Contrarians At The Gates

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.

A Look At The Education Programs Of The Gates Foundation

Our guest author today is Ken Libby, a graduate student studying educational foundations, policy and practice at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest philanthropic organization involved in public education. Their flexible capital allows the foundation to change course, experiment and take on tasks that would be problematic for other organizations.

Although the foundation’s education programs have been the subject of both praise and controversy, one area in which they deserve a great deal of credit is transparency. Unlike most other foundations, which provide a bare minimum, time-lagged account of their activities, Gates not only provides a description of each grant on its annually-filed IRS 990-PF forms, but it also maintains a continually updated list of grants posted on the foundation’s website. This nearly real-time outlet provides the public with information about grants months before the foundation is required to do so.

The purpose of this post is to provide descriptive information about programmatic support and changes between 2008 and 2010. These are the three years for which information is currently available.

Premises, Presentation And Predetermination In The Gates MET Study

** Also posted here on “Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post

The National Education Policy Center today released a scathing review of last month’s preliminary report from the Gates Foundation-funded Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project. The critique was written by Jesse Rothstein, a highly-respected Berkeley economist and author of an elegant and oft-cited paper demonstrating how non-random classroom assignment biases value-added estimates (also see the follow-up analysis).

Very quickly on the project: Over two school years (this year and last), MET researchers, working  in six large districts—Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Dallas, Denver, Hillsborough County (FL), Memphis, and New York City—have been gathering an unprecedented collection of data on teachers and students, grades 4-8.  Using a variety of assessments, videotapes of classroom instruction, and surveys (student surveys are featured in the preliminary report), the project is attempting to address some of the heretofore under-addressed issues in the measurement of teacher quality (especially non-random classroom assignment and how different classroom practices lead to different outcomes, neither of which are part of this preliminary report). The end goal is to use the information to guide in the creation of more effective teacher evaluation systems that incorporate high-quality multiple measures.

Despite my disagreements with some of the Gates Foundation’s core views about school reform, I think that they deserve a lot of credit for this project. It is heavily-resourced, the research team is top-notch, and the issues they’re looking at are huge.  The study is very, very important — done correctly. 

But Rothstein’s general conclusion about the initial MET report is that the results “do not support the conclusions drawn from them." Very early in the review, the following assertion also jumps off the page: "there are troubling indications that the Project’s conclusions were predetermined."