The Gates Foundation is putting a lot more money into education reform, reports Elizabeth Green of GothamSchools.
The boldest move is a plan to write rigorous standards and a test to go with them.
Foundation officials said that the moves are motivated by their frustration with current tests and standards for what children should know, which each state drafts individually as part of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Vicki Phillips, the Gates Foundation’s director of education programs, said the result is a “testing crisis in this country,” in which tests are losing credibility among teachers, who see them as so low-quality that they are useless.
“Let’s admit it,” she said. “We can’t dispense with assessment, but neither can we keep adding low-quality tests.”
The foundation will work with states and school districts to develop a “fewer, clearer, higher” standards that “match what students need to know to succeed in college.”
Phillips said the foundation will usher a few trial assessments into development, and then test them out to see which are best at predicting whether students succeed in college. (From what I understand, this would involve having students take the test when they enter college and then following them through the process, to see whether high scores predict college completion.)
College completion is a Gates priority. Only about half of students who enroll in a four-year college receive a bachelor’s degree in six years. Many give up in the first year.
In addition, the foundation will spend more than $500 million to help states and school districts use data to track student performance, and $500 million to develop ways to improve teacher performance.
Does anybody else think this is a really, really bad idea? I’m delighted that the Gates Foundation has realized that throwing money at small schools didn’t work, but I’m not prepared to turn over the public’s interest in what is to be taught and learned to a private philanthropy, no matter how civic-minded it may be.
Gates will have to persuade educators and policy makers that his foundation’s standards and tests are better than what they’ve got now. Like Robert Pondiscio, I don’t see a sinister plot for world domination.