In my recent research into the 2010 LA Times series on “teacher effectiveness,” I learned that $15,000 was used to help pay for someone to generate the VAM analysis used to create thousands of teacher ratings that the newspaper published. These funds came from a 2010 grant from the Hechinger Institute. Since I have been especially interested in the role the Gates Foundation has played in promoting VAM and other misguided “reforms,” I wondered if this 2009 grant from the Gates Foundationto Teachers College was possibly the source of this funding.
Today I got an answer, from Richard Lee Colvin, who was then the Director of The Hechinger Institute, and now works for the US Department of Education under John King. He told me by phone that the source of the $15,000 was a pool of funds that included Gates money, but also included grants from the Broad Foundation, Ford, Carnegie, and others. There was not, according to him, any direct line from the Gates Foundation to this grant of $15,000, and the decision to provide this funding was made independently, by staff at Hechinger, interested in promoting good journalism.
So there you have it. The VAM analysis used by the LA Times to rate the effectiveness of thousands of teachers was partly paid for by a conglomeration of corporate foundations that included the Gates Foundation, among others. The Hechinger Institute was interested in what the test score data would show, and provided the funding, but did not endorse the publication of teacher names their funding made possible.
So we are left with the task of figuring out if this represents anything harmful, in an ethical sense, to the integrity of journalism and the public interest.
We have assurances from everyone involved that there was no direct influence. Nobody at the Gates Foundation told The Hechinger Report “When we give you a grant to support education journalism, here is a list of stories we want to see.”