Contrarians At The Gates

Posted by on June 19, 2014

Unlike many of my colleagues, I don’t have a negative view of the Gates Foundation’s education programs. Although I will admit that part of me is uneasy with the sheer amount of resources (and influence) they wield, and there are a few areas where I don’t see eye-to-eye with their ideas (or grantees), I agree with them on a great many things, and I think that some of their efforts, such as the Measuring Effective Teachers project, are important and beneficial (even if I found their packaging of the MET results a bit overblown).

But I feel obliged to say that I am particularly impressed with their recent announcement of support for a two-year delay on attaching stakes to the results of new assessments aligned with the Common Core. Granted, much of this is due to the fact that I think this is the correct policy decision (see my opinion piece with Morgan Polikoff). Independent of that, however, I think it took intellectual and political courage for them to take this stance, given their efforts toward new teacher evaluations that include test-based productivity measures.

The announcement was guaranteed to please almost nobody.

Opponents of the Foundation immediately pounced to point out its seemingly contradictory actions – spending so much time and effort promoting test-based teacher evaluation, and then saying it should be delayed (a charge that, while understandable on the surface, isn’t quite fair).

On the other “side,” those who have traditionally supported the Foundation were also predictably upset at this announcement, as they believe it represents an unnecessary delay in many places, and that it may threaten the entire enterprise by enabling those who wish to roll back teacher accountability (though evidence that the transition is “going well” in some places is extremely tentative and mostly anecdotal, and the fear of roll back is more of a political than policy consideration).

There is certainly room for reasonable people to disagree about whether there should be a delay on attaching stakes to the new tests. Regardless of one’s opinion, however, I think there is also room to acknowledge that the Gates Foundation deserves credit for taking this stance. There is a lot of talk in education these days about “bold leadership,” sometimes referring to actions that fall a bit short. In this case, the description seems warranted.

- Matt Di Carlo


2 Comments posted so far

  • I don’t see this as bold leadership at all; after pushing junk science in the form of value-added test scores to be required in teacher evaluations nationwide, along with an unpiloted set of developmentally inappropriate standards, now we should give them credit for calling for a moratorium? The Gates Foundation reversed direction on small schools too — but not before they did a huge amount of damage. Why don’t they pilot small scale experiments upon willing victimes, wait for the results in the form of controlled studies and solicit feedback from stakeholders before forcing these policies on the country?

    Comment by Leonie Haimson
    June 25, 2014 at 5:15 PM
  • Petty waffling now doesn’t undo the tremendous damage done by the Gates Foundation and those so eager for their money. One can only wonder why unions and universities were so silent as the development of national education standards were turned over to politicos and a whiz-bang entrepreneur without education research background or critical on-the-ground savvy. Money has carried way too big a stick in all this.

    Comment by Susan Ohanian
    June 25, 2014 at 6:29 PM

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