WASHINGTON—We agree with Bill Gates that we must keep a keen focus on adequately investing in public education, but some of what he proposes would redirect existing funds in a way that will worsen instructional conditions for students and teachers, and result in decreasing teacher salaries.
Teachers across the country, including in Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Hillsborough County, Fla., have restructured their salary schedules through collective bargaining to improve teaching and learning. They, and many others, are designing the compensation incentives that Gates proposes. But to pay for such incentives, Gates appears to be proposing to cut the predictable salary increases and benefits that teachers count on for themselves and their families. He also is proposing to change something parents count on—small class sizes to differentiate instruction, which is a priority second only to parents’ concerns about safety. There’s a mountain of solid research and common sense showing smaller class sizes benefit students. I doubt you could find one parent or teacher who would trade a class of 20 for a class of 40.
We respect that choices have to be made in these tough economic times, and there’s one right in front of us. If teachers were treated and supported better, we could reverse the untenable and expensive teacher-turnover rate, which costs school systems about $7 billion annually. The school districts that have a strong culture of collaboration, and provide teachers with the support and resources they need, have both low teacher attrition and high student performance. That’s both cost-effective and educationally sound.