How the Gates Foundation Used $3.38 Billion in College-Ready Education Grants to Change Education Policy

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Did you know that since 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (technically founded in 2000) have made over 4,000 grants in the US Program, one of the major categories of funding for the Gates.  The 4,000 grants were distributed among 16 categories such as College-Ready Education, Community Grants, Postsecondary Success, Global Policy & Advocacy, etc.

Through its foundation, the Gates have “invested” more than $3.3 billion in what they call “College-Ready Education” projects, just one of the areas of funding in its US Program.  Keep in mind that the Gates foundation has also invested billions in Global Health and Global Development.  Many of these projects have helped eradicate diseases, and improve food production in other countries.  See comments for an update on Gates’ work in these two areas.

But in this post, I want to look at the Gates Foundation investments in education.  On their website, you can go here to find a database of these investments.   For the research reported in this post, You can get access to an Excel spreadsheet that I prepared that includes all data for these grants here.  I hope you will find this spreadsheet useful.

1853 Investments

There were 1853 grants made as of June 5, 2014 with the average of these grants being $1,827,093. The grants ranged from $100 million to the Hillsborough Public Schools to $600 to the Aspire Public Schools.  Total investments made by the Gates Foundation in College-Ready Education projects was $3,385,603,559.

The chart in Figure 1 shows the number of College-Ready Education grants that have been made since 1999 that are shaping the vision of education based on the three focus areas that the Foundation uses to define this area of grant making.  In 1999 there were only 4 grants made by the Foundation, but from 2000 forward, the Foundation made more than 100 grants each year.  As seen in the chart, the greatest number of and largest amount of grants was made in 2003, 2009, and 2011.  In 2009, 434 grants were made totaling $440 million.

Figure 1. Fifteen Years of Funding by the Gates Foundation. Source of data: www.gatesfoundation.org
Figure 1. Fifteen Years of Funding by the Gates Foundation. Source of data: www.gatesfoundation.org

Philanthropy, as Matt Kelly reported, is not just an activity of the well-to-do in the United States.  Large numbers of people have given away small amounts of money for specific causes.  But as Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, William J. Broad suggests, “Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science.” He suggests that there are “profound changes going on in the way science is paid for and practiced in the U.S” (Broad, W.J. “Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science,” New York Times, 15, Mar. 2014: Web. 9 Jun. 2014.)

One of the billionaires that Broad highlights in his New York Times article is Bill Gates.  Philanthropists, including Mr. Gates, have turned the research complex upside down, according to Mr. Broad.  With the budget cuts in Washington (except for the U.S. Department of Education), very wealthy Americans have begun a range of investments in space, medicine, health, and oceanographic research.

Broad’s article did not include any examples of research in the social sciences, especially education.  Yet, billions of dollars are privately pouring into K-12 education, to support the personal philosophies and beliefs of the donors.  The Gates Foundation leads the way.

Fixing Education

To some educational philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, there is something very wrong with American education, and it needs to be fixed.

Gates public speeches tell a glaring story of a person who believes he has the answers to the problems of K-12 education.  Most of claims about education are based on personal opinions, not on peer-reviewed research.  He does not consult leading educational researchers, and indeed, if he did, he would be rebuffed on nearly all of his claims.

For example, he says that paying teachers based on years of experience and advanced degrees has no impact on learning.  He has no evidence to support this.  Yet, he keeps saying this, and pretty soon people believe him.  For example, I talked to a former student of mine who is a professor in North Carolina.  He explained to me that starting in April, teachers will no longer be paid at the master’s or doctoral levels.

Another of Gates claims is that class size makes no difference in the student learning.  He bases this on hearsay when he spouts that the best teachers actually want to take on more students.  Yet a meta-analysis of 100 studies in the 1980s by Gene Glass and others showed that smaller class size does affect student learning.  (See Berliner, D.C. & Glass, G. V & Associates, 50 Myths & Lies that threaten America’s Public Schools, Teachers College Press, 2014).

Nearly every claim that Gates makes about education needs to be questioned.

It seems to me that he sees education the way he sees disease.  Clearly the Gates Foundation has contributed immensely to eradicating disease and improving health around the world.  In the Gates conception of education, however, K-12 public education can be fixed by developing the means to improve standards, weed out the bad teachers, and insert an accountability system that makes educators responsible for student learning.

To fix education, the Gates Foundation has created a U.S. K-12 education program to make sure that students are able to succeed in college.  They call it the College-Ready Education program, and as I’ve stated before, it’s a very large investment, indeed, greater than $3.38 billion.

College-Ready Education

According to the Foundation there are three areas of focus in the College-Ready Education program: teaching, learning and innovation.  Each area highlights funding opportunities as follows:

Teaching: The MET Project

The major focus here has been on the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project.  According to the Foundation, the MET is designed to give feedback to teachers by investigating “what great teaching looks like, and the types of measures that can offer a fair assessment of teaching for helping every teacher be their best.

Learning: The Common Core State Standards

Figure 1. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Timeline of Grantmaking. Source of data: gates foundation.org
Figure 2. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Timeline of Grantmaking. Source of data: gates foundation.org

The major focus here is on the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  Funding includes working with organizations to carry out the standards into American schools.  It also means working with organizations to produce and design instructional materials tied to the CCSS.  The Foundation’s focus on learning also means measuring and gauging students’ understanding of the content in the CCSS.

Bill Gates got involved in the Common Core State Standards while they were in the “idea phase.”  As reported in a Washington Post article on June 7, 2014, Gates was approached by Gene Wilhoit, director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core (and now President of the College Board) who convinced Gates to support the development of a set of common standards that would be used in every school in the nation.  See Mercedes Schneider’s critique of this article, and why there was a three-month delay in publishing the article.  Who’s in collusion here?

Power and influence resulted in the adoption of Common Core State Standards by 45 states, but more importantly by collaboration with the Duncan run U.S. Department of Education.  Duncan required the adoption of the Common Core by states applying for the $4.5 billion Race to the Top Fund, as well as using student test scores to evaluate teachers.  All of this was done with the influence and money of the Gates Foundation.

Lindsey Layton, author of the Washington Post article put it this way:

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

One 2009 study, conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute with a $959,116 Gates grant, described the proposed standards as being “very, very strong” and “clearly superior” to many existing state standards.

Gates money went to state and local groups, as well, to help influence policymakers and civic leaders. And the idea found a major booster in President Obama, whose new administration was populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates. The administration designed a special contest using economic stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards (Layton, L. “How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution,” Washington Post  7 June 2014. Web 9 June 2014).

If you look at Figure 1 again, note that in the 2009, the number of grants and investments made by Gates more than tripled from 135 in 2008, to 434 in 2009.

Innovation: Technology and Online Learning

This focus area addresses online learning, and use of social networks, websites, and a variety of tools and technologies to produce a “new generation of courseware that adapts sophisticated ways to students’ learning needs.  Included here is game-based learning.  There is the drive here to use digital tools to individualize instruction, and to enable students to progress through (Common Core State Standards?) topics.

It seems to me that the Gates’ investments have reinforced Pasi Sahlberg’s GERM (Global Education Reform Model) theory of education reform.  Dr. Sahlberg likens educational reform to a virus which is infecting schools, especially in the Northern Alliance of countries, e.g. Australia, Europe and North America.  Unfortunately, (according to Dr. Sahlberg) so-called educational reform is simply enhancing the symptoms or characteristics of GERM.  Here is what philanthropists, such as Gates, are investing in:

 

  • Focus on Basics–basic knowledge and skills in reading, math, and science
  • Prescription–setting clear, centrally prescribed performance standards for all schools, all students
  • Standardized testing–collecting data through standardized testing on students’ achievement in reading, math & science.
  • Test-based accountability–school performance is tied to promotion, rewards and punishments
  • Bureaucratic control–data collected results in evaluations and inspections, less flexibility

There is much more to this story, and I’ll be publishing more graphs and charts that you can use to further understand how Gates invests in GERM. What do you think? Do you think that this kind of philanthropy is beneficial to American education?

Is Technology the Trojan Horse of the Common Standard’s Movement?

 

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Anthony Cody (Living in Dialog) and Mercedes Schneider (deutsch29) wrote articles on their blogs about the Arne Duncan – Bill Gates – Common Standard’s triumvirate.  Cody commented that Duncan and Gates are trying to woo teachers to support the floundering rollout of the Common Standards.  As he explains, teachers were not involved in the development of the Common Standards, but now Duncan and Gates are using their bully pulpits to lure teachers onto their bandwagon.  But as Anthony Cody says:

Remember, if Bill Gates and the Department of Education trusted teachers, they would not have had the Common Core standards drafted by testmakers instead of educators. If they trusted teachers they would not have created the pseudoscience of VAM to try to hunt down the “bad teachers” hiding amongst us. If they trusted teachers they would not create “teacher voice” organizations that require allegiance to their beliefs. If they trusted National Board certified teachers, they would not disregard their expertise until they needed it to sell their Common Core standards and testing system to the public. Cody, A. Cody, Anthony. “Gates and Duncan Seek to Use Trust in Teachers to Promote Common Core.” Living in Dialog. Education Week, 16 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2014. <http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2014/03/gates_and_duncan_seek_to_lever.html>

Over on Mercedes Schneider’s blog, she warns us to look for a change of name or tagline for the Common Core State Standards.  A name change or a re-branding, if you will, is because of the anti-common core movement that is hitting Gates and Duncan straight on.  Schneider suggests that technology will play a major role in the re-branding of the Common Standards, and we’ve seen evidence of this for years.  Jeb Bush and his minions are flying around the country selling states on virtual classrooms, technology-based curriculum, data systems, and all the rest.

Too many state legislators think that technology is the answer to what ails education.  However, if they would study the research on the way that eduction has not embraced technology, they might put their mouths somewhere else.  Yet, in today’s culture, information and research does not seem to affect the way legislators vote, or the policies they enact.

Schneider is right on target to suggest that the Common Standards will enter the classroom on the heels of our infatuation with technology.

Yesterday I reported the results of  a search of the Gates Foundation College-Ready grants for 2009 & earlier – 2013 using the terms Common Core, and the search returned 161 results.  The largest grant was awarded to the Kentucky Department of Education for $9,800,877, and the smallest grant was awarded to Benchmark Education Company for $25,000.  Using an Excel spreadsheet of the 161 programs that focused on the Common Core, I found out that the Gates Foundation has awarded grants totaling $204,350,462.  That’s $269 million for 161 programs.  The average grant was for $1,269,258.

Today I want to report what I discovered when I went back to this data base about technology grants.  I searched the 161 programs for the term technology and the search returned 131 results.  I found that of the $204.3 million that Gates awarded for Common Core programs, $151,966,216 was spent on programs that were technology-based.   For example, the Alliance for Education, a Seattle-based group, received the largest grant which was $25,464,998.  It was funded to improve teaching and learning by enhancing student access to technology.  There are 130 more examples on the Gates Awarded Grants webpage which you can explore here.

Figure 1 identifies five different types of groups that were funded including organizations (public and private), public school districts, universities, state education departments, and private and charter schools.  Figure one also shows that public and private organizations got the lions share of Gates technology funding, followed by state departments of education, public school districts, state departments of education, and private and charter schools.

Figure 1. Technology Grants Awarded to various groups by the Gates Foundation 2009 & earlier - 2014
Figure 1. Technology Grants Awarded to various groups by the Gates Foundation 2009 & earlier – 2014

It is quite clear that Gates is investing (his term) in technology in schools.  It’s no surprise.  But we must keep in mind the word technology is a seductive term, especially when used in the context of schools.  But the history of top-down technology projects has not served classroom teachers very well.  Too often, the technology is used to replace what was already going on in classrooms, or to use a tablet as a textbook.

The paradigm of learning is normally not addressed when the “influential ones” such as Bush and Gates tote their ideas into America’s schools.  Teachers know this.  That is why the most articulate explanation for why the Common Standards should not be pushed into classrooms, come from classroom teachers.  Simply read Mercedes Schneider’s blog.

Schneider says this about how technology might be used to prop up the Common Standards:

It makes sense, then, to “rebrand” CCSS into a technological savior. Turn the public’s attention away from the spending of so many millions on CCSS-assessment technology while programs and staff are being cut.

So, one of the ways that CCSS can morph and can make the money spent on technology appear tied to the “standards” (whatever they might be called in an effort to not call them CCSS) is to refocus on how useful untested CCSS will certainly be (tongue in cheek) for Promoting Technological Prowess Necessary to Compete in the Global Economy.  Schneider, Mercedes. “Common Core As “Technologically Necessary”: A Looming Shift In Sales Pitch?” Deutsch29. N.p., 16 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2014. .

Finally, one more thing.  The Common Standards are embedded in the U.S. Department of Education program, the Race to the Top.  It was almost impossible to get a RT3 grant if the Common Standards were not a part of a proposal.  The RT3 program that I’ve investigated is the Georgia RT3.  Georgia received $400 million.  Keep in mind that half of this amount was distributed to 26 participating Georgia public school districts.  Those funds support the primary goals of RT3 which is to set in motion a technology driven system, which involves millions of dollars for Common Standards implementation, and the creation of data systems to manage schools.  Take a look at the way the $400 million is being spent in Georgia (Figure 2).  More than half of the money is being used to support data driven education.  I’d say that Mercedes Schneider’s warning about a re-branding of the Common Standards is well underway.

Figure 2. Georgia RT3 Budget 2010 - 1014.
Figure 2. Georgia RT3 Budget 2010 – 1014.

What do you think about technology and its role in the Common Standards movement?

 Trojan Horse Image,tams Leever, Creative Commons 

What Sort of Teacher Preparation Programs Does the Gates Foundation Support?

Did you know that between 2008 and 2013, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided more than $37 million in funding for teacher preparation projects?

What sort of teacher preparation programs does the Gates Foundation support?

Only 8% of these funds were awarded to university teacher education programs. Ninety-two percent of the grant money was awarded to corporations including The New Teacher Project (TNTP) and Teach for America (TFA).  Michelle Rhee, a former Teach for America cadet, and former Chancellor of the D.C. schools founded and ran The New Teacher Project.   Teach for America was founded by Wendy Kopp in 1989.  Rhee has two years of teaching experience, while Kopp has no teaching experience.

So, organizations whose heads have very little practical teaching experience are likely to receive funding from the Gates Foundation, while universities with qualified and experienced educators are not likely to receive much in funding.

As you see in Figure 1, ten institutions received funding for teacher preparation from Gates.  Only four are universities. There were 20 funded grants, most of them going to two organizations, TFA and TNTP.  In each of these programs, teachers are trained during a 5-week summer term, and then assigned to a school somewhere in the country.   Under these circumstances, school districts have a pipeline of new, but uncertified and inexperienced teachers to hire, often in challenging teaching environments.

The university grants are very small in comparison to the TFA and TNTP.  The largest of the university grants was awarded to the University of Central Florida to support its TeachLivE program, a simulation for teacher development.  According to the TeachLivE website, “it provides pre-service and in-service teachers the opportunity to learn new skills and to craft their practice without placing “real” students at risk during the learning process.”

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This graph is based on data from the Gates Foundation that appeared in the Education Week article, “Follow the Money: Gates Giving for Its Teacher Agenda“, November 5, 2013.

The Gates Foundation, which is the largest private foundation on Earth, believes that teachers can be trained in a summer camp type of environment, and immediately be placed in schools to teach.  Because many of the persons that are recruited by programs such as Teach for America sign up for only two years, in the long run, this approach to teacher preparation is not sustainable.  Suggesting that uncertified and in the long run, part-time teachers is a way to staff schools with effective teachers is unfortunate.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 7.52.23 PMTeacher education makes a difference in the quality and effectiveness of professional teachers. Clinically based, and constructivist oriented teacher education program are more effective than a summer program in which pedagogy is crammed into a five-week program.  I know this first-hand because I was involved in two summer teacher education programs at Georgia State University from 1987 – 1992 (The Alternative Certification Program and the AFT Educational Research and Dissemination Program-TRIPS) Although our programs involved mentor teachers, who also received training, the programs did not compare in effectiveness to the program that emerged from our experiences.  Out of our experiences in these two programs, we developed the TEEMS program, a master’s level, full-time, clinically based program for mathematics and science teachers.

In a Journal of Teacher Education article entitled How Teacher Education Matters, Linda Darling-Hammond reviewed the literature on teacher education programs and has this to say:

Despite longstanding criticisms of teacher education, the weight ofsubstantial evidence indicates that teachers who have had more preparation for teaching are more confident and successful with students than those who have had little or none. Recent evidence also indicates that reforms of teacher education creating more tightly integrated programs with extended clinical preparationinterwoven with coursework on learning and teaching produce teachers who are both more effective and more likely to enter and stay in teaching. An important contribution of teacher education is its development of teachers’abilities to examine teaching from the perspective of learners who bring diverse experiences and frames of reference to the classroom.

Post Script

In teacher preparation there are various pathways to becoming a teacher, including teacher education programs, alternative programs, or no program.  Based on a large study of 3000 beginning teachers in New York City regarding their views on their preparation for teaching, their beliefs and practice, and their plans to remain in teaching (Darling-Hammond, Chung, and Frelow), the researchers found that:

  • teachers who were prepared in teacher education programs felt significantly better prepared across most dimensions of teaching than those who entered teaching through alternative programs or without preparation.
  • the extent to which teachers felt well prepared when they entered teaching was significantly correlated with their sense of teaching efficacy, their sense of responsibility for student learning, and their plans to remain in teaching.
  • These are significant finding in the context of the drive to place non-certified and non-prepared teachers into classrooms that typically are more demanding and require more knowledge about learning and student development than these individuals can deliver.  The knowledge base on teaching is enormous, and to think that we can prepare teachers in 5 – 8 week institutes only devalues what we know about preparing teachers for practice.

What do you think about effort of the Gates Foundation to influence the way teachers are prepared?

Anthony Cody: Dialogue With the Gates Foundation: How Do We Build the Teaching Profession?

Guest Post by Anthony Cody

Note: This is the first of five posts on the dialog between Anthony Cody and his readers, and the Gates Foundation.  This post was originally published on Anthony’s site over on Education Week Teacher.  This dialog is a major contribution to educational reform.  Anthony Cody is one of the leading voices in America questioning the nature of present day reform.  One of the major players in nearly every aspect of the current authoritarian and standards-based reform is the Gates Foundation.

Anthony Cody spent 24 years working in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high needs middle school. He is National Board certified, and now leads workshops with teachers focused on Project Based Learning. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning. For additional information on Cody’s work, visit his Web site, Teachers Lead. Or follow him on Twitter.

Two weeks ago I traveled to Seattle and spent most of the day meeting with leaders of the Gates Foundation, discussing their work around education reform. I have been critical of the impact their agenda has had, but they expressed an interest in opening up a dialogue. This blog post will be the first in a series of exchanges that will explore some of the key issues in education. We plan a process where we will take turns posting our perspective on a given theme, followed by a response from the other party. All posts will be carried here, and at the Gates Foundation’sImpatient Optimists blog. We will ask everyone to join in a lively discussion. The education reform debate has deteriorated at times—our goal is to engage in a constructive conversation, to turn down the heat, and to seek a bit more light.

In the weeks to come we will get into some nitty gritty issues, such as what it means to “measure” teacher effectiveness? What is the role of poverty in relationship to education reform? What is the purpose of a k-12 education? And what role should the drive for profit play in our schools? But as our starting point, we are going to take a narrower focus, and tackle something a bit more concrete. This first exchange will focus on these questions: How can educators create a strong professional culture in our schools? How do we build the teaching profession?

The Gates Foundation has presented effective teaching as the focus of its education work for the past few years. Unfortunately much of the reform work of the past few years has focused on the negative side of the teacher-effectiveness equation. Reports like “The Widget Effect” have built up the idea that American schools are places where nobody is ever fired. Films like “Waiting for Superman” have reinforced the concept that due process for teachers means we have “jobs for life.” The Gates Foundation, I believe, has actively promoted these ideas, and in 2010, Bill Gates stated on Oprah that if we could get rid of bad teachers, “our schools would shoot from the bottom of these (international) rankings to the top.”

But there seems to be a growing awareness that real growth will not come from this strategy of rooting out the bottom 5 percent of performers. We will need to do some heavy lifting to reverse some of the counterproductive work that has been done to advance that agenda—but we will save that for another post. For this discussion, I want to explore what a healthy collaborative culture looks like, and how it relates to teacher evaluation.

Let’s take a look at the best model of collaboration I have seen in recent years, the teachers at New Highland Academy in East Oakland. This team of teachers worked with the support of a team at Mills College to engage in thoughtful inquiry into their practice. They met regularly to look at student work and talk about where their students were struggling. When they looked at their students’ work, they saw that while the curriculum they were using was helping the students learn to decode, their comprehension was lagging. They chose a set of strategies to help their students to find meaning in what they read, and worked across the school to try this out.

Here is how teacher leader Aija Simmons explained it:

“The Answers” are what we all problematize. Because what “the answer” is for me in this moment might not be the answer two years from now. So the good thing about inquiry is that I’m constantly understanding that there’s a new question, this is a new group of students, it might work better than the last thing but I’m continuing to probe myself, so that I’m pushing myself to deeper understandings about how my students learn, and I’m coming back to the question. I have had several inquiry projects that I’ve looked at over the course of multiple years, but I use them as professional developments. People have the same question that you have, and as you come together, and you begin to think more and share your ideas of inquiry, and get more tools, we’re moving ourselves forward.

They saw tremendous results. But the biggest lesson was not just the result, but the ownership these teachers had of their own expertise. By engaging in this process, where THEY figured out the big challenge before them, and THEY figured out what to do about it, and how to monitor their students’ learning, they were acting as professionals. The energy you see in these teachers is what happens when you give people autonomy and the time to use it. This energy is destroyed when mandates and models of professional growth are imposed from above.

This sort of research allows teacher to give one another feedback, and reflect on their practice. This feedback and reflection is most productive in a teacher-led collaborative context. It does not NEED to be a part of an evaluative process in order for teachers to learn and grow. Of course, evaluations should recognize and encourage this sort of work. But the most productive collaboration is peer-to-peer, of the sort done by the teachers at New Highland Academy.

When we look at our schools, we have to ask, what does it take to support this kind of innovation?

Confidence in teachers: The principal at this school trusted these teachers to take on this challenge.

Active partners, and a model of inquiry: These teachers were supported by the Mills Teacher Scholars program, which helped them learn how to investigate their practice using the teacher inquiry process. Other models that I have seen work well are Lesson Study and the National Board’s Take One process.

Autonomy and choice. These teachers actively chose the form of inquiry they would pursue, and thoughtfully determined the line of inquiry they would follow.
Stability: This project was led by experienced, expert teachers. This sort of thing will not succeed in a school with high turnover.

Small class sizes. Special funding has kept class sizes small at this high poverty school, which has made this work much more possible.
Time for collaboration: Teachers cannot do this sort of work without dedicated time for collaboration.

This school has been supported by the Quality Education Investment Act, a state funding program developed by the California Teachers Association. These funds allow for smaller class size, and that big essential, time for teachers to meet and reflect together.

This sort of process is destroyed by high-stakes tests and the micromanagement that comes with top-down mandates. It is crucial that teachers at any given site have the autonomy to choose the model of collaborative inquiry that fits their culture and the challenges they face. Every time I have seen extraordinary leadership emerge from a staff it has been when this autonomy was given. And every time I have seen top-down reforms come along, the energy drains away. We will not get this sort of professional culture without trusting and empowering our teachers to behave as true professionals.

Another model of professional growth was a mentoring program I started in Oakland, calledTeamScience. Now entering its fifth year, this project pairs veteran science teachers with novices, in order to boost their effectiveness and retain them. This program has been needed because of the district’s reliance on programs like Teach For America to fill vacancies, epecially in science, math and special education. Unfortunately, research has shown that 57 percent of the people entering TFA do not intend to make teaching their career, and in fact, three years after they start, three fourths of these teachers are gone from our schools. Although we made a dent in the turnover rate, high numbers of these novices continue to rotate through our schools. Providing them with mentors has some short term benefit, in terms of the quality of their instruction. But this investment is lost if these temporary teachers leave, taking their expertise with them.

Recent research on teacher turnover has revealed the high cost of instability:

For each analysis, students taught by teachers in the same grade-level team in the same school did worse in years where turnover rates were higher, compared with years in which there was less teacher turnover.

An increase in teacher turnover by 1 standard deviation corresponded with a decrease in math achievement of 2 percent of a standard deviation; students in grade levels with 100 percent turnover were especially affected, with lower test scores by anywhere from 6 percent to 10 percent of a standard deviation based on the content area.

The negative effect of turnover on student achievement was larger in schools with more low-achieving and black students.

To build the teaching profession we must recruit people who want to make a serious commitment to teaching, then support them with meaningful training. Why not subsidize people who choose to become teachers, and allow them to serve as half-time apprentices alongside excellent mentors? They could use the other half of their time to take courses in child development and pedagogy. Urban teacher residency programs offer models along these lines, but are not well-supported.

Unfortunately the Gates Foundation has been a big supporter of Teach For America in the past. If we are going to build the profession, and sustain solid collaboration at our toughest schools, we need to place a high priority on stability. Any program that encourages people to enter the classroom without a desire to stay beyond two years is a tremendous waste of time and energy.

What about teacher evaluation?

In a post I wrote earlier this year, I tried to create a portrait of what a constructive evaluation process might look like:

A teacher meets with his or her evaluator. They review the professional standards in use, and look for areas in need of growth. Maybe it is a focus on literacy and writing skills. Maybe it is bringing the English learners level of engagement and participation up. They discuss strategies the teacher might try to address these things, and they also discuss the forms of evidence they will look at over the year to see what is happening in this area. Assessment, especially of the classroom-based formative sort, is a powerful tool. How is a teacher assessing his or her students’ abilities? How are they using that information to give feedback and give the student appropriate, challenging work? This is where teachers use genuine assessment grounded in their understanding of their students. When this sort of assessment data is shared with an evaluator, a comprehensive portrait of how this teacher is helping students to grow can emerge.

Once an area of focus has been defined, the teacher and evaluator find some professional development resources that might help as well — maybe a conference to attend, some books that might be read, a grade-level team that might come observe a lesson here and there and offer feedback, a colleague that is expert in this area to go observe. Then over the year, the teacher collects student work samples that provide evidence of learning. They document how they have designed instruction to help students learn, and show where they have provided feedback. The evaluator observes, a few times at random, and a few times by request, to see particular lessons. This evidence would be appropriate to the goal that has been set. It could include some test data, but test data would just be one source of evidence among many.

In Bill Gates’ recent speech in Atlanta, he framed the problem this way:

Developing a great teacher improvement system is truly difficult—because there are no models. The country’s teachers have been working in systems where almost everyone gets a good evaluation—and almost no one gets any feedback. That’s the key point. Our teachers get no feedback—no guidance on how to get better.

I disagree with this dismal appraisal. There is certainly room for improvement in teacher evaluation, but to say there are “no models” whatsoever is wrong. Take a look at the report I worked on several years ago with fellow members of Accomplished California Teachers.The model I described above is in action in the schools of Santa Clara, California.

Another model with which I have some experience is Peer Assistance and Review (PAR). I served for two years as a Consulting Teacher in Oakland’s PAR program. I was tasked with observing and assisting teachers who had received poor evaluations. I was in their classrooms every week, and met often with them, offering feedback and resources to help them improve. I also took notes on what I observed, and in the spring wrote a report which was used as the basis of a recommendation from a joint union/administration committee as to the teacher’s continued status. In most cases, the referred teachers were convinced to leave the system.

I discovered doing this work that, in most cases, my observations matched up with those of the evaluator. However, there were a few occasions where this was not true. Perhaps a personality clash or power struggle had led to an unfair evaluation. In several cases the teacher in question transferred and was successful under a new administrator. The PAR program provides some essential elements that are needed to create a trustworthy evaluation system.

1. An initial check on the quality of the evaluations, which was often very uneven.
2. Another pair of eyes, with expertise, observing a teacher’s practice not just once or twice, but many times.
3. A chance for improvement—specific feedback, resources and time to make changes.

Teachers who are referred to PAR can indeed be terminated if they do not succeed in the program, and the majority of those referred left the system one way or another, although many chose to take early retirement or resign rather than go through the termination process. (The low number of actual terminations is at least part of the reason reports like “The Widget Effect” are so critical of Peer Assistance and Review—but this is deceptive.)

The PAR program gives crucial credibility to the entire evaluation process, as part of a system of due process. If you have chosen teaching as a career, you ought to have a real process before that career is ended by a few years of low VAM scores, or the un-verified opinion of one administrator.

The evaluation system I described from Santa Clara and the PAR program are not new discoveries for the profession, though Mr. Gates is apparently unfamiliar with them. We educators need to elevate and share these effective practices, and create powerful themes for strong evaluations. We need to look at the places where these practices are in place, and share them. I believe we will find these models are undermined, not enhanced, by the use of VAM and other test-driven reforms.

Even as educators move to improve evaluations, we should discard the idea that useful feedback can only come in the context of a high-stakes evaluation. Just as our students learn best when we shift the focus of feedback away from grades, teachers learn best when feedback and reflection is developed in the context of peer-to-peer collaboration, not in the context of them being rated, ranked or categorized in an evaluation system.

So to summarize my views:

We need to pursue the conditions necessary for solid reflective, collaborative cultures at schools. These are dynamic processes that rely on the leadership and inspiration of everyone involved. They require trust to be invested in our school leaders, who in turn need to trust their teachers to engage in this often open-ended work. Constant pressure to raise test scores and top-down mandates destroy this. These external pressures do not add coherence—they subtract it. Teachers need autonomy and time, and they need support, access to partners, the use of strong models of collaboration, and small class sizes so they are not overwhelmed every day. We need to strengthen, not eliminate due process, when we ask teachers to open their classroom practices to one another and reflect honestly about their practice.

[Editors’ Note: The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation helps support coverage of business and innovation in Education Week.]

Update: The Mills Teacher Scholars has just released this video showcasing their work with 90 teachers across the Oakland/Berkeley area.

What do you think about the models of professional growth and evaluation described here? How should we build a strong teaching profession?