Gates spends millions to sway public on ed reform
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is spending at least $3.5 million to create a new organization whose aim is to win over the public and the media to its market-driven approach to school reform, according to the closely held grant proposal.
The organization is tentatively called “Teaching First,” and already has a chief executive officer: Yolie Flores, a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, who has championed such issues as public school choice and teacher effectiveness. Flores did not immediately return phone calls for comment. A Gates foundation spokesman said she would take over the job fulltime when her board term is up in June.
The Gates proposal lays out a strategy to win public approval for the foundation’s investment of more than $335 million in teacher effectiveness programs in four school districts that involve controversial initiatives including linking teacher pay to student standardized test scores. Critics (including me) say this “value-added” model-based test scores is unfair measure of how well a teacher is doing because there are many factors that go into how well a student does on a test.
The plan includes campaigns to reach out to parents, teachers, students, business and civic and religious leaders, and to build “strong ties to local journalists, opinion elites, and local/state policymakers and their staffs.” The plan explains how the organization will ensure “frequent placement ... in local media coverage of issues related to teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of effective teachers” in accordance with the Gates approach.
The proposal calls for supporting local groups that promote the value-added evaluation systems, and who even get involved in unions so they can demand this approach in collective bargaining for teachers contracts.
But in a section entitled “Risks,” the proposal says that one big risk “is that Teaching First will be characterized as a tool of the Foundation.” To avoid that, it says, “Teaching First will need to be very careful about the national partners it brings into the work” and should “maintain a low public profile” and “ensure publicity and credit accrue to local partners whenever possible.”
Chris Williams, a spokesman for the foundation, said the new organization is an advocacy, not a lobbying group.
“We believe advocacy is an important part of the work that we support,” he said. “Much of the work that we are funding requires that there be movement in political and public will on issues .... not just in education but in global health.... We fund advocacy organizations all the time.”
Teaching First is being built with a $3.5 million grant in 2009 from the Gates Foundation to Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to set up the group with nonprofit tax status. [It has no known direct relationship with the “StudentsFirst” organization set up by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, though the two share the same teacher assessment philosophy.]
The grant proposal was attached to a Jan. 28, 2010, letter addressed to “Dear CEO Candidate”and asked the recipient not to share the confidential document.
The proposal on the foundation’s Web site says that Rockefeller is supposed “to mount and support public education and advocacy campaigns.” It does not provide details of the grant. But the full grant proposal, a copy of which was given to me, says that once the organization is completely set up, Rockefeller will “transfer all property to the new entity.”
This is not the first time the Gates Foundation has spent millions of dollars to sway public opinion in favor of controversial education reform efforts. The foundation gave a $2 million grant in August 2010 to an organization called Advocacy & Public Policy to, as the proposal said, “execute a social action campaign that will complement Paramount’s marketing campaign of Waiting for Superman.” The film by Davis Guggenheim presented charter schools as if they are all successful, demonized a teachers union leader and was marketed as a documentary even though the director changed the order of some events for dramatic effect.
Bill Gates, after abandoning his unsuccessful $2 billion effort to break up large high schools and create a network of small schools, has turned his education focus to “effective teachers,” with effectiveness largely measured by how well students do on standardized tests. His foundation has plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into teacher assessment experiments in four districts. And it is also funding a project in which teachers are videotaped and the videos are sent to independent evaluators who have never visited the school and have a list of teaching skills to check off. Critics say that videotaped feedback can help a teacher but should only be done by people within a school, and should be used only for teacher development, not for evaluation.
Williams said that the organization is only tentatively named “Teaching First” and that it still has no date for its official launch. On the Web, there is page at http://www.teachingfirst.com/, but there is no information attached.
Here is what the grant lists as “the most significant grant outcomes in the first two years of Teaching First”:
“1. Establish Teaching First as a new entity with sufficient capacity to succeed in its mission and to sign off as an independent 501(c)(3) organization within 18 months.
“2. High credibility as a trusted source of information on issues related to teacher effectiveness and equitable access to effective teaching in each of the intensive partnership districts, and/or the enablement of local organization(s) to play the role of trusted expert in each locale.
“3. Negotiated subgrants, contracts, or partnerships with local organizations and community leaders who are willing to speak out publicly on the agenda of improving teacher effectiveness and ensuring that poor and minority students have their share of the best teachers.”
“4. An extensive contact lis of parents; teachers; students; community activists; and business, civic, and religious leaders who have expressed an intereseted in improving public education.
“5. Strong ties to local journalists, opinion elites, and local/state policymakers and their staffs, and frequent placement (for Teaching First, or, ideally, local/national partners) in local media coverage of issues related to teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of effective teachers.
“6. A lead or supporting role in at least one local campaign in each intensive partnership locale. (Campaign may be focused diretly on demonstrating public support for teacher effectiveness agenda, may focus on policy or political obstacles to teacher effectiveness agenda, or may focus on a local priority that is only indirectly related to teacher effectiveness agenda, e.g. funding equity, to build a base of committed activists who can grow into strong supporters of the intensive partnership work.)
“7. An independent voice (i.e. independent of district- or union-based stakeholders) to participate in the public debates on improving teacher effectiveness, with a particular focus on advancing the work undertaken through the intensive partnerships.
“8. A compelling set of messages (phrases, key words, concepts, etc.) for use by Teaching First and local advocates to communicate about the need for teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of effctive teachers and to advocate for policies to achieve those aims.”
| March 10, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Tags: bill & melinda gates foundation, bill gates, gates foundation, school reform, teacher assessment, teacher evaluation, teachers, teaching first, value added models, value-added
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