Archives for category: Gates Foundation

This discussion between MaryEllen Elia, then superintendent of the Hillsborough County school system, and Vicky Phillips, the president of the Gates Foundation in Seattle, took place a year ago. Robert Trigaux, business writer for  the Tampa Bay Times, sat down with the two to check on the progress of the Gates Foundation’s investment of $100 million in the Hillsborough County schools.

 

Trigaux writes:

 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation may not view our country’s stressed public schools as full of Neanderthal teachers trying to bash knowledge into bored, thick-skulled students. Yet the foundation’s leaders do consider most U.S. schools terribly outdated, technologically deficient and bureaucratic morale-suckers in need of overhaul.

 

That’s why the foundation decided to try to help.

 

Just a quarter of U.S. public high school graduates possess the skills needed to succeed academically in college. That statistic should terrify this country, given the aggressive rise of economic competition and rapidly improving education elsewhere in the world. Left unchecked, we are slipping in the global race to sustain a quality workforce.

 

So, as Brian Williams once memorably said on the NBC program “Education Nation,” “Bill Gates is  paying for this program, and we are using his facts.” (Slight paraphrase.)

 

We know what the Gates Foundation wants: It wants a workforce that is prepared to compete with workers in other nations. Leave aside for the moment whether we are losing jobs because of better-educated competitors or because American workers expect to be paid more than workers in China and Bangladesh; businesses outsource where the costs are lowest. And leave aside as unproven the claim that only a “quarter of U.S. public high school graduates possess the skills needed to succeed academically in college.” Some, like President Obama, say that American workers are the most productive in the world. But leave that aside too. Ask yourself how the United States got to be the most powerful nation in the world if our citizenry is as hapless and poorly educated as Bill Gates assumes.

 

Here is the stated goal of the Gates’ $100 million: “The goal: to improve student achievement by rethinking how best to support and motivate teachers to elevate their game during the adoption of the Common Core curriculum and beyond.” Summarize as: Raise test scores and implement the Common Core.

 

Elia has lasted in her job longer than most superintendents, nine years when the interview was taped in 2014 (ten years when she was fired in 2015):

 

Nine years running the same school system is commendable. Especially in Florida where public schools rarely receive adequate attention or funding. Florida spends roughly half per pupil compared to New York or Connecticut. And Florida teachers remain among the poorest paid in the nation.

 

Let’s repeat that line: Florida teachers remain among the poorest paid in the nation. That includes Hillsborough County.

 

What has the Gates grant done? It has changed the way the district evaluates and compensates teachers (presumably with merit pay for higher test scores, though it is not clear in this interview).

 

And this is a new Gates-funded feature:

 

A cadre of mentors, one for every 15 teachers, has slowed the turnover of young teachers leaving the profession. And Hillsborough is ahead of many districts in making teacher evaluations more meaningful. Principals observe teachers and give more concrete feedback. And teachers get peer reviews, which can be sticky at times but is considered quality input. All of that means Hillsborough has not had to follow the state’s own strict evaluation guidelines. The foundation also wants to sharply improve the role technology plays in the classroom by providing more easily accessible curriculum support to teachers and better ways to keep students engaged in their work.

 

So the strategy is to train and evaluate teachers, to give bonuses to some, but not to mess with the fact that teachers are “among the poorest  paid in the nation.” Not our problem.

 

What are the results so far? Not clear but there is always the future.

 

Bottom line? Both Elia and Phillips admit it has been a struggle at times but seem satisfied with progress that has outpaced other large Florida school districts.

 

The trick is most of what has occurred so far is procedural, putting systems in place to improve teaching and, in turn, future student achievement. Measuring that achievement in a meaningful way has yet to happen. Hillsborough hopes it can deliver improved results soon.

 

Another tough challenge is education’s biggest oxymoron: teacher respect. “One thing we are dismayed about is how we have made teachers feel over the last 15 years,” Phillips said. “We shamed and blamed them. It was unconscionable. We do not want them to feel that way.”

 

Phillips says celebrating good teachers is part of the recovery plan. So is listening to them.

 

The Gates Foundation listening to teachers? Now that is an innovative idea!

 

Apparently the other two districts–Memphis and Pittsburgh–have not made much progress. That seems to be the implication of this exchange:

 

Elia and Phillips insist big strides are still to come in the remaining three years of the partnership. And even when the seven years are up, Phillips says the foundation and Hillsborough will stay in close touch. There will still be much to learn.

 

For the Gates Foundation, it has invested heavily in Hillsborough schools. It certainly is hopeful of a return on those funds, one measured by a successful outcome of better student achievement that it can show off to other U.S. school systems.

 

Similar Gates Foundation grant commitments to school districts in Memphis and Pittsburgh have suffered slower progress, which may make Hillsborough a beacon of best practices.

 

Hillsborough County has two years left to go in its seven-year grant. Superintendent Elia has been fired but landed the prestigious job as state education commissioner in New York. What ideas will she bring with her from Florida?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Buffalo News reports that MaryEllen Elia will be selected by the New York Board of Regents as the next state commissioner of education, replacing the controversial John King. The news was repeated by a Tampa television station.

 

The vote will occur sometime today, according to reports. When the news leaked, parents began bombarding the Regents with emails and tweets. As one said, “It is not over until the fat lady sings.” So, listen.

 

Elia was fired by the Hillsborough Board of Education last February in a 4-3 vote. The business community was upset. But critics complained about micromanagement, a top-down style, lack of transparency, and complaints from parents of students with special needs. One board member who voted to dismiss her “accused Elia of creating a workplace culture of fear and bullying, and failing to pay enough attention to minorities, including Hispanics.” Others, including parents, said that her disciplinary policies had a disparate impact on African American students.

 

Hillsborough County received about $100 million from the Gates Foundation to design and implement a value-added measurement system for evaluating its teachers. Its plan apparently included a promise to fire the 5% lowest performing teachers every year. Florida has a harsh style of accountability, launched by Jeb Bush and carried forward by Governor Rick Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature and state board of education.

 

Her official biography on the district’s website says that the Florida State Board of Education named her the Dr. Carlo Rodriguez Champion of School Choice in 2008. She is a strong supporter of the Common Core (see the video on this website, where Elia is interviewed about Common Core).

 

So, New York, once a bastion of liberalism, is getting a state commissioner who supports value-added testing and school choice, like John King. This aligns with Governor Cuomo’s agenda of “breaking up the public school monopoly” and using test scores to evaluate teachers.

The biggest news in the state in the past year was the historic success of the Opt Out movement. Last year, 60,000 students refused the state tests. This year, nearly 200,000 did. If MaryEllen Elia is state commissioner, will she raise the stakes on testing? If so, don’t be surprised if 400,000 students refuse the tests next year.

Blogger Louisina Educator writes of the combination of forces fighting for Common Core:

“These heavily promoted standards pushed by an alliance of so called education reformers such as the Gates Foundation, The Broad and Walton Foundations, the Pearson education publishing conglomerate, and the Obama administration are also supported by the Charter School Association, big business interests LABI, CABL, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce and two astro turf groups (phony grassroots organizations funded by the big foundations). All of these groups will also be fighting hard to kill HB 21 and 340 that would only modestly curtail the expansion of New Charter schools in Louisiana.

“The dedicated and informed parents and educators who oppose Common Core and PARCC testing are so outgunned by the privatization and Common Core promoters that the battle this week could be compared to confronting an Abrams tank with a BB gun.”

Perhaps you have heard of Educators 4 Excellence, or their shorter name E4E.

The group started in New York City, led by young teachers who did not like the union. They seem to be Teach for America teachers, mostly with a year or two of experience. They have received millions from the Gates Foundation and other corporate reformers.

Now they are spreading to other states, to substitute wherever possible for the traditional teacher organizations as the “voice” of young teachers, those who want merit pay, like high-stakes testing, want to be evaluated by test scores, etc.

Jonathan Pelto tells their story here.

This story in the Hechinger Report has good news about the Common Core PARCC test: teachers assembled by TeachPlus really like it. They think it is appropriate for the grades they teach. They say it is an improvement over their current state tests, even the MCAS in Massachusetts. Some even want the tests made “harder,” for the benefit of their students.

 

TeachPlus was created and is funded by the Gates Foundation, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Common Core. Thus, it is not surprising that TeachPlus would discover that teachers really like the PARCC test and think it is just right.

 

What the article does not mention is that the results of the Common Core tests are reported four-six months after the students take the test (in some states, even later). The student no longer has the same teacher. The teachers are not allowed to see how any student answered particular questions. Thus, they will learn nothing of any diagnostic value from the PARCC or Smarter Balanced Assessment. The results will be used to rate students, rate teachers, and rate schools. Did the teachers who participated in the TeachPlus survey know that?

 

What do you think? Please leave a comment on the article on the website of the Hechinger Report. And here too.

 

 

Mercedes Schneider reviews what is in store for children in Néw Jersey when they take the PARCC test:

“PARCC testing in New Jersey is scheduled to begin March 2, 2015. The NJ PARCC testing “window” will not end in March, but will continue into April, May, and June, depending upon the grade level and whether the test is part of the PBA (performance-based assessment), which is given 75% of the way through a school year, or EOY (end of year), which comes 90% of the way into a school year.

“For third grade, New Jersey schools must schedule 4.75 hours for the English language arts (ELA) PBA and EOY PARCC and 5 hours for the math PBA and EOY PARCC.

“Just shy of 10 hours of schedules testing time for a third grader.

“For fourth and fifth graders it is a full 10 hours.

“For sixth through eighth graders, almost 11 hours.”

Why is it necessary to spend so much time to find out whether children can read and do math?

Some parent groups are urging opting out.

The opt out talk has grown so loud that DC-based Education Trust has sent opinion pieces to Néw Jersey papers urging parents not to opt out. Schneider points out that Education Trust is heavily funded by the Gates Foundation.

New Jersey parents: do not subject your children to 10 hours of testing. Opt out.

Anthony Cody will speak on February 4 at 5:15 pm at the University of Georgia Chapel.

Cody is an experienced educator, a fearless blogger, co-founder of the Network for Public Education, and author of the recently published “The Educator and the Oligarch,” about his public debate with the Gates Foundation.

Anthony Cody has been a persistent critic of the hubris of the Gates Foundation. Not long ago, he managed to get an agreement from the foundation to engage in a debate about the foundation’s agenda, what it is and what it should be. That debate became the basis for Cody’s recent book The Educator and the Oligarch. Cody wants the foundation to pay more attention to experienced educators, not so much to economists and theoreticians who don’t know much about the realities of classrooms today.

 

In this post, he holds out hope that the foundation might display a new humility because of the recently expressed views of its new CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellman, who taught for two years in Uganda. She was quoted saying,

 

On a very practical level, that time in Uganda was a lesson about what it takes to work successfully in a different culture. “I learned about what it really takes to work at scale in a poor country. As a western academician, as a Gates Foundation person, the first thing you should be doing is listening and learning. And have a huge sense of humility about what you don’t know,” she said.

 

I googled Dr. Desmond-Hellman, and I must say, she has an extraordinarily impressive resume. I think her appointment signals that the Gates Foundation will review and increase its investments in public health, especially in impoverished nations.

 

It is not clear where she might take the foundation’s top-down, heavy-handed education agenda, which has so far produced no results and tremendous hostility towards the foundation. Bill Gates said in 2013 that “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.” It seems that the many teachers and principals who have been fired, the wreckage caused by the foundation’s love of standardized testing and data, are simply collateral damage while Mr. Gates waits to figure out, a decade from now, whether “our education stuff” is working.

 

I am betting on Sue Desmond-Hellman. Something tells me that her life experience is broad enough and deep enough to warn her away from evidence-free experimentation with people’s lives. I may be wrong, but I will take a wait-and-see attitude and hope for the best. Sue, I’m counting on you.

A new report released by UNICEF at the World Economic Forum in Davos says that inequitable funding is an obstacle to educational equity. Rich kids in poor countries get more funding from the government than poor kids. You may know that the United States is one of the few countries where more public money is spent on affluent students than on poor students. In most other advanced nations, more money is spent on the neediest children. David Sirota wrote about the report for the International Business Times.

 

Sirota writes:

 

The trend documented by the report shows poor, developing-world countries mimicking a trend in the United States, which stands out as one of the only industrialized countries that devotes less public money to educating students from low-income families than on educating students from high-income families.

 

According to a recent analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it is one of the few economically developed nations that tends to spend more public resources to educate wealthy students than to educate low-income students. A 2011 U.S. Department of Education report found that in the United States “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding, leaving students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.”

 

Sirota points out that one of the cosponsors of the report is the Gates Foundation, which “has been criticized for using its partnerships with other organizations to promote a particular education ideology.”

 

And he adds:

 

In the United States, the foundation has specifically championed privately run charter schools, which often siphon resources from traditional public schools. The foundation has also promoted the Common Core curriculum, which has been criticized as a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to education content. Both the curriculum and the larger shift to technology focused charter schools could have commercial benefits for Microsoft, the firm founded by Bill Gates.

 

When asked whether Unicef is prescribing a similar approach to international education aid for low-income countries, meaning charter schools, Common Core-style curriculum and a focus on technology, Brown first touted “the right of individual countries to make their own decisions about how they shape their own education system according to their needs and their economic policies and economic objectives.”

 

However, he seemed to echo some of the core themes of the Gates Foundation, touting what he called “international best practices … which learn from the experience of charter schools.”

 

He said lawmakers should be looking at “how we can disseminate the best practices that exist in some countries and persuade other countries that they are worth looking at.”

 

“We are learning that the quality of teachers, which is what the Gates Foundation has emphasized matters, the quality of head teachers and leadership in schools matters, the curriculum itself is an issue that has to be debated at all times because you’ve got to learn from what works and what doesn’t work … and how you apply technology and use it most effectively,” he said.

 

Curious that the spokesman for the report said that charter schools exemplify “international best practices.” One wonders if he was thinking of “no excuses” charters, or Gulen charters, or for-profit charters.

Two Tulsa teachers risked their jobs by refusing to administer state tests to their first grade students, reports John Thompson.

Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones hereby join the blog’s honor roll as heroes if American children, defending the rights and childhood of their students.

He writes:

“These first grade teachers, Miss Karen Hendren and Mrs. Nikki Jones were featured in a front page Tulsa World and the United Opt Out web site. They wrote an open letter to parents documenting the damage being done by testing and the new value-added evaluation system being implemented by the Tulsa schools under the guidance of the Gates Foundation.

“Miss Hendren and Mrs. Jones explain how this obsession with testing “has robbed us of our ethics. They are robbing children of their educational liberties.” Our poorest kids are falling further behind because they are being robbed of reading instruction. By Hendren’s and Jones’ estimate, their students lose 288 hours or 72 days of school to testing!

“They inventory the logistics of administering five sets of first grade tests, as classes are prepared for high-stakes third grade reading tests. More importantly, they described the brutality of the process.

“Miss Hendren and Mrs. Jones recount the strengths of four students who are victims of the testing mania. One pulls his hair, two cry, one throws his chair, and the fourth, who could be categorized as gifted and talented, is dismayed that his scores are low, despite his mastery of so many subjects. Particularly interesting was the way that “adaptive” testing, which is supposed to be a more constructive, individualized assessment, inevitably results in students reaching their failure level, often prompting discouragement or, even, despair….”

Their superintendent Keith Ballard is no fan of high-stakes testing. But he has a problem: he accepted Gates money:

“Tulsa has an otherwise excellent superintendent, Keith Ballard, who has opposed state level testing abuses. He has invested in high-quality early education and full-service community schools. Ballard also deserves credit for investing in the socio-emotional. I doubt he would be perpetuating this bubble-in outrage if he had a choice. But Tulsa accepted the Gates Foundation’s grant money. So, Ballard is threatening the teachers’ jobs.”

Will Superintendent Ballard listen to his professional ethics or to the Gates Foundation?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 150,313 other followers