"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gates and the Magic Pill

This AP story illuminates a number of concerning factors in education reform: the Gates Foundation honestly believes there is a "magic bullet" and they're hell-bent on spending Billy's billions on finding that one factor; and Gates is entirely pro-surveillance, a way for administrators to ensure each teacher is teaching right to the test (Michelle Rhee would love this idea) as the panopticon further reduces public schools to test-prep factories. From the AP:
Gates Foundation seeks education's magic pill

SEATTLE — Ever since Americans sent their children to one-room schoolhouses, parents have known what makes a good school: an inspiring, organized, creative teacher. But researchers haven't been able to quantify what exactly makes a teacher effective and how to tie that to student achievement.

Now the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — an influential voice in education policy today — hopes to end that confusion. Nine years and $2 billion into its work to improve America's public schools, the Seattle-based foundation is turning its focus to teacher effectiveness.

"We've been sort of looking around for the silver bullet for education reform, and actually the answer has been right under our feet the whole time," said John Deasy, deputy director of the foundation's education work.

Over the next five years, the foundation plans to spend another half a billion dollars in its quest to figure out what qualities make the best teachers and how to measure those qualities in the classroom.

The project has two parts: research to develop and test methods to rate teachers and experiments at a handful of school districts around the nation to try out new ways of recruiting, training, assigning and assessing teachers.

Among those asked to submit proposals for a share of the money were school districts in Atlanta; Denver; Hillsborough County, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; Omaha, Neb.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; Pittsburgh; Prince George's County, Md.; Tulsa, Okla., and a group of Los Angeles charter schools.

This week, the foundation chose five finalists: Hillsborough County, Memphis, Omaha, Pittsburgh, and the Los Angeles charters. Final decisions will be made this fall.

The other five districts will be considered for smaller grants to pay for parts of their effective teaching plans.

Their ideas, which were presented in Seattle earlier this month, focus on teacher training, putting the best teachers in the most challenging classrooms, giving the best teachers new roles as mentors and coaches while keeping them in front of children, making tenure a meaningful milestone, getting rid of ineffective teachers, and using money to motivate people and schools to move toward these goals.

"It really is about an effective teacher for every student every year of their school career," said Vicki Phillips, director of the foundation's K-12 education program. "If we did that, we would make the kind of progress that we have all long dreamed about in this country."

Foundation officials said they were impressed with how thoughtful the districts were in their proposals and how clear it was that teacher's unions, school officials and elected school board members worked together to come up with the ideas.

Pittsburgh Superintendent Mark Roosevelt said the process propelled his district forward.

"I'd say we made almost 10 years of progress with our union in three months," he said. "It was like a door had been opened that we didn't know was in the wall any more."

Before getting involved in the Gates grant proposal process, Pittsburgh had focused on other school reforms like closing troubled schools, improving principal training and fixing curriculum to make it more rigorous and more consistent across the district. Teachers were next on the agenda.

Roosevelt speculated the transformation would continue with or without money from the foundation, although some of their ideas would take considerably more time to accomplish without the cash.

Districts chosen for the project will agree to use the foundation's research findings to influence their reform efforts, said Tom Kean, a Harvard researcher and foundation deputy director who is in charge of this part of the project.

Among the research ideas the foundation wants to explore is one that involves making digital videos of teachers in thousands of classrooms. Researchers will track elements of teacher performance and compare that information with student test scores.

The nation's largest teachers union expressed cautious optimism about the foundation's efforts.

John Wilson, executive director of the National Education Association, said he was glad to see someone putting money into research about teacher effectiveness, since there hasn't been much independent analysis combining teacher pay and student achievement.

"We all want great public schools for every student. It's rather complex how to get there," Wilson said.

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:22 PM

    John Wilson, executive director of the National Education Association, said he was glad to see someone putting money into research about teacher effectiveness, since there hasn't been much independent analysis combining teacher pay and student achievement.

    "We all want great public schools for every student. It's rather complex how to get there," Wilson said.


    Wow - We need better union representation, no?

    I wonder how long Wilson has been out of the classroom. He's completely out of touch!!

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  2. Anonymous12:56 PM

    All this private, corporate funding of public education...is it 1984 yet? Pardon me while I throw up...

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  3. We have known what the magic pill is for over 40 years; it's called The Family.

    The real question is how do we help the child who has no access to this pill; the child without the support of his family?

    I am grateful to the Gates Foundation for its dedication to educational improvement in the United States, but I wish the foundation would spend more time and money focusing on learning experiences for our poorest children. The current practice of drilling on tests will not help them.

    Yes, the most important person in the school is the teacher, but the most important factor in a child's education is his family. It's time for us to recognize this fact and to address it.

    ReplyDelete