Bill Gates: Teachers’ Pest

Business Week seems a lot better since Bloomberg took it over. The magazine has done an especially good job in covering privatized education. Here is an excellent example.

Golden, Daniel. 2010. “Teachers’ Pest.” Bloomberg Businessweek (19-25 July): pp. 58-63.

58: “Starting in 2000, the Gates Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its first big project, trying to revitalize U.S. high schools by making them smaller, only to discover that student body size has little effect on achievement.”

58: “It has since shifted its considerable weight behind an emerging consensus — shared by U.S. Education Secretary and Gates ally Arne Duncan — that quality of teaching affects student performance and that increasing achievement is as simple as removing bad teachers, identifying good ones, and rewarding them with more money. On this theory, Gates is investing $290 million over seven years in the Tampa, Memphis, and Pittsburgh school districts as well as a charter school consortium in Los Angeles. The largest chunk of money, $100 million, will go to Tampa’s Hillsborough County school district, the eighth-largest in the U.S., with 192,000 students and 15,000 teachers. These carefully selected programs, which will favor or penalize teachers depending on whether students make larger or smaller gains than their test scores in prior years would have predicted, are intended as models that, if proven successful, can be rolled out nationwide.”

59: “The Gates agenda is an intellectual cousin of the Bush Administration’s 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which required all public schools — though not individual teachers — to make “adequate yearly progress” on student test scores. Some opponents of No Child Left Behind questioned its faith in data; are scores too narrow a gauge of how well kids are learning? Gates sees nothing wrong in relying on quantitative metrics. “Every profession has to have some form of measurement,” he said in a late June interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “Tuning that, making sure it’s fair, getting the teachers so they’re enthused about it” are the keys.”

59: “The last thing you’d expect from an organization headed by Bill Gates is a math mistake. Yet, according to Wharton School statistician Howard Wainer, the foundation may have misread the numbers when it arrived at its first prescription for American education. Wainer, who used the foundation as a case study in his 2009 book, Picturing the Uncertain World, says it seized on data showing small schools are overrepresented among the country’s highest achievers and started pouring money into creating small high schools and subdividing big ones. Tom Vander Ark, a former schools superintendent in Washington State who was tapped to oversee the foundation’s educational arm, was — and remains — a booster of small schools. The Gates Foundation declined comment on Wainer’s assertion and research.”

59: “From Pierre S. du Pont, who gave more than $6 million to train teachers and build 120 public schools in Delaware in the 1920s, to the Rockefeller family, which funded child development research that helped lay the groundwork for the Head Start program, corporate leaders have long promised to ride to the rescue of public education. One of the highest-profile efforts came in 1993, when publisher Walter Annenberg gave $500 million — matched by $600 million in gifts from other sources — to strengthen urban, rural, and arts education, only to be stymied in some school districts by rapid changes of leadership and direction.”

59: “In the past, says University of Michigan historian Maris A. Vinovskis, benefactors “were not as prescriptive about how they wanted their money spent.” Now a new generation of philanthropic billionaires, including Gates, homebuilding and insurance entrepreneur Eli Broad, members of the Walton family that founded Wal-Mart Stores, and former hedge fund manager Julian Robertson, want public education run more like a business. Charter schools, independent of local school districts and typically free of unionized teachers, are one of their favorite causes. “We don’t know anything about how to teach or reading curriculum or any of that,” Broad said last year at a public event in Manhattan. “But what we do know about is management and governance.””

59: “Small schools promised an alternative to the impersonal bureaucracy of traditional high schools, which Gates in a 2005 speech proclaimed “obsolete.” But according to Wainer, adherents overlooked a troublesome fact: Small schools are overrepresented among the lowest as well as highest achievers. Why? Because the smaller a school, the more likely its overall performance can be skewed by a few good or bad students.”

59: “Wainer says big high schools, for all their problems, outperform small ones. Scale lets them offer more advanced classes, electives, and extracurricular activities. With Gates funding, one Denver high school split into three and lost so many students that it shut down in 2006. It reopened a year later as a single school, without the foundation’s support.”

59-60: “In November 2008, Bill Gates publicly backtracked, acknowledging in a speech in Seattle that “simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for.” Still, the foundation has not renounced its original mission. Gates credits smaller schools for their proficiency at boosting attendance and decreasing violence. “So we absolutely believe in the small schools thing,” he says. “Calling that a failure is not fair”.”

60: “As it became clear that small schools alone weren’t the solution, Gates installed new leadership, naming Vicki Phillips, who served as Secretary of Education for the State of Pennsylvania and superintendent of schools in Portland, Ore., to replace Vander Ark in 2007. After a yearlong reassessment, Phillips swung the foundation behind the next big wave in education reform-evaluating teachers based on student test score gains. One of her key moves was enlisting Harvard University economist Thomas Kane as deputy director of education for data and research. Kane had co-authored an influential 2006 study of 150,000 students in grades 3-5 in Los Angeles that analyzed just how vital teacher quality is to student performance. Having a teacher ranked in the top 25 percent four years in a row “would be enough to close the black-white test score gap,” the study found. It made a strong recommendation seemingly borrowed from corporate America: Teachers who ranked in the bottom quarter after their first two years in the classroom should be fired.”

61: “Wainer, the statistician who spotted the mathematical fallacy behind the small schools movement, is also skeptical. “It’s conceivable you could get a value-added score to work at an elementary level, but how can you do it at a high school?” he asks. “How should my physics gain score match against your French score? Was Mozart a better musician than Babe Ruth was a hitter?””

61: “Judging teachers on student performance creates a litany of such practical problems, from how to assess progress in subjects such as art, shop, or phys ed to accounting for the mobility of inner-city families. In Memphis, where Gates has invested $90 million, schools superintendent Kriner Cash says one-third of students move during the year, which means their gains can’t necessarily be credited to one school, much less one teacher. Giving several tests a year can sort out each teacher’s contribution, he says. Still, ratings may be tainted if frequent transience requires teachers to integrate newcomers and adjust to departures.”

61: “Studies of teacher effectiveness show much variability. Few instructors stay at the top or bottom statistically year after year. A study of five Florida districts from 2000 to 2005, including Hillsborough, found that only half the teachers ranked in the top 20 percent one year were in the top 40 percent the next. Tying teacher jobs to student gains “isn’t as simple and straightforward as some people think it is,” says Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington, a recipient of Gates funding. “We’re a bit concerned that others aren’t raising these kinds of issues. We’re also concerned, if you do raise these issues, it’s seen as making excuses or pulling back from commitments”l”

61-2: “As a condition of funding, the foundation required Hillsborough and the other districts to cooperate with local unions. In a union-friendly move, Hillsborough agreed to tell teachers in advance when peers will observe their lessons, making positive evaluations more likely. By contrast, in a nationally acclaimed program in Cincinnati, teachers give two lessons before evaluators without prior notice.”

62: “Despite the opportunity to increase their income, teachers nationwide are skeptical of Gates’ agenda. In a national survey of 40,000 teachers co-sponsored by the Gates Foundation and released in March, 36 percent said that tying pay to performance is not at all important in retaining good teachers, while only 8 percent said it’s essential. And 30 percent said it would have no effect on student achievement-triple the proportion that said it would have a very strong impact.”

62: “Today, the Gates Foundation and Education Secretary Duncan move in apparent lockstep. Two of Duncan’s top aides, Chief of Staff Margot Rogers and Assistant Deputy Secretary James H. Shelton III, came from the foundation and were granted waivers by the Administration from its revolving-door policy limiting involvement with former employers. Vicki Phillips, who heads the foundation’s education programs, and Duncan participated from 2004 to 2007 in the Urban Superintendents Network, a group of a dozen school leaders who met twice a year at weekend retreats co-funded by Gates.”

62: “When the federal government made $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top awards available-favoring applicants that agree to link teacher pay to test score gains, increase the number of charter schools, and adopt common curriculum standards-the Gates Foundation paid for consultants to prepare applications for 24 states, as well as the District of Columbia. One of two winners announced so far is Tennessee, which had help from Gates. The state will receive about $500 million from the Obama Administration.”

62: “The Gates Foundation, which bankrolled development of the common curriculum standards, is also funding outside evaluations-by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education-of those same standards. The Boston-based business group is expected to release its report before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary & Secondary Education meets on July 21 to choose between the new standards preferred under Race to the Top and revisions to existing state criteria, considered among the most rigorous in the country.”

62: “”The Gates folks are well aware of our independence and, I think, incorruptibility,” says Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Fordham Institute, a nonprofit education think tank. Still, Finn says, the alliance between the government and the country’s richest foundation could discourage dissent. “I’ve become suspicious of the phrase ‘public-private partnership,’ ” he says. “It comes off the tongue as an undisputed good thing. It’s actually a disputed good thing”.”

7 comments so far

  1. World Spinner on

    Bill Gates: Teachers' Pest « unsettling economics…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  2. mark hansen on

    during the 1930’s The Phillips Exeter Academy Exeter, NH was the recipient of a study which showed that class size of 9 to 15 students was optimal and continued to use that at least through the 1960’s.
    of course the student body was an almost totally white, male, protestant group of high achievers who were boarded on campus.
    females were admitted sometime after the civil rights act of 1964.
    jews, catholics, and african-americans had been admitted before that, but mostly on a token basis.
    i don’t remember seeing any hispanic or asian students.
    while school size may not be indicative, class size almost surely is.
    how one teacher could be expected to help educate each member of a class of 30 to 40 is beyond my understanding.

  3. purple on

    A couple of things.

    1) Bill Gates doesn’t give a rat’s ass about having educated population. He wants a nation of bean counters who he can hire from. He certainly doesn’t want people who question political and economic authority. Annualized testing feeds into this well because it destroys the intrinsic joy of learning found in humans and replaces it with behaviorism.

    2) This program is all nonsense anyway because there are still openings for teachers in every inner city district, especially in the core science/math subjects. Even if the economy recovers a bit, these openings will soar. The fact is, the job is to stifling , too controlled, and too poorly compensated to attract quality applicants. Having some Ivy-league educated Gatesian drone breathing down one’s neck, yeah that will encourage people to take the job. And having the political class attack public pensions will move people into the field, as well – yep.

  4. Gold Detector on

    the public schools on our district can really give some good education to young kids. they have high standards ~:’

  5. cheap lv on

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  6. 3gCy7VBj on

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