Say ‘no’ to Gates

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The Jan. 17 editorial, “Top-Grade: Pittsburgh Needs A High Standard For Teachers,” references the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant and Mayor Bill Peduto’s intervention in a dispute between the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. I believe that after investigating, Mr. Peduto will use his leadership to encourage our school board to end the relationship with the foundation.

Many of the educational reforms promoted by Gates were based on a business model, now acknowledged as failed, called stacked level rankings, which forced managers to quantify employees and place them on a bell curve. When Microsoft axed this evaluation system in November, a cursory look at national business publications found these terms: “pitting employees against one another,” “employees feeling helpless,” “encouraged people to backstab their co-workers,” “most destructive process inside the software giant” and promoting “cannibalistic culture.” Does this reflect our values? Is this a system that will support our students? Microsoft is returning to more frequent and qualitative employee evaluations. Shouldn’t we do the same?

A small example of how this system hurts kids: Students in our school only have art each sixth school day. This week and next, art students at two grade levels need to go to our one computer lab, losing precious time for creativity, to take a written test about art. Is this how you would have wanted your own art teacher evaluated?

There are many issues related to our evaluation system, the constantly changing system of implementation, poor statistical basis for decision making, etc., but the larger issue, the one I think Mayor Peduto will come to understand when he investigates, is: How do we create the political will here in Pittsburgh to say no to the remaining Gates funds?

Squirrel Hill
The writer is a Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher.

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