Gates to Sensible Education Solutions
The end of the school year is often a heart breaker. Friends are parting, teachers are saying goodbye to students they have instructed for nearly 10 months. Worst of all, during this era of budget cuts and hard decisions, excellent, motivated, young teachers are being fired. This is usually the sad fallout of contracts which have been "collectively bargained" by teacher's unions. These contracts protect "tenured" positions, regardless of the quality of the teachers. New teachers, no matter how skilled, effective, and beloved, have no such protections and are usually the first to be terminated.
This practice is especially unpalatable in those school districts whose union rules make it nearly impossible to dismiss poorly-performing teachers. Recent controversies in states such as Wisconsin and New Jersey have highlighted conflicts between unions rules and the financial viability of state and local governments. The bigger disputation may lie in the conflict between "tenure" requirements and common sense.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has drawn the ire of some teacher's unions because they have heavily financed an education-reform group called Teach Plus, which addresses tenure-based employment, as well as other contentious issues. The Gates foundation has advanced a philosophy of education excellence by overhauling and revitalizing old or failing schools, and opening new ones, especially charter schools. The Gates Foundation thrust with Teach Plus aims more directly at changing the nation's teaching policies. Teacher's unions oppose such efforts because they bring to light seniority rules and other practices which nearly guarantee life-long jobs, and generous pensions to even the least skilled, most apathetic teachers.
A group of teachers in Indianapolis recently lobbied successfully to change tenure-based retention and lay-off rules at the state level, and, instead, base educational hiring and firing practices upon a merit system. Many of these teachers were members of the Teach Plus organization. The role of the Gates Foundation in this, and similar efforts, is not small. Bill Gates works to create advocacy groups pushing for systemic change. In 2009 the Gates Foundation contributed $373 million to education-reform enterprises. These activities often begin at the school district level.Bill Gates' influence in changing the rules which have allowed teacher's unions to hold onto power for decades has made him unpopular in the minds of some.Continued on the next page