New York

Gates Foundation will steer its education giving in a new direction But how much impact will the billions have?

PHOTO: Alan PetersimeBill and Melinda Gates (via Flickr) SEATTLE — One of the world’s most expansive philanthropies, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, emerged yesterday from a year-and-a-half-long silence on one of its major investment areas, releasing a plan to dramatically alter the foundation’s approach to improving American schools. The plan will transform the foundation’s education work from expensive but quiet investments that focus on a relatively small set of schools to higher-profile advocacy work that keeps up the investments in individual schools but also touches on several political hot buttons. Among the projects the foundation will tackle: a $500 million investment in experimenting with performance-based teacher pay systems; another $500 million toward creating data systems like the ARIS warehouse in New York City; ramped-up advocacy work pushing for national standards; and a research effort to create a national test that would be distributed to states and school districts across the country, free of charge. Perhaps the most sensitive project will be investments to study a seemingly innocuous subject: teacher effectiveness. The touchy part is that the foundation is signaling that it will urge school districts to find ways to fire teachers judged ineffective. “If their students keep falling behind, they’re in the wrong line of work, and they need to move on,” Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and principal benefactor to the foundation, said yesterday, announcing the new slate of initiatives to a private meeting of about 100 school officials, union leaders, and policy experts.
New York

For most students, no benefit to a school's F grade, study finds

A study examining whether getting poor grades on city progress reports prompted schools to improve their students' test scores found little evidence of such a boost. The study, released today by the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, asked the question by comparing schools with progress report raw scores that were roughly the same, but just different enough to get different letter grades. In fact the two groups showed about the same amount of progress — except in fifth-grade math, where students in failing schools made "significant and substantial improvement" compared to their peers in schools that had been assigned a grade of D, according to the study. The progress reports assign letter grades to schools based primarily on improvements in students' test scores. Since the first reports were released a year ago, the program has been the subject of sustained criticism: Parents and teachers have complained about unfair stigmatization of good schools, and statisticians have charged that the reports are driven as much by error as by actual school improvement. The study's architect, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Marcus Winters, called his findings "mixed-positive" in favor of the progress reports. Those findings were the subject this morning of a panel discussion sponsored by the Manhattan Institute featuring Winters, Columbia University economist Jonah Rockoff, and two officials from the Department of Education's accountability office, including its CEO, James Liebman.