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Open Letter to Bill Gates

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In the December 6, 2010 issue of Newsweek, the seemingly and suddenly expert on education Bill Gates wowed us with his convoluted expertise on education. Gates in an article written by "journalist" Jonathan Alter lamented that teacher tenure is a "quality killer." Quality how so Bill? I think it is time that Bill, and others of his ilk get, pardon the pun, schooled on tenure.

Tenure is no way, no how, guarantees a job for life. Only justices on the Supreme Court are guaranteed such a service. What tenure does guarantee is that a teacher, is protected against the whims of a principal, and the promise of due processes. I would hazard to guess that as an upstanding American and a supporter of the United States Constitution, Bill would be at the forefront of protecting the rights of not only teachers, but also all hard working Americans.

Tenure was enacted to prevent a teacher from being terminated for being pregnant (in fact I knew of a principal who bemoaned a female colleague once with the comment, "why didn't you use a condom?), to living out of wedlock with a partner, to belonging to the wrong organizations, or something just as mundane as that the principal does not like the teacher. In fact in The Sunday New York Daily News of December 5, 2010, a reader left a comment, "Tenure acts as protection against insecure administrators and financial crises but that is all."

And please stop blaming the unions for protecting bad teachers. The onus is on the principal, and subordinates to effectively observe and leave a paper trail to remove an ineffective teacher. Where is the outcry against these administrators for failing to do their job?

Which brings us to what an effective teacher is. Certainly it can't mean a "boring" teacher. In Board of Education of the City of New York v. Arrak, 28 Educ. Dept. Rep. 302 (1988) (page 24) that being boring was not being incompetent, that the teacher showed a "minimal level of knowledge." That is what the law states. That is what the law is. Learn it. Deal with it. Oh and please don't give us the value added assessment ideal that has already been widely scorned and ridiculed by true educators.

The teacher that killed himself in Los Angeles, Rigoberto Ruelas, will all due thanks to The Los Angeles Times deeming him ineffective, always reached out to the toughest kids. He would tutor them on weekends and after school, visit their homes, encourage them to aim high and go to college. A former student of his said she used, "to struggle at math, but he taught her to succeed and not to give up," and "He told me it is not about where you are from but if you don't go to school you are nothing in this world," she said with tears in her eyes. "Now I am doing real good because of him." Did he not earn tenure? Was he not effective? I would have been proud to have this man, a man I had never met to be my child's teacher. But, Bill, in your eyes he would be shown the door.

Bill, as you and your ilk lament the union protection and tenure, actually due process rights of "bad" teachers, why not do the same for the protection of criminals? Seems that all defense lawyers want to do is to protect criminals, keep them out of jail. Why not use the same argument? Why isn't the Gates Foundation spearheading a drive to whine about how defense lawyers protect criminals as you do unions protecting "bad" teachers and tenure?

You see Bill just as criminals have rights, so to do teachers, civil service workers, anyone who works for a government entity. This pesky, annoying thing protects all. It is known as the 14th Amendment, Section 1 of the United States Constitution. What's that? Yes, Bill. It is Due Process. Just to remind you, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." To reiterate; that is what the law is. Learn it. Deal with it.

So Bill, it is time to stop attacking teachers. Because when you do, it hurts our credibility. And once we lose our credibility, then we lose our most precious gifts, our students.

Please, leave us teachers be.