Bill Gates and Randi Weingarten

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Today’s Newsweek article is yet another example of the AFT seeking to find common ground with people and organizations we don’t always agree with, but who share our goal of educating all kids for the knowledge economy. Bill Gates and Randi Weingarten don’t always agree and come at some of the reform issues from different places, but they have a good working relationship. They both believe that teachers’ voices and ideas must be part of any effort to transform our schools and improve student learning. And they both understand that collaboration, not conflict, is the best way to transform schools. That’s why the AFT has worked closely with the Gates Foundation on designing teacher evaluation and development programs in the Hillsborough and Pittsburgh school districts. The programs are guided by the recognition that responsibility for improving teacher quality and student learning cannot all be placed on the individual teacher. In Hillsborough and Pittsburgh, teachers, management, parents and the community are all working closely together and, yes through their differences, to transform their schools and give all their children the education they deserve.

But there are also differences between the AFT and the Gates Foundation, such as whether class size is important to student learning (we know smaller class size helps improve student test scores, and we believe smaller classes provide many other benefits that might not show up in test score gains, such as more individualized instruction and other measures that help student learning; Bill Gates is now advocating larger class size as a way to achieve cost savings in public schools) and how much standardized testing should count in a teacher’s evaluation (we believe test scores should be one factor along with other measures; the Gates Foundation would place a higher degree of emphasis on test scores when it comes to teacher evaluations). But where we disagree, we do so respectfully.

And when we have a disagreement on facts, as we do on some of the points Bill Gates used in the Newsweek article, we think it’s important to point them out.

Bill Gates said that the United States spends more on teacher salaries than other leading nations around the world. According to 2010 OECD data, the United States is in the middle of the pack on teacher pay, both at the beginning of a teacher's career and after she has been in the classroom for at least 15 years. And many of these leading countries pay for retirement and health benefits for all their citizens, not just teachers. Based on these data, it is clear that U.S. teachers earn less than educators in other leading countries around the world—and other research shows the earnings gap between teachers and comparable professions at home is growing over time.

Our disagreement over these facts and other policies is important, but it should not impede us from moving forward to work together to transform our schools. This journey will not be easy. Educating all children regardless of Zip code, family circumstances or socio-economic status is a complicated enterprise. But we owe it to our children and the future economic health and progress of America to get it right

December 20, 2010