The Gates Foundation’s first significant foray into education reform, in 1999, revolved around Bill Gates’ conviction that the big problem with high schools was their size. Students would be better off in smaller schools of no more than 500, he believed. The foundation funded the creation of smaller schools, until its own study found that the size of the school didn’t make much difference in student performance. When the foundation moved on, school districts were left with costlier-to-run small schools... LA Times editorialI attended the Randi/AFT/Bill Gates love-in at the 2010 AFT convention in Seattle when Unity Caucus delegates roundly booed and mocked the people who walked out on Gates, who was praised for his "support" for the Hillsborough County, Fla (current NYS Supt MaryEllen Elia was then the Supt). Ed deform on steroids. So I perked up when I read this excerpt from a recent LA Times editorial:
In 2009, [the Gates Foundation] pledged a gift of up to $100 million to the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools to fund bonuses for high-performing teachers, to revamp teacher evaluations and to fire the lowest-performing 5%. In return, the school district promised to match the funds. But, according to reports in the Tampa Bay Times, the Gates Foundation changed its mind about the value of bonuses and stopped short of giving the last $20 million; costs ballooned beyond expectations, the schools were left with too big a tab and the least-experienced teachers still ended up at low-income schools. The program, evaluation system and all, was dumped.Something is rotten in the basic decision making of our union.
At the UFT election vote count last week, we engaged in some real debate with Unity Caucus officials on some basic issues -- mayoral control, principal power vis a vis the open market system and the closing of large high schools. I enjoyed the dialogue and got to see the thinking - wrong thinking - but thinking. This is one of the few true debates I've seen and told them that this type of discussion should be taking place throughout the UFT in the DA and Exec Board, NYSUT and the AFT. But of course it doesn't. One high ranking Unity official said they don't all agree all the time and I said but no one in the union gets to ever see that. And we know that people at the top make the decisions and everyone else follows along.
So when I raised the issue of the closing of the large high schools the response was that maybe they made the wrong decision but they learned from their mistake and fought to keep high schools open and were successful in some cases. I rolled my eyes.
I responded that what they must examine is how so many of us understood over a decade ago that these decisions to support the closing of so many large high schools were wrong and warned of the repercussions while they couldn't or wouldn't see what we saw. I attributed this to the total lack of diversity of opinion in the highest councils of the union on the city, state and national levels.
They have consistently been on the wrong side. Why?
Bloomberg and Klein had a master plan -- to end seniority, fair school funding that incentivized principals not to hire higher salaried teachers, the creation of ATRS and removal the obstacle of having to place these teachers while closing so many schools.
The UFT plan? Please, someone share that with us. What I get it was to create an alliance with Bill Gates.
I'll get into the mayoral control debate another time. We never got to the support for the common core and their so-called reversal (I don't believe it.)
This editorial from the LA Times covers some of the ground.
Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America's public school agenda
Tucked away in a letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last week, along with proud notes about the foundation’s efforts to fight smoking and tropical diseases and its other accomplishments, was a section on education. Its tone was unmistakably chastened.“We’re facing the fact that it is a real struggle to make systemwide change,” wrote the foundation’s CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellman. And a few lines later: “It is really tough to create more great public schools.”The Gates Foundation’s first significant foray into education reform, in 1999, revolved around Bill Gates’ conviction that the big problem with high schools was their size. Students would be better off in smaller schools of no more than 500, he believed. The foundation funded the creation of smaller schools, until its own study found that the size of the school didn’t make much difference in student performance. When the foundation moved on, school districts were left with costlier-to-run small schools.
Then the foundation set its sights on improving teaching, specifically through evaluating and rewarding good teaching. But it was not always successful. In 2009, it pledged a gift of up to $100 million to the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools to fund bonuses for high-performing teachers, to revamp teacher evaluations and to fire the lowest-performing 5%. In return, the school district promised to match the funds. But, according to reports in the Tampa Bay Times, the Gates Foundation changed its mindabout the value of bonuses and stopped short of giving the last $20 million; costs ballooned beyond expectations, the schools were left with too big a tab and the least-experienced teachers still ended up at low-income schools. The program, evaluation system and all, was dumped.The Gates Foundation strongly supported the proposed Common Core curriculum standards, helping to bankroll not just their development, but the political effort to have them quickly adopted and implemented by states. Here, Desmond-Hellmann wrote in her May letter, the foundation also stumbled. The too-quick introduction of Common Core, and attempts in many states to hold schools and teachers immediately accountable for a very different form of teaching, led to a public backlash.“Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards,” Desmond-Hellmann wrote. “We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators — particularly teachers — but also parents and communities, so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.“This has been a challenging lesson for us to absorb, but we take it to heart. The mission of improving education in America is both vast and complicated, and the Gates Foundation doesn’t have all the answers was a remarkable admission for a foundation that had often acted as though it did have all the answers. Today, the Gates Foundation is clearly rethinking its bust-the-walls-down strategy on education — as it should. And so should the politicians and policymakers, from the federal level to the local, who have given the educational wishes of Bill and Melinda Gates and other well-meaning philanthropists and foundations too much sway in recent years over how schools are run.That’s not to say wealthy reformers have nothing to offer public schools. They’ve funded some outstanding charter schools for low-income students. They’ve helped bring healthcare to schools. They’ve funded arts programs.The Gates Foundation, according to Desmond-Hellmann’s letter, is now working more on providing Common Core-aligned materials to classrooms, including free digital content that could replace costly textbooks, and a website where teachers can review educational materials. That’s great: Financial support for Common Core isn’t a bad thing. When the standards are implemented well, which isn’t easy, they ought to develop better reading, writing and thinking skills.
And foundation money has often been used to fund experimental programs and pilot projects of the sort that regular school districts might not have the time or extra funds to put into place. Those can be extremely informative and even groundbreaking.But the Gates Foundation has spent so much money — more than $3 billion since 1999 — that it took on an unhealthy amount of power in the setting of education policy. Former foundation staff members ended up in high positions in the U.S. Department of Education — and, in the case of John Deasy, at the head of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The foundation’s teacher-evaluation push led to an overemphasis on counting student test scores as a major portion of teachers’ performance ratings — even though Gates himself eventually warned against moving too hastily or carelessly in that direction. Now several of the states that quickly embraced that method of evaluating teachers are backing away from it.Philanthropists are not generally education experts, and even if they hire scholars and experts, public officials shouldn’t be allowing them to set the policy agenda for the nation’s public schools. The Gates experience teaches once again that educational silver bullets are in short supply and that some educational trends live only a little longer than mayflies.