Gary Rubinstein—high school
math teacher, author, blogger, reformer of TFA–has been writing letters to reformers he knows–and sometimes getting a reply. Now he is writing letters to reformers he doesn’t know and inevitably he must write to Bill Gates.
Gary is civil, polite, and candid. He patiently explains to Bill that the “reforms” he has underwritten have failed. He likens the malfunctions of “reform” to buggy software. He writes as one computer programmer to another.
“Creating a bug-free software package is not something that happens by accident. You don’t just hire a bunch of programmers and have them, unsupervised, write five million lines of spaghetti code, then without even testing it, hit ‘compile’ and ship it out to customers. No. You start with a sound plan and stable architecture. The specifications must be clear and easy to test to see if they are met. Throughout the development lifecycle, components of the product are created and tested. When these components are assembled, there is another round of robust testing to make sure that the components interface with each other properly. Good software design would include a team of experts that will surely, from time to time, disagree about the best way to make the program work. This sort of disagreement is useful since if everybody on the team always agrees, there will be an issue when one person is wrong about something, therefore everyone is wrong about something. What good is a team of ‘Yes Men’? A productive team includes people who disagree. Excluding people who are known computer experts because they are skeptical of the direction the team is taking is not going to result in a robust program. Only after the program passes all the quality review tests and the program is declared to be reasonably bug free can the product be deployed to the customers….
“I spent several years as a debugger in Colorado working on the one-time giant of desktop publishing Quark XPress. I’m hoping that my abilities as a veteran teacher and also as a one time professional debugger will make you willing to listen to me when I say this current version of education reform is in need of some serious debugging. Whatever the original specifications were, maybe to raise test scores in this country?, it isn’t accomplishing that. What it is accomplishing, unfortunately, is making education worse.
“I know that it has already been deployed. But just as buggy computer software can now be updated easily by downloading patches, the ed reform bulldozer you’ve created can also be fixed — but only if you’re willing to accept that it is currently not functional. Modern ed reform is the Windows ME of education. But just as you pretty quickly replaced Windows ME with Windows XP which everyone liked, you can do the same with education reform, I’m certain. Debugging ed reform is not easy. Since it was never properly designed with a plan to ensure quality, you’ve got yourself a bug riddled mess. It was not developed modularly so it is difficult to track down where the most critical bugs are even occurring.”
Gary walks Bill through the flawed assumptions of the “reforms” he has subsidized. They aren’t working.
Gary notes that in 2013 Bill sang the praises of a Colorado school that had adopted the Gates’ approach to teacher evaluation. Gary shows that this very school was experiencing declining test scores and was actually lagging the state.
Gary gives Bill candid advice:
“I do believe that you want your money to go to a good cause. This is admirable. The problem is that most of your money is going to people I’d describe as education hucksters. I’m going to be as blunt as only someone who is not on the payroll can be. In the education game you are what’s known as a ‘fat-cat,’ a ‘mark,’ a sucker.
“You are like the Emperor who was swindled into purchasing non-existent clothes. But that Emperor was brought back to reality when a blunt child said what everyone else what thinking. In ed reform it is blunt experienced teachers who are willing to say the obvious.”
Gary speaks respectfully to Bill but bluntly. I hope Bill reads Gary’s letter. Gary is trying to help him by straight talk.