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Is Melinda Gates Right

Ohanian Comment: I admit when I heard Melinda Gates start talking about teacher effectivness on PBS, I took my cat outside for a walk.

Surely the amount of air time given to Melinda Gates (valedictorian from Ursuline Academy of Dallas, B.A. from Duke in computer science, and M.A. from Fuqua School of Business) to pontificate on education policy and the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a major underwriter of the PBS Newshour is just coincidental.

Oh, Melinda Gates also holds an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge, granted, along with one for Bill, in 2009. In 2000, they the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $210 million to the Gates Cambridge Trust.

Money talks.

I suppose if you head a foundation with an endowment of $33.5 billion, you can pontificate on anything you want.



Certainly the Gates Foundation is engaged in teacher effectiveness big time: Measures of Effective Teaching project (MET) has sent buckets of money to these sites:

  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) Public Schools

  • Denver Public Schools

  • Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Schools

  • Memphis (Tenn.) City Schools

  • New York City Public Schools

  • Dallas Independent School District

  • Pittsburgh Public Schools

  • Look up "effective teaching" on Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grants. Here's one of the awards.

    To: Clemson University
    Purpose: to work with members of the Measuring Effective Teachers (MET) team to measure engagement physiologically with Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) bracelets which will determine the feasibility and utility of using such devices regularly in schools with students and teachers [emphasis added]
    Amount: $498,055

    Think about that!!

    NOTE: The emerging field of neuromarketing relies on biometric technologies to determine a participant̢۪s emotional and cognitive response to certain stimuli. In the case of neuromarketing, this stimulus is anything from a television commercial to an internet advertisement. There are six primary biometrics used to gather data on physiological responses to marketing...

    So Gates wants to apply it to effective teaching.

    The Affectiva Q Sensor is a wearable, wireless biosensor that measures emotional arousal via skin conductance, a form of electrodermal activity that grows higher during states such as excitement, attention or anxiety and lower during states such as boredom or relaxation.

    Here's a paper on the topic: MobiCon: Mobile Context Monitoring Platform for Sensor-Rich Dynamic Environments

    Smart mobile devices will be the central gateway for
    personal services in the emerging pervasive environment
    (Figure 1). They will enable a lot of personal context-aware
    applications, forming a personal sensor network with a
    number of diverse sensor devices, placed over human body
    or in surrounding spaces. Diverse sensors act as the useful
    tool for the applications to acquire users' contexts1 , i.e.,
    current status of an individual or surrounding situation that
    she/he faces into, without their intervention [42].

    Wikipedia says neuromarketing is a new field of marketing research that studies consumers' sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli. So the Gates Foundation joins Google, CBS, and Frito-Lay in looking for ways to measure consumer reactions to products.

    Put a Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) bracelet on every kid in the class and you can measure teacher effectiveness in keeping their attention.

    Maybe the next step is for the bracelet to zap them with electric current when their attention wanders.

    And then the next generation will be the Galvanic Skin Response bracelet on every teacher--to zap her when she veers from the Common Core curriculum. Then. . . bring on the drones to eliminate such teachers.

    by Diane Ravitch

    When Melinda Gates was interviewed on the PBS Newshour on June 4, she said something that surprised me. I will give you the full quote, which I copied from the Newshour website. I was surprised because I never heard that claim, I don't know whose research she was citing or if it even exists. I checked with Linda Darling-Hammond, who seems to have read every study of teacher effectiveness, and asked her if she knew the source; she said she had never heard this claim and had no idea where Melinda Gates got this information, if it exists.

    So, I ask my readers, and I ask you to ask your friends in the academic world, do you have a citation for this statement?

    MELINDA GATES: Well, we know from good research that the fundamental thing that makes a difference in the classroom is an effective teacher. An effective teacher in front of a student, that student will make three times the gains in a school year that another student will make.

    And so what the foundation feels our job is to do is to make sure we create a system where we can have an effective teacher in every single classroom across the United States.

    The second claim is that the foundation has the knowledge to "create a system where we can have an effective teacher in every single classroom across the United States." Someday, someone might ask whether they have achieved that goal. Right now, I would be content if the Gates Foundation were able to point to a single district in the U.S. where they had achieved that goal.

    — Diane Ravitch with notes by Susan Ohanian





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