having the patience to wait out those first couple of years. Another option would be to introduce personal laptops at an earlier age to help gain more respect for them.

  • by WCMI92 (592436) on Monday February 02, 2009 @11:35AM (#26694653) Homepage

    This man was leading a group that bombed the US Capitol and the Pentagon. He's a terrorist, and has only a legal technicality to thank for the fact that he's alive much less running around free and publishing papers as a "professor".

    Indeed, the fact that Ayers IS employed in academia itself is far greater argument that the US educational system is broken beyond repair. Why is he bitching about Bill Gates? Even if you argue that his school projects are failing/have failed, at least Gates is using HIS OWN MONEY and not spending taxpayer money on failed government schools. IMHO, a true stalin-lefty like Ayers is probably harping on this more as a reason to promote government solutions to the problem with education (despite it being the main problem) over private ones.

  • by PMuse (320639) on Monday February 02, 2009 @12:02PM (#26695045)

    We all know /.'s opinion of Bill and his company, but let's take a moment to acknowledge that the Gates Foundation is a somewhat different animal. It has a track record of spending money on un-glamorous causes where there is big bang for the buck (e.g., malaria). Here, we see it checking the performance data and dropping a program that just wasn't working. Love 'em or hate 'em, that's the smart thing to do.

The meat is rotten, but the booze is holding out. Computer translation of "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

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