U.S. education policy is a jambalaya of muddy values and messy good intentions. For example, think about our attitude toward class sizes and teacher quality. On the one hand, it's dogma that smaller classes make better students. On the other hand, it's dogma that excellent teachers make excellent students. But try holding both ideas in our head at the same time, and you'll get a migraine. Reducing the teacher-student ratio means adding more teachers, most of whom will probably be mediocre. Retaining only excellent teachers means hiring fewer teachers, which means raising the teacher-student ratio and increasing class sizes.

Bill Gates has an interesting solution. Keep only the best teachers, pay them more, and give them bigger classes. Here's Gates:

Get more students in front of top teachers by identifying the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take on four or five more students. Part of the savings could then be used to give the top teachers a raise. (In a 2008 survey funded by the Gates Foundation, 83 percent of teachers said they would be happy to teach more students for more pay.) The rest of the savings could go toward improving teacher support and evaluation systems, to help more teachers become great.

Read the full story at the Washington Post.

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