Editorial Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America's public school agenda
Tucked away in a letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last week, along with proud notes about the foundation’s efforts to fight smoking and tropical diseases and its other accomplishments, was a section on education. Its tone was unmistakably chastened.
“We’re facing the fact that it is a real struggle to make systemwide change,” wrote the foundation’s CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellman. And a few lines later: “It is really tough to create more great public schools.”
The Gates Foundation’s first significant foray into education reform, in 1999, revolved around Bill Gates’ conviction that the big problem with high schools was their size. Students would be better off in smaller schools of no more than 500, he believed. The foundation funded the creation of smaller schools, until its own study found that the size of the school didn’t make much difference in student performance. When the foundation moved on, school districts were left with costlier-to-run small schools.Then the foundation set its sights on improving teaching, specifically through evaluating and rewarding good teaching. But it was not always successful. In 2009, it pledged a gift of up to $100 million to the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools to fund bonuses for high-performing teachers, to revamp teacher evaluations and to fire the lowest-performing 5%. In return, the school district promised to match the funds. But, according to reports in the Tampa Bay Times, the Gates Foundation changed its mind about the value of bonuses and stopped short of giving the last $20 million; costs ballooned beyond expectations, the schools were left with too big a tab and the least-experienced teachers still ended up at low-income schools. The program, evaluation system and all, was dumped.
The Gates Foundation strongly supported the proposed Common Core curriculum standards, helping to bankroll not just their development, but the political effort to have them quickly adopted and implemented by states. Here, Desmond-Hellmann wrote in her May letter, the foundation also stumbled. The too-quick introduction of Common Core, and attempts in many states to hold schools and teachers immediately accountable for a very different form of teaching, led to a public backlash.
“Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America's public school agenda - LA Times: