Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bill Gates: The 21st Century Andrew Carnegie

In 1905, Andrew Carnegie, then the richest man in the world, directed his extensive philanthropy to the problems of American education and endowed The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Chartered in 1906 by an act of Congress, the Carnegie Foundation's mission was and is "to do and perform all things necessary to encourage, uphold, and dignify the profession of the teacher and the cause of higher education." The Foundation's work grew to include involvement in education from kindergarten through graduate and professional schools and he founded the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and established many libraries.

The foundation's influential policy reports addressed quality, access and assessment; the development of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA); publication of The Flexner Report, which revolutionized medical education; creation of the Carnegie Unit; founding of the Educational Testing Service; and establishment of one of the leading research tools for educational researchers, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The Carnegie Foundation was also a leader in the effort to provide federal aid for higher education, and has contributed to a major body of work on higher education teaching and scholarship.

One might disagree with any particular aspect of Carnegie's efforts toward improving schools, but it's hard to doubt his commitment or impact. Carnegie was one of America's industrial aristocrats, who rose on his merits and the success of his industry. His thoughts on American education soon became education policy.

Since 2000, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (with a major boost from best-buddy Warren Buffett) has invested nearly $4 billion to improve high schools and provide college scholarships to over 16,000 students in an effort to ensure greater opportunity for Americans through public education.

The particulars of that effort, however, have been a hot topic of debate. Some claim the Gates program is an anti-union, pro-testing, pro-charter school ideology masquerading as more support for teachers. Others believe the reforms promoted by Gates are just what the doctor ordered.

Once again, American industrialists - this time from the technology and financial sectors - are advancing business-based principles as cures for what ails US schools.

If the match between the Gateses policies and those of the Obama administration is as strong as it appears, it is a powerful a signal of things to come. Given that Gates will make investments approximating those of the federal government, it's hard to discount their impact.

In November, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the foundation, told the Washington Post the foundation had discovered that innovation takes long-term commitment because school systems are often "entrenched" in their ways and teachers "siloed in their classrooms." The foundation plans to spend its resources over the century.

"We have been in this work for almost a decade" she said. "We've learned a lot about what works. . . . Let's focus on the thing that actually matters the most, which is the teacher."

What is the Gates plan? How does it connect to the federal government's road map?

Over at Bridging Differences, Diane Ravitch fired a shot across Arne Duncan's bow in "Conflicts of Interest and the Race to the Top":

It is not surprising that the Race to the Top has generated enormous buzz among educators since it dangles $4.3 billion to states that do what the U.S. Department of Education wants them to do. Now President Obama has announced that he is so pleased with the response to the Race that he intends to add another $1.3 billion in prize money to the competition.

Since this is an administration that claims to be about results, it is surprising, is it not, that they are increasing the prize money in the absence of any evidence that the competition is on the right track?

No, it is not surprising because the competition is in the hands of people who arrived in Washington with an ideology. They are not pragmatists. There is a nexus of power, and it begins with the Gates Foundation, which has a lock on decisionmaking at the Department of Education. If this election had been held five years ago, the department would be insisting on small schools, but because Gates has already tried and discarded that approach, the department is promoting the new Gates remedies: charter schools, privatization, and evaluating teachers by student test scores.

As we...know, personnel is policy. Secretary Duncan put Jim Shelton, a Gates Foundation executive, in charge of the department's half-billion-dollar Innovation Fund. And he selected Joanne Weiss to run the Race to the Top competition. Weiss was chief executive officer of the NewSchools Venture Fund, whose primary purpose is to launch charter school networks. I do not know Weiss, and I assume she is an upstanding citizen; but to my knowledge, she has never been an education practitioner or scholar or policymaker. She is an education entrepreneur, who has sold goods and services to the schools, and who most importantly led an organization dedicated to creating privately managed schools that operate with public money. So, why should it be surprising that the Race to the Top reflects the priorities of the NewSchools Venture Fund (charter schools) and of the Gates Foundation (teacher evaluations by test scores?

Ravitch, who worked for President George H W Bush, goes on to complain that certain forces have suppressed "critical discussions of charter schools" citing an Education Sector (think tank)report whose conclusion failed to match think tank expectations and was altered to be more sympathetic. I'm shocked. Shocked.

“The extraordinary demands of educating disadvantaged students to higher standards, the challenges of attracting the talent required to do that work, the burden of finding and financing facilities, and often aggressive opposition from the traditional public education system have made the trifecta of scale, quality, and financial sustainability hard to hit,” concludes the report, “Growing Pains: Scaling Up the Nation’s Best Charter Schools.”

As hard-hitting as the findings seem to be, the report is at the center of a controversy over whether the final text—released by the Washington think tank on Nov. 24—was watered down.

The main author, Education Sector co-founder Thomas Toch, asked to have his name removed from the final product. It “didn’t fully reflect my sense of the current conditions or future prospects for CMOs,” he said in an interview. “Charter schools are an important addition to the public education landscape and the best CMOs have produced great results. ... But the CMO movement has created only a few hundred schools in a decade, and even with more funding it would be difficult for CMOs to expand much faster without compromising the quality of their schools.”

Marc Dean Millot, an education industry observer and publisher, posted a June draft of the report online and Toch discussed his research in a Commentary essay for Ed Week.

Ravitch predicts,

As hundreds and possibly thousands more charter schools open, we will see many financial and political scandals. We will see corrupt politicians and investors putting their hands into the cashbox. We will see corrupt deals where public school space is handed over to entrepreneurs who have made contributions to the politicians making the decisions. We will see many more charter operators pulling in $400,000-500,000 a year for their role, not as principals, but as "rainmakers" who build warm relationships with politicians and investors.
This hearkens back to the student loan and Reading First scandals of the George W Bush administration, where the needs of vendors were placed above the needs of students. As Millot reminds us,

A Secretary [of Education] inclined towards a particular education reform solution, subordinate political appointees with a personal investment in the same solution, connected to organizations practicing that solution - organizations with incredibly thin files of reliable evidence consistently demonstrating an educationally significant contribution to improvements in student performance in the schools where they work today.
Obama has taken steps to reverse the student loan issues, but has seemingly ignored similar concerns over charters.

Seemingly acknowledging defeat, Ravitch concludes that when this all blows up in our faces and millions of public dollars end up in private pockets "we will look to the origins of the Race to the Top and to the interlocking group of foundations, politicians, and entrepreneurs who created it."

There is certainly cause for doubt about charters, writ large. In certain circumstances, particularly where large private donors are brought into play, high quality schools can be established for some students. The problem comes when one tried to replicate the model widely.
As much as I have always liked the idea of offloading burdensome state regulations that make it harder for schools to reach their goals, there is a troubling resegregation going on with charters and it may be a variation on an historical theme; private schools for some and public schools for the rest.

But there is little doubt about the Gates foundation's investment.

The foundation boasts an asset trust endowment of $34.17 billion and employs a hefty 786 individuals. Total grant commitments since inception come to $21.08 billion. During 2008, total grant payments came to $2.8 billion.

Compare that to the federal government's historic high water mark of $4.35 billion in grant funds under Race to the Top and it's not hard to see that Gates is a real player.

It is easy, and perhaps wise, to view large corporate giants suspiciously. The press, including bloggers, ought to be suspicious and ask tough questions as a way of protecting the public's right to know about what's going on behind the scenes.

But another way to look at the Gates Foundation is as American as apple pie.

Gates: A high school computer genius; with a 1590 SAT score; wrote his school's scheduling program (and placed himself into classes with his favorite females); Harvard dropout; starts a business writing computer code (including PC-DOS for IBM for $50,000, but he maintained the copyright and developed MS-DOS for his company Micro-soft) which goes into a bizzilion PCs and Microsoft grows into one of the world's largest businesses and Gates is listed by Forbes as the world's richest man from 1993 - 2007.

That the world's richest man - be it Carnegie or Gates - should choose American schools to be the benefactors of his wisdom and enterprise is a great thing.

The Gates Foundation has played an important role in Kentucky by helping the state with the burdensome filling of its $200 million Race to the Top application, which awaits approval. The foundation is deeply involved in the creation of national standards as well. Last week Kentucky became the first state in the nation to adopt those standards. Expect more Kentucky connections.

So far, Gates has invested:
  • $10 million to double KIPP charter schools in Houston
  • funded a charter project in Minnesota
  • five-year "Get Schooled" campaign, which began this week with a documentary and will integrate a message against dropping out into popular programming on channels such as Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central.
  • five-year, $500 million initiative to look at effective teaching methods, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will videotape 4,000 educators in selected U.S. school districts and analyze teacher practices against student performance
  • Governor Beshear's TEK task force is looking at the Gates Foundation/SREB college and career readiness initiative,
The Gates Foundation's describes its Education Strategy thusly:

We focus on improving education so that all young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential. We are working to ensure that a high school education results in college-readiness and that a postsecondary education results in a degree or certificate with value in the workplace.
In this month's Kappan, Vicki Phillips and Carina Wong write about the Gates Foundation's strategy of partnering with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors
Association in support of common core standards, instruction, and (yes....it's coming) assessment. The premise it that "fewer, clearer, higher standards will point the United States in the right direction for developing an education system that prepares high school graduates who are college-ready."

After disclaiming that they "do not come to the issues as “think tank experts” who are clueless as to what it’s really like on the ground in schools, Phillips and Wong describe the typical problems with school reform from the classroom perspective, "There were too many pieces to change at the same time, and never enough money and a lack of political stamina at all levels." Infusions of money and stronger political coalitions might solve that problem but only if it results in better teaching.
The Gates Foundation’s overall strategy considers high-quality assessments a critical resource for teacher effectiveness and teachers’ capacities to prepare students for college-level work. Bill Gates has said emphatically that teachers deserve to have access to the tools and supports they need every time they step into the classroom. “Doctors aren’t left alone in their offices to try to design and test new medicines,” he told an education forum in November 2008. “They’re supported by a huge medical
research industry. Teachers need the same kind of support.”
That would be new.

Instead of strategies that constrict teaching, the partners working with Gates are developing tools that will show teachers what is possible when they use fewer, clearer, and higher standards.
  • Common Core of Standards are broadly written
  • Gates partners are analyzing the knowledge and skills underneath them
  • Adding next-generation assessments to that base
  • Assessments can be used as single modules or linked together to make a full course
  • They will work in traditional or in more proficiency-based classrooms
  • Create a technology-based program to map specific math and cognitive skills that can guide assessment and provide a clear target for teachers as they decide what students need to be college ready.
  • Teachers and state assessment systems will be able to draw from a bank of assessments — formative and summative — that set performance targets
  • rubrics and examples of student work will be included
  • Once the research is completed on field trials, the assessments will be universally available and will provide an assessment blueprint for math that could be an alternative to current state assessments.
  • 20 instructional packages are being developed by Gates partner organization, the Shell Centre at the University of Nottingham in Great Britain under the aegis of the University of California Berkeley
  • Each unit will be anchored on a task or a set of tasks and suggest interventions that address difficulties students may be having, follow-up questions, and how teachers can manage classroom discussions.
  • Developing summative end of-course tests in order to establish college-ready expectations
  • During 2010, the college-ready work will continue to focus on developing and validating instructional tools including webbased thechnologies that will provide immediate analysis of student performance
  • Within four years, we hope to be implementing the instructional and student support tools in 10 states and 30 school districts, collaborating with several national policy networks to bring the tools to scale
  • All tools will be "open access"
  • Gates will facilitate the use of the college-ready standards in admission policies of university systems in selected states.
The technical partner for the general assessment work is the Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) at the University of California Los Angeles. CRESST is mapping two frameworks for states:
  • One is the content and skills in the Common Core of Standards,
  • the other is the core cognitive skills (for example, problem solving, reasoning, collaboration) that can be layered on the content maps.
  • CRESST is developing a third framework that will link these two frameworks into an assessment system.

CRESST also will validate the assessments being developed by the math and literacy teams.

The Gates Foundation acknowledges certain political risks in setting its ambitious agenda on the table including an open access system of college-ready standards, aligned assessments, and teaching tools. But with the current political harmony between Gates and the Obama administration and fresh financial support for state actions on core standards and new assessment systems, Gates believes that taking risks and being ambitious is the right approach.

For states like Kentucky, that are looking to revive enthusiasm for public schools and keep school reform on track following Senate Bill 1, Gates may appear to be a godsend.

Piloting Mathematics Units

The Shell Centre has developed two kinds of math units for teachers in grades 8 to 11: units that develop students’ conceptual understanding of the content and units that apply previously learned content to problem solving. Both types:
  • Give students the opportunity to learn the Common Core of Standards;
  • Use discussion, team work, and other nonlecture modes of learning;
  • Suggest next steps for instruction based on student performance;
  • Help teachers identify common misconceptions and mistakes by students and suggest ways to address them;
  • Use different tools, such as individual mini white boards or poster boards, to foster discussion among students; and
  • Include formative assessments and end-of course assessments for each grade level.
Depending on the outcome of the field trials, the work may be extended to grades 6 to 12.

All of this will require investments in strong professional development for teachers as they adapt to this new system.

To dramatically increase the number of students who are college ready, we will need more “responsive” systems. Schools that are “high demand, high support” develop both academic preparedness and academic tenacity. Responsive districts and states allow such school environments to flourish and encourage innovation. What if the schedule in high schools offered choices such as on college campuses, for example — with day, night, and weekend options or field studies online and abroad?
More from the Gates Foundation:

Promoting Effective Teaching
Teachers matter most when it comes to student achievement. Read more about the role of effective teaching in preparing students for college success.

Fact Sheets

Research & Reports

Related Articles

Common Core State Standards

Governors and state education commissioners are developing a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards are research and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, and aligned with college and work expectations.
Postsecondary Success Strategy

In an era when workers can be located anywhere on the globe, a college degree or training beyond high school is required for the best-paying jobs. Read more about how the foundation is trying to increase college graduation rates among low-income students.

Background and Fact Sheets

Recent Reports

Gates/Buffet photo by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair.

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