Although it is viewed in some quarters as a scourge of teachers and their unions, the has been working to improve its relationship with teachers and send a message that it wants to be their champion, the reports.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the foundation's overtures to teachers' unions have been viewed with skepticism, with many teachers questioning whether the foundation truly wants their input in shaping its education reform agenda or is just looking for cover to advance an existing agenda. Indeed, in the eyes of many teachers, the foundation's initiatives over the past five years have contributed significantly to a picture of a profession rife with bad or uninspired teachers, little or no accountability, and an abundance of mediocre instruction that robs students, especially poor students, of a chance to succeed. At the same time, say critics, the foundation has pushed for policies that make it easier to fire teachers, link pay to student performance, and overemphasize student test scores as a criterion of teacher effectiveness.
For its part, the foundation seems determined to shift the conversation, and to that end it paid for two hundred and fifty teachers to attend a conference earlier this year at which the teachers were told by foundation officials that "your voices have to be at the table." The foundation also has assembled a group of fifty teachers to advise it on its education initiatives, which go well beyond efforts to improve the teaching profession, and it is putting less emphasis on test-score metrics while supporting the idea that a fair evaluation of teachers must be based on a variety of measures.
While some critics remain skeptical, calling op-ed pieces penned by foundation officials disingenuous and questioning whether the foundation's courting of teachers is simply a tactic to curry favor with the public, the , one of the nation's largest teachers' unions, is encouraged by foundation's increased focus on teachers as a critical component of the education reform equation. Indeed, AFT president Randi Weingarten told the Seattle Times that while she and the foundation have had their disagreements on issues such as charter schools and test-score ratings, she's willing to work with it in areas on which they agree. While some foundations are trying to go around teachers to accomplish things, said Weingartten, "Gates is in a place where they believe they have to engage with teachers....[That] is a very big step."