Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thanks for the Help

Gee, thanks Bill.
Joanne Barkan, writing in Dissent, argues that three big nonprofit foundations (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation), working together, exert a “decisive influence” on public-school education. ”Whatever nuances differentiate the motivations of the Big Three, their market-based goals for overhauling public education coincide: choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making,” she writes.(h/t to the Freakonomics blog, Dubner and Leavitt.)
Unfortunately, this is not just about Bill, Eli and Sam wasting their own money.  It's about three foundations that are pushing an anti-public school agenda that aims to destroy the teachers' union and reduce the educational possibilities for the public. It's about the capitalization of an "industry" at all costs, using tactics that sound good on the face, but are mainly aimed at money.
But, Barkan warns, these market-based reforms are hardly a panacea: “[E]vidence is mounting that the reforms are not working. Stanford University’s 2009 study of charter schools—the most comprehensive ever done—concluded that 83 percent of them perform either worse or no better than traditional public schools; a 2010 Vanderbilt University study showed definitively that merit pay for teachers does not produce higher test scores for students; a National Research Council report confirmed multiple studies that show standardized test scores do not measure student learning adequately. Gates and Broad helped to shape and fund two of the nation’s most extensive and aggressive school reform programs—in Chicago and New York City—but neither has produced credible improvement in student performance after years of experimentation.”
Misguided reform coupled with tragically misguided legislation has left us with the same problems we had before coupled with many new ones.
  • We have public schools in which the teachers at the top of their payscale (e.g., here in Vermont) with all the bells and whistles, degrees and seniority, still are earning less than the state median wage. 
  • You have charter schools opening up on the cheap, closing down significant public options, simply so that Green Dot and other groups can make a profit. The principal of such can look super while pulling in $200k to $500k but apparently a teacher making more than $30k is the AntiChrist.
  • You have organizations like Teach for America, set up solely to destroy teachers who want to make a career of teaching. How? By making it harder for serious candidates to get into places to establish themselves.  Why would a school want a career teacher when it can hire a fancy thoroughbred that will seem flashy and pretty and fast, but ultimately flame out in two years? Instant gratification writ cynical.
  • You have reforms that are directly counter-productive, that "everyone knew were going to revolutionize education" but that really wound up wasting a significant portion of that budget that the pro-voucher, pro-private school advocates were pointing to as a problem in the public schools.
    • Think: Small Schools Initiative. (Break big schools into smaller ones and then bitch that the smaller ones don't have economy of scale.)
    • Think: Technology Uber Alles. Microsoft is the Education King! Every kid should have a laptop! Every kid should have a smartphone! iPod! iPad! Netbook!
    • Think: Parochial, Private, Charter, KIPP! Profit is better.
    • Think: Merit Pay!
    • Testing, testing, testing. Test them in October, release the scores in May. And I'm supposed to do what in the last six weeks of school to change my curriculum to help this kid?
Like I said, Thanks. Now would you all please go somewhere and stop helping?


  1. Do you see no problems in public education? If you do, do you see the unions doing anything to resolve those problems?

  2. There are plenty of problems in public education, all of which could be dealt with more easily if the water weren't being clouded by the efforts of a few big fish.

    Having said that, I do want to change a few things. What I don't want is to reform in a way that I know is counter-productive.

    My personal most-hated reform is the small schools initiative. Break large schools into "sub- schools of no more than 200" so the principal makes all kinds of changes to make this happen and three years later it's no longer the Gates initiative because it actually didn't work. In the meantime, our school just spent an inordinate amount of time, effort and money on implementing it.

    Bill Gates: "Never mind."