Just an update on the Gates Foundation's new grants for studying how teachers are evaluated and how they get tenure. Here's an article from the NY Times. From the article:
"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Thursday announced its biggest education donation in a decade, $290 million, in support of three school districts and five charter groups working to transform how teachers are evaluated and how they get tenure.
A separate $45 million research initiative will study 3,700 classroom teachers in six cities, including New York, seeking to answer the question that has puzzled investigators for decades: What, exactly, makes a good teacher effective?The twin projects represent a rethinking of the foundation’s education strategy, previously focused largely on smaller grants intended to remake troubled American high schools. With these new, larger grants, the foundation is seeking to transform teacher management policies in four cities in hopes that the innovations can spread.
The foundation committed $100 million to the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools; $90 million to the Memphis schools; $40 million to the Pittsburgh public schools. Some $60 million will go to five charter management organizations based in Los Angeles: Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation and Partnerships to Uplift Communities Schools."
Okay, the last sentence of the third paragraph jumped out at me. These are not just grants to study an issue - these are grants to find solutions. And allegedly, these are going to be "innovative" solutions. Is everything that has come before really not working? There are no districts, in the whole country, that have found a good system? I hope this study finds that there is and actually reports it because otherwise this report may already have its own ideas.
Who is being studied?
"The foundation committed $100 million to the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools; $90 million to the Memphis schools; $40 million to the Pittsburgh public schools. Some $60 million will go to five charter management organizations based in Los Angeles: Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation and Partnerships to Uplift Communities Schools."
Okay but then there's this:
"Unions will be crucial to the project’s success. Teachers in the Hillsborough County, Pittsburgh and Memphis districts are represented by one of the two national teachers’ unions, both of which said their affiliates were cooperating enthusiastically with the project. Four of the five charter groups operate nonunion.
The foundation’s goal, its officials said, is to forge breakthroughs in how school systems recruit, retain and compensate teachers and how they assign them to schools.
“It’ll be difficult, once this work is finished, to say it can’t happen in other places, because this work is going to provide some compelling arguments,” said Vicki L. Phillips, an education director at the foundation."
I guess unions are crucial unless you don't have a union (and most of the charters don't). Will they study how a district that does operate without a teachers union would differ form one that does? I also hear bells with the "compelling arguments" line. Not because they might not find some good answers but again, education is local. The feds are now pushing from the top and here are the Gates pushing from another direction (both seeming to want charters and teacher regulation of some kind) so what is the takeaway for local officials? Is it, here's a great study with some good ideas that have been tested? Or is it, if you want money, do this.
And finding effective teachers?
"Most school districts give teachers tenure after three years of service and only cursory review of how much success they have had with students. The two-year, $45 million project will use cameras, student surveys and other tools to identify the characteristics of standout teachers."
This is interesting because if you want to use surveys (it could be parent rather than student except in high school) and cameras for figuring out what is an effective teacher, why wouldn't you use those tools for teacher assessment?
This may all be for the good. The Gates Foundation did not do well in pushing their small high schools idea (and have pretty much let that go) and they likely learned some lessons. I just worry that this isn't just about examining teacher effectiveness or how to assess teachers but about pushing an agenda.