What if you build it and it collapses? Well, you can always try to “stay the course.”

Or, in the case of Hillsborough County, Florida, you can start all over again and just write off the millions of dollars already spent on a failed teacher evaluation system as a bad debt. Just pay it off and move on.

Valerie Strauss reports that the new superintendent of schools in Hillsborough County (who followed MaryEllen Elia, who was fired, then hired as New York State Commissioner of Education) has decided to drop the Gates-funded teacher evaluation plan. Gates promised $100 million but delivered only $80 million because the approach wasn’t working.

Strauss writes:

Here we go again. Another Bill Gates-funded education reform project, starting with mountains of cash and sky-high promises, is crashing to Earth.

This time it’s the Empowering Effective Teachers, an educator evaluation program in Hillsborough County, Florida, which was developed in 2009 with major financial backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A total of more than $180 million has been spent on the project since then — with Gates initially promising some $100 million of it — but now, the district, one of the largest in the country, is ending the program.


Under the system, 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on student standardized test scores and the rest by observation from “peer evaluators.” It turned out that costs to maintain the program unexpectedly rose, forcing the district to spend millions of dollars more than it expected to spend. Furthermore, initial support among teachers waned, with teachers saying that they don’t think it accurately evaluated their effectiveness and that they could be too easily fired.

Now the new superintendent of schools in Hillsborough, Jeff Eakins, said in a missive sent to the evaluators and mentors that he is moving to a different evaluation system, according to this story in the Tampa Bay Times. It says:

“Unlike the complex system of evaluations and teacher encouragement that cost more than $100 million to develop and would have cost an estimated $52 million a year to sustain, Hillsborough will likely move to a structure that has the strongest teachers helping others at their schools.”

Eakins said he envisions a new program featuring less judgmental “non-evaluative feedback” from colleagues and more “job-embedded professional development,” which is training undertaken in the classroom during the teacher work day rather than in special sessions requiring time away from school. He said in his letter that these elements were supported by “the latest research.”

This may be the beginning of the end for test-based accountability. It has not worked anywhere, and it has cost the schools of the nation hundreds of millions–or more likely–billions of dollars that would have been better spent on reducing class sizes, promoting desegregation, opening health clinics, and hiring teacher of the arts.