Gates put $472 million into college completion

The Gates Foundation has spent $472 million on higher education reforms since 2006 with most of it going to help low-income people complete college credentials. Gates-funded research has spurred state lawmakers to limit remedial coursework and link higher ed funding to graduation rates and other success measures. Is there pushback? Yes indeed.

Wealthy philanthropists are transforming public — but not private — higher education, warns a professor who thinks the economic elite are too powerful.

Videotaping helps teachers improve

At a low-performing Indianapolis high school, instructional coaches use classroom videotapes to help teachers improve their lessons and learn from colleagues, reports Scott Elliott in the Indianapolis Star. The Star is following the turnaround (it’s hoped) of Arlington High, which was taken over by the state after six years of very low test scores. EdPower, which took over the school a year ago, installed a camera in every classroom.

As a video played showing first-year high school English teacher Katie Bonfiglio at work, Spanish teacher Patrice Patton watched in awe.

“Wow, I’ve never seen those kids behave like that in my class,” Patton gushed, as she watched a room of typically restless ninth-grade boys fully engaged in a discussion of literature.

That’s just the reaction Paul Chin, Arlington High School’sassistant principal, was hoping for when he asked Bonfiglio if he could show her recorded lesson to about 15 of her colleagues.

.  . . (Bonfiglio) found the discussion with her peers so eye-opening she made changes to some of her other teaching routines.

As a teacher at a high-performing, high-poverty charter school in Newark run by Uncommon Schools, Chin recorded himself teaching so he could analyze his lessons and discuss the video with the principal. He shows Arlington teachers videos of teachers at his old school teaching effectively and helps them analyze their own lessons.

Video recording of teachers also can be used to evaluate teacher performance, which means it’s controversial. Indiana is requiring public schools to create teacher evaluation and rating systems.

Harvard researcher Thomas Kane analyzed 7,500 lessons taught by 1,300 teachers in six school districts for the  Methods of Effective Teaching Study, which was funded by the Gates Foundation.

“Digital video may be more valuable than an observer’s notes for allowing a teacher to “see,” literally, the strengths and weaknesses in their practice,” Kane said. “Someone cannot remember what they did not notice in the first place.”

Kane believes all teachers should record themselves teaching and submit “lessons they are proud of” for their performance reviews. “We would then train principals on how to use the video for evaluating and providing productive feedback to teachers.”

Privacy fears derail K-12 database

States are backing away from a $100 million database set up to track millions of public school students amid privacy protests by parents and civil libertarians, reports Reuters.

The database, funded mostly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is intended to track students from kindergarten through high school by storing myriad data points: test scores, learning disabilities, discipline records – even teacher assessments of a child’s character. The idea is that consolidated records make it easier for teachers to use software that mines data to identify academic weaknesses. Games, videos or lesson plans would then be precisely targeted to engage specific children or promote specific skills.

The system is set up to identify millions of children by name, race, economic status and other metrics and is constructed in a way that makes it easy for school districts to share some or all of that information with private companies developing education software.

The nonprofit that runs the database, inBloom Inc, had nine states as partners in March when the project was announced. Kentucky, Georgia and Delaware have backed out, Louisiana will hold hearings before providing any data and Massachusetts and North Carolina are wavering. That leaves New York, Illinois and Colorado as active participants.

Districts already store student data and often share it with private vendors hired to crunch the numbers, said former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, who sits on the inBloom board of directors.

InBloom simply consolidates in one secure, cloud-hosted database the reams of student information now scattered among an array of computer servers, teacher grade books and file cabinets, Wise said. The districts retain complete control over which data to store in inBloom and whether to let third-party vendors use it.

In Colorado’s test district, suburban Jefferson County, software lets teachers look at digital “dashboards” that show which students are having trouble with which skills.  When teachers got a sneak peek, “by far the most common question was, ‘Could we get this in my classroom tomorrow?’” said Greg Mortimer, the chief information officer for the 85,000-student district.

Some inBloom supporters, such as the Council of Chief State School Officers, are backing away from the database and focusing on phase two, an online library of lesson plans, quiz questions and other teaching resources that won’t use student data. However, some states already have joined together to create their own online library.

Officials at inBloom vow to do a better job of explaining how the database will help teachers improve teaching. And the nonprofit will ask districts to assign each student a random numerical ID instead of using students’ Social Security numbers. “But spokesman Adam Gaber refused to say whether Social Security numbers might be included elsewhere – not as a label but as a basic data point, along with ethnicity, address, parents’ names and other personal information routinely collected by public schools.”

I don’t think inBloom has a sinister purpose, but it’s a tough time to persuade parents of that. The government is tracking your phone calls, emails and texts and now the public schools want to make it easy to track your children’s academic, behavioral and health records in a giant database — a “permanent record” in the cloud — that can be accessed by officials and private companies.

‘Corporate reformers’ are public school allies

Demonizing “corporate school reform” is a waste of venom, argues Larry Cuban, a former Stanford education professor, superintendent and teacher.

Critics of the contemporary school reform agenda of test-based accountability, evaluating and paying teachers on the basis of test scores, more charter schools, and Common Core Standards point to the stakeholders in the civic, philanthropic, and business led coalition (e.g., Walton, Gates, and Broad foundations, hedge fund managers, mayors who have taken over city schools, testing companies) that have linked education and the economy since the 1980s. These critics argue that this reform agenda seeks to turn schools into market-driven organizations where consumer choice reigns and teaching and learning are commodities to be packaged and delivered.

“My experiences and research see no conspiracies to destroy public schools or bash teachers but differences in political beliefs, values, and language over the direction public schools should take  in an ever-changing global economy, one in which business and government have been and are continually entangled in making decisions,” Cuban concludes.

Is There A “Corporate Education Reform” Movement? asks Leo Casey on Shanker Blog, citing Cuban’s essay. He has doubts too.

Vicki Phillips, director of K-12 programs at the Gates Founation, collaborated with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on a sponsored article on teacher evaluation in The New Republic.

From blog posts to some reader comments section on Diane Ravitch’s blog, what one found were not political analyses or reasoned objections to the particular points where Phillips and Weingarten were in agreement, but tests of moral purity, in which any discussion of common ground with Gates and the Gates Foundation was regarded as the violation of a pollution taboo. One blogger even managed to condemn Weingarten for doing what he himself tells us he did – engage in a dialogue with the Gates Foundation.

Chill, Casey advises. Every progressive reform in the U.S.  has been backed “by a powerful mass movement from below” and “a fraction of the power elite from above,” he writes. “Those of us who care about the survival and health of public education need all (the allies) we can find, even those who are not allies for all things or for all time.”

 

Gates targets education policy

The Gates Foundation, with a whopping $37 billion in assets, is spending more to influence education policy, writes Joy Pullman in Heartlander Magazine. The foundation funds “myriad seemingly grassroots” advocacy groups. That’s causing concerns, she writes.

“Philanthropists, unlike teachers unions, they don’t have an obvious constituency,” said Sarah Reckhow, a Michigan State political science professor. “Teachers unions represent teachers. Who does the Gates Foundation represent?”

Gates has spent $173 million to develop Common Core State Standards and to persuade 46 states to adopt them, writes Pullman. At an Indiana legislative hearing, 26 of the 32 people who testified against a bill to withdraw Indiana from the Core are members of organizations the Gates Foundation funds.”

“The Gates Foundation completely orchestrated the Common Core,” said Jay Greene, who runs the University of Arkansas’ department of education reform. Still, Greene thinks the foundation is following education reform trends already adopted by the “D.C. elite,” not setting them. Gates and the U.S. Department of Education are together “push[ing] down into states and localities the consensus they have already arrived at,” he said.

The Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education,” Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, told the Puget Sound Business Journal in 2009 after four Gates employees moved to the U.S. Department of Education.

Kevin Welner, who directs the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder, worries that Gates has too much influence.

“I’d like others—particularly [in] the communities that are impacted by the most high-profile school policies—to have at least an equal voice to those from the outside,” he wrote in an email to School Reform News.

Nearly everyone Pullman interviewed “agreed Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation’s employees are, as Greene put it, ‘good people trying to do good things.’ But that does not quell their concerns.” (She must not have talked to Diane Ravitch.)

There are people who think Bill Gates is trying to get even richer by giving billions of dollars away. I think that’s crazy. But I do worry about the foundation’s enormous clout in education debates.

Conspiracy theories about nefarious philanthropists are “laughable,” writes RiShawn Biddle. There’s nothing stealthy about the Gates Foundation’s role in advocating for the Common Core, he adds. Bill and Melinda Gates are “doing nothing more than what any of us would do if we had the cash: Using their dollars and influence to  engage in efforts to improve the world in which they live.”

The American Federation of Teachers gave $6 million to advocacy groups and charities in 2011-12, reports the Education Intelligence Agency. The largest donation was $1.2 million to Californians Working Together, which backed a state ballot measure that raised taxes to fund schools.

Most of the donations were ho-hum, but I was a bit surprised to see $10,000 went to the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center and another $9,155 to the Center for Citizenship Education in Mongolia. I like Rabin. I favor good citizenship in Mongolia. But is this why teachers pay union dues?

Young teachers demand a voice

More than half of teachers now have fewer than 10 years of experience. Led by this new generation, the “teacher voice movement” is Taking Back Teaching, writes Richard Lee Colvin, former director of Education Sector, in Education Next.

Several new groups work to amplify the voices of top classroom teachers as they weigh in on controversial policy issues, as with the evaluations in Los Angeles. The Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellows, the New Millennium Initiative, and the Viva Project, a digital platform for crowdsourcing teachers’ ideas, all fall into this category.

The aim of another set of programs is to keep successful teachers in the profession by giving them opportunities to assume leadership roles, as with Teach Plus and its T3 project. A fellowship program launched in 2008 by Leading Educators, which began in New Orleans and is now expanding to Kansas City and Detroit, for example, provides a select group of teachers with training in education issues, management, leadership, and problem solving.

A third front in the so-called “teacher voice” movement pushes local unions to become more democratic. . . . NewTLA in Los Angeles, operates as a caucus within the union there.

Regardless of the approach, all of the groups unabashedly acknowledge that some teachers are more effective than others and that even the best teachers want to keep improving their practice. Rather than seeing themselves as adversaries to either unions or school districts, teachers who get involved in these groups tend to think of themselves as problem solvers. As a result, many district, state, and national education policymakers view them as more authentic classroom voices than union activists.

Teachers’ unions often see the advocacy groups as a threat, Colvin writes. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called Educatiors 4 Excellence, which influenced New York’s policy on appeals of low performance ratings,  “a wedge against the union.”

E4E members (were called) “anti-union scum” and “union-busting plants” in online forums. One comment on a GothamSchools blog post complained that “in the past all young teachers paid their dues, and didn’t complain about being low man on the totem pole” in the union. (Co-founder Sydney) Morris said E4E is not anti-union. “We’re trying to strengthen the union in the long run by having it become more representative of its members,” Morris said.

Critics say the new groups represent the foundations that provide their funding, not grassroots teachers.

Funders include the Ford Foundation, the Joyce, Stuart, Arnold and Hewlett foundations and Mayor Mike’s Bloomberg Philanthropies, writes Colvin. “The largest source of funding is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which currently has $13.5 million invested in nine teacher-advocacy groups, including $975,000 over two years going to E4E. But the foundation has also given $4 million to the AFT and $500,000 to the NEA to fund similar projects.”

Gates: Mix measures to evaluate teachers

Combining growth in students’ test scores, student feedback and classroom observations produces accurate information on teacher effectiveness, according to Gates Foundation research.

A composite measure on teacher effectiveness drawing on all three of those measures, and tested through a random-assignment experiment, predicted fairly accurately how much high-performing teachers would successfully boost their students’ standardized-test scores, concludes the series of new papers, part of the massive Measures of Effective Teaching study launched three years ago.

No more than half of a teacher’s evaluation should be on growth in student achievement, researchers concluded.  In addition, teachers’ classroom performance should be observed by more than one person.

Of course, the controversy on how to evaluate teachers — and what to do with the information — is not over.

The ever-increasing federal role in education makes no sense, writes Marc Tucker, who complains that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is forcing states to evaluate teachers based on student performance in order to get No Child Left Behind waivers.  Most researchers don’t think value-added measures of teacher performance are reliable, writes Tucker.

The study is a “political document and not a research document,” Jay Greene tells the Wall Street Journal.  Classroom observations aren’t a strong predictor of student performance says Greene, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas. ”But the Gates Foundation knows that teachers and others are resistant to a system that is based too heavily on student test scores, so they combined them with other measures to find something that was more agreeable to them,” he said.

College credit for MOOCs?

If students could earn transferable credits for MOOCs (massive open online courses), the cost of higher education will go way down. The American Council on Education and Coursera, a MOOC provider, are looking for ways to translate MOOC learning into college credits, reports the New York Times.

 The council’s credit evaluation process will begin early next year, using faculty teams to begin to assess how much students who successfully complete Coursera MOOCs have learned. Students who want to take the free classes for credit would have to pay a fee to take an identity-verified, proctored exam. If the faculty team deems the course worthy of academic credit, students who do well could pay for a transcript to submit to the college of their choice. Colleges are not required to accept those credits, but similar transcripts are already accepted by 2,000 United States colleges and universities for training courses offered by the military or by employers.

Coursera, founded last year by two Stanford computer professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, has 33 university partners and nearly two million students, who currently can earn certificates of completion, but not academic credit, for their work.

The Gates Foundation is funding research on using MOOCs in remedial math and writing classes.

A free remedial math MOOC is being developed by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  The six-week course will be open to high school students and adult learners who hope to avoid the remedial track and start in college-level math classes.

In a “Fast Track” pilot this summer, 38 low-scoring students took the online course. After six weeks, all but one qualified for college-level math and science courses.

When students grade teachers

When students evaluate their teachers, they’re remarkably good at identifying who’s effective and who’s not, writes Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic. Students evaluations have proved to be “more reliable than any other known measure of teacher performance—­including classroom observations and student test-score growth,”  researchers have found, Ripley writes.

Some 250,000 students participated in a Gates Foundation study of student evaluations, using a survey developed by Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson.

The responses did indeed help predict which classes would have the most test-score improvement at the end of the year. In math, for example, the teachers rated most highly by students delivered the equivalent of about six more months of learning than teachers with the lowest ratings. (By comparison, teachers who get a master’s degree—one of the few ways to earn a pay raise in most schools —delivered about one more month of learning per year than teachers without one.)

Students were better than trained adult observers in evaluating teacher effectiveness, probably because students spend a lot more time with each teacher. And there are more of them.

Five items were linked strongly with student learning:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

Teachers were surprised that caring about students was less important than controlling the classroom and challenging students, Ripley writes.

At McKinley Technology High School in Washington D.C., the same students “gave different teachers wildly different reviews” on Control and Challenge.

For Control, which reflects how busy and well-behaved students are in a given classroom, teachers’ scores ranged from 16 to 90 percent favorable; for Challenge, the range stretched from 18 to 88 percent. Some teachers were clearly respected for their ability to explain complex material or keep students on task, while others seemed to be boring their students to death.

Memphis now counts student survey results as 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in the annual review; 35 percent is linked students’ test scores and 40 percent to classroom observations.

The use of student surveys is spreading to Georgia and Chicago — and possibly Pittsburgh — Ripley writes.

Colleges should outsource remedial ed

Colleges aren’t good at remedial education, writes Ohio University economist Richard Vedder. Few remedial students go on to earn a degree. Colleges should outsource remediation and concentrate on college-level instruction.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) were developed for motivated, independent learners. Now the Gates Foundation is funding proposals to create MOOCs for remedial students.