Carol Burris, the brilliant executive director of the Network for Public Education, has written the definitive account of Bill Gates’s disastrous teacher evaluation project, which wasted $215 million of his dollars, but over $350 million of state, local, and federal dollars (ours).
I urge you to read it. Not many are likely to read the 600 page RAND report evaluating the project. Burris did. The results were both a tragedy and a farce.
A few excerpts:
The study examined the effects over six years of the Gates Foundation’s Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching (IP) initiative that included, as a key feature, teacher evaluations systems similar to New York’s. It concluded that the IP project did not improve either student achievement or the quality of teachers. In fact, it did more harm than good…
The cost was astronomical. Across the seven sites over half a billion dollars were spent — $574.7 million between November 2009 and June 2016. While many believed that the Gates Foundation paid the bill, overall the foundation paid less than 37 percent — $212.3 million. Taxpayers paid most of the costs via local or federal tax dollars.
Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools was one of the participants. Its program alone cost $262.2 million. Federal, state and local taxpayers paid $178.8 million, far more than the Gates Foundation’s contribution of $81 million. Gates used his money as a lever to open the public treasury to fund his foundation’s idea. The taxpayers picked up the lion’s share of costs.
There were indirect costs as well. According to the study, the average principal spent 25 percent of her time administering the complicated evaluation system and teachers spent hours every month on their own evaluations.
The report estimated that “IP costs for teacher-evaluation activities totaled nearly $100 million across the seven sites in 2014–2015 … the value of teacher and SL [school leader] time devoted to evaluation to be about $73 million, and the direct expenditures on evaluation constituted an additional $26 million.” According to Business Insider, the total cost of IP was nearly $1 billion.
When President Barack Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, decided to include compliance with similar models of evaluation in order for states to receive Race to the Top funds, billions of federal taxpayer dollars were put in play. States and local school districts were forced to ante up for data-collection systems, new tests designed to produce metrics of student growth, training seminars that infantilized experienced principals, and pages upon pages of rubrics designed to turn the art and science of teaching behaviors into a numerical score…One of the goals of IP was to help districts recruit better teachers and to assign the most effective teachers to classrooms with low-income minority students. This was to be accomplished through revised recruitment practices as well as financial incentives for teachers to work in high-needs schools.
One participating district, Shelby County Schools in Tennessee, turned over its teacher recruitment efforts to the New Teacher Project (TNTP). TNTP was founded by Michelle Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of D.C. public schools who was a leader in corporate-style education reform. The Gates Foundation gave TNTP $7 million in 2009, the year that it published a report entitled “The Widget Effect,” which was highly critical of the teacher evaluation systems that the foundation was so anxious to replace.
Shelby County Schools allowed TNTP to run its human-resources department, resulting in a strained relationship between TNTP and the existing staff. Other participating districts and CMOs used some TNTP services and, following the advice of TNTP, sought teachers from alternative preparation programs, most notably Teach for America (TFA).
This, according to the report, resulted in increased teacher turnover, since many TFAers only “intended to remain in teaching for only a few years.” The report found no evidence that the quality of the teachers recruited improved.
Access to ‘effective’ teachers for disadvantaged students
A related goal of the project was to move “effective” teachers into schools with the most disadvantaged kids. Not only was this goal not realized, there was evidence that in one district access to more effective teachers declined.
Even with a cash incentive, teachers were reluctant to transfer to schools with high needs because they believed that would result in their receiving a lower VAM score, which was now part of their evaluation. VAM refers to value-added modeling, which in this case uses student standardized test scores in a complicated computer model to supposedly determine the “value” of a teacher on the growth of student achievement by in part factoring out all other influences.
There was statistically significant evidence that the project decreased low-income minority students’ access to effective teachers in Hillsborough County Public Schools — both between schools and within the same school — as teachers sought to flee to the honors classes to avoid low VAM scores, which under the new evaluation system, could cost them their jobs.
Although the report notes that some reformers hoped that the new evaluation system would result in teacher dismissals in the range of 20 percent, the actual rate of dismissal based on performance was similar to the rate under the former system — around 1 percent.
Diane Ravitch is a historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University.
I was born in Houston, Texas, attended the Houston public schools from kindergarten through high school, and graduated from Wellesley College in 1960. I received my Ph.D. in the history of American education in 1975.
I am the mother of two sons. They went to private schools in New York City. I have four grandsons: two went to religious schools, the third goes to public school in New York City, and the fourth will go to the same wonderful public school in Brooklyn. I live in Brooklyn, New York.
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