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.
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.
SEATTLE — Here's another big development: As part of its new approach, the Gates Foundation will advocate for the politically thorny goal of national standards — and will aim to write its own standards and its own national test. Foundation officials said that the moves are motivated by their frustration with current tests and standards for what children should know, which each state drafts individually as part of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Vicki Phillips, the Gates Foundation's director of education programs, said the result is a "testing crisis in this country," in which tests are losing credibility among teachers, who see them as so low-quality that they are useless. "Let's admit it," she said. "We can't dispense with assessment, but neither can we keep adding low-quality tests."
SEATTLE — One of the most remarkable things about today's news is how many important people are gathering at the Sheraton hotel here to listen to it. Last night, a crowd sharing drinks at the hotel bar included Chancellor Joel Klein, Chicago Superintendent Arne Duncan, Green Dot founder Steve Barr, and Obama education adviser Jon Schnur. The two often-mentioned choices to be Obama's education secretary, Klein and Duncan, sat next to each other. Schnur was a few bodies away, and across from them was Education Sector codirector Andrew Rotherham, who has been mentioned as a possible appointee to an Obama Education Department. Below the jump is a run-down of people I've spotted in Seattle since I got here last night. I'm putting stars (*) next to people who have been named as possible Obama education appointees, and please help me add to the list.
Bill Gates SEATTLE — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is announcing a five-year plan to invest billions more dollars in a new set of educational programs that will substantially broaden the foundation’s efforts to improve American schools. The foundation had for the last eight years invested in building successful new high school models across the country, including a set of small schools in New York City. Now, the foundation is announcing that it will broaden its efforts to include active lobbying for policies such as national standards; massive investments in building data systems and research on K-12 education; and another set of investments to lure more high school students into attending college. Bill and Melinda Gates announced their new direction this morning to an audience of America’s top education officials gathered right now in Seattle, including at least four people short-listed to be the next Secretary of Education; at least three advisers to President-elect Barack Obama, and the current Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings.