When Bill and I first started thinking seriously about philanthropy, we realized we were both passionate about education. We were so lucky to attend great schools, and that made a huge difference in our lives. And we’re still convinced today that investing in great schools for all children would help every person have a chance at a successful life.
Over the years, we have studied schools that succeed against the odds, with students overcoming poverty or lack of school resources. What we’ve learned is that students with great teachers learn three times as much as students with ineffective teachers. But we’ve also learned that teachers simply do not get enough support to tap into their expertise and empower them to shape the reforms that impact their profession.
These learnings suggest a clear strategy: give all teachers the support they need to help their students reach the highest standards.
This is why, yesterday, I was thrilled to take part in the PBS Teacher Town Hall as part of its American Graduate series. The series broadly fosters discussions about addressing the high school dropout crisis in America. We talked specifically about giving teachers a voice in how we improve and transform schools and what teachers need to be the best teachers they can be.
During the Town Hall, I shared some of the things I’ve learned from teachers. We’ve heard about the joys of teaching, as well as their struggles, and their concerns about changes to their profession. We’ve learned that the current system tells most teachers this: By the end of the year, your students need to have learned the subject you are teaching.
We don’t do a very good job identifying for teachers the most important concepts in their subject areas, and we rarely give them the kinds of rich classroom materials that can help them teach these concepts effectively. They rarely receive meaningful feedback about how they—and their students—are doing.
But it’s clear that teachers want a lot more. In fact, a survey conducted by Scholastic (with support from the foundation) shows that teachers want feedback. They want training that helps them become more effective in the classroom.
And they want to be heard. They want to contribute meaningfully to the dialogue about how to improve our schools and our education system.
This is in line with my own experience growing up. I went to school at the very beginning of the personal computer revolution. One of my teachers, Ms. Bauer, saw a demonstration of an early PC at a conference, and she made up her mind to start a computer program at our school. She was a full-time mom and a full-time teacher, but she got a degree in computer science so she could teach us about this powerful new technology. By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to major in computer science.
This wasn’t something girls were supposed to do. But Ms. Bauer gave me the confidence and the knowledge to beat the odds.
Every child deserves a teacher who helps them beat the odds. Working together, with a focus on supporting teachers, and ensuring that teachers are heard, we can build a school system where the odds are better for all children.