Must Reading – HML’s School Performance: The Iceberg Effect

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The Horace Mann League (HML) and the National Superintendents Roundtable have published a fascinating report called School Performance: The Iceberg Effect.  I would recommend reading the full report but an Executive Summary is also available – both can be found here.

They wrote the study because of their concerns about the use of international large-scale education assessments (ILSA) such as PISA to compare countries.  As educators, we cringe when newspapers and critics boil down the success of a child, let alone a country, on the results of a test.  They cite several research studies which indicate that up to 70% of tested achievement can be accounted for by out-of-school factors.  Hence The Iceberg Effect – a tendency focus on the part of the iceberg we can see when the part we can’t see is so much more important.

In their report, the part of the iceberg we can see are Student Outcomes (student test results) and System Outcomes (how successfully a country produces educated citizens and skilled workers).  The parts of the iceberg we can’t see include Inequity & Inequality, Social Stress & Violence, Support for Schools, and Support for Young Families.  Four indicators for each of these six dimensions were defined and then used to rank order 9 countries – the G7 plus Finland and China.

What I found most interesting was how the U.S. ranked, compared to these other similar economic powerhouses, on each of the 24 indicators.   The U.S. ranked last or second to last on 13 of the 24 indicators!  According to the report, “It is the only one of the nine nations with a maroon designation [bottom third in rank] in three of the six dimensions. The results for the United States with regard to economic inequity, social stress, and support for young families—all correlated with school performance—leave a great deal to be desired.” Pg. 18.  In fact the U.S. ranked last in Social Stress, last in Support for Families, and second to last in Economic Inequity.

The only area in which the U.S. excelled was System Outcomes, where it ranked first in Years of Education Completed, Possession of Secondary Diploma, Possession of Bachelor’s Degree, and Global Share of High Achieving Science Students.   Isn’t it a bit ironic that even though the U.S. ranked highest in all four of the indicators in the Systems Outcomes Dimension, reformers keep telling us how bad our schools are?  That our students aren’t “College Ready”?  In its conclusion the report stated, “Based on the indicators included in this study, it seems clear that the United States has the most highly educated workforce among these nine nations. At the same time, American society reveals the greatest economic inequities among the advanced nations in this analysis, combined with the highest levels of social stress, and the lowest levels of support for young families.” Pg. 43.

My takeaway?  When reformers like the Gates Foundation wash their hands of social issues and say, “We’re going to fix society by making new types of schools, harder tests, self-paced learning gizmos, and better teachers” they are working on the tip of the iceberg.  Where are the gazillionaires who want to donate a couple of $billion to reduce the number of violent deaths, drug deaths, teenage pregnancies, and infant death due to abuse or neglect?  To increase pre-school enrollment and extend more benefits to young families?  Remember, it was the part of the iceberg they couldn’t see that the sunk the Titanic.

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Gates Foundation. Good Charity or Bad Charity? Part 2

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In my previous post I recounted how, after a discussion with my wife about Bill Gates, it occurred to me that I really didn’t know where all the Gates Foundation money goes to and if all those projects are “Good Charity” or “Bad Charity”.

I then went to the Gates Foundation website which maintains a list of all the projects they have funded.  I cut and pasted information about the 128 “College Ready” projects for 2014 into a spreadsheet (a MicroSoft product) and found that the Foundation had spent $93.3 million.   I categorized each of the projects according to the blurb provided on the Foundation’s website (or if that was too vague I went to the project recepient’s website to see what their mission is).

Here are the results:

Category Amount
Professional Development $24,624,816 26.4%
Charter Schools $17,218,099 18.4%
Common Core Implementation $10,413,185 11.2%
School Redesign $10,167,209 10.9%
Strategic Plan Implementation $7,049,649 7.6%
On-line and/or Personalized Learning $6,057,826 6.5%
Conference Support $4,296,208 4.6%
College Ready $3,826,647 4.1%
Provide Classroom Materials $3,600,000 3.9%
Other $3,086,742 3.3%
Supporting Philanthropy $1,287,629 1.4%
Teacher Leadership $946,228 1.0%
Influencing Policy $764,730 0.8%
$93,338,968 Total

The categorization process is somewhat subjective.  For example, Anthony Cody just completed the same process and came out with different totals based on his interpretation of each project.  Given his knowledge of the Gates Foundation (see his excellent book The Educator and the Oligarchy) I would encourage you to read his post as he has some fascinating interpretations about the intent of some of the grants as it relates to R&D and policymaking.

Surprised that Professional Development projects were the top category (26.4% of the funding)?  I was too until I realized that if you want to change instructional practices you need to provide professional development to teachers.  In 2014 the Gates Foundation issued an RFP (Requests for Proposal) for “The iPD Challenge” and then provided over $24 million in grants to organizations to design new methodologies that met the Foundation’s criteria of what PD should look like.  According to the RFP iPD should be, “more personalized and calls for higher levels of teacher engagement and collaboration.”  When you dig deeper iPD should include personalized learning technologies, data collection to demonstrate change, and a blend of individual learning with collaborative learning.  Before I retired I was in charge of professional development for several school districts and I always struggled on how to bring theory into practice.  Perhaps the Foundation will come up with some alternatives to the current way we provide professional development to teachers.  I would say this is “Good Charity” with reservations.

Support for charter schools ($17.2 million) continues to be a big priority for the Foundation.  Combine that with the $10.1 million funding for School Redesign projects, the Foundation spent over $27 million to find ways to make public schools obsolete.  “Bad Charity” with no reservations.

No surprise that third on the list was Common Core Implementation.  The Foundation funded the incubation and birth of the Common Core.  I believe that the original concept of providing a nation-wide set of curricular expectations was good (compared to 50 different sets of standards).  However it has mutated into an uncontrollable beast.  “Bad Charity”

Although Strategic Plan Implementation was #5 on the list, it only had 2 grantees, with the bulk of the funding ($6.1 million) going to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  This group is made up of the people who are in charge of each state’s department of education.  I can remember years ago hearing the Illinois State Superintendent Chis Koch enthusing over a new concept – Common Core Standards – after he returned from the annual meeting of the CCSSO.  A good place to put your money if you want to change education.  “Bad Charity” with reservations.

Number 6 on the list was On-line and/or Personalized Learning ($6 million).  Interestingly enough, several of the grants in this category went to public school districts (the vast majority of the 128 grants went to anything but public schools).  This shows the Foundation’s believe that technology should take a more prominent role in the instruction of students.  If developed properly this area could be a benefit to teachers and students.  “Good Charity” with reservations.

Conference Support (#7) is an interesting category.  In most cases it appears the Foundation provided funds to organizations to send teachers (and sometimes students) to attend various conferences.  It didn’t appear that every conference was about a particular topic (i.e. Common Core).  “Good Charity”

I was a bit surprised to see that the category College Ready only had three recipients, of which one (Alliance for Excellent Education, Inc.) received the bulk of the funding.  College Ready is the Gates Foundation’s #1 priority for it U.S. Programs, so why not more funding in this area?  My only guess is that the Foundation already believes they know what it takes to make kids college ready and doesn’t need to invest more in that area.  I’m always suspicious of anyone who has all the answers.  “Bad Charity”

The last category I’ll touch on in this post (yes there is one more coming) is Provide Teacher Materials.  Most teachers know that DonorsChoose.org is a website they can look to for classroom materials.  The Foundation made two grants totaling $3.6 million to support DonorsChoose.org.  “Good Charity”

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So is the Gates Foundation a “Good Charity” or a “Bad Charity”?  The answer is “Yes”.  In some cases its philanthropy may actually help public education.  In others it definitely hurts public education.  What we do know is with over $42.3 billion in assets it will continue to impact education for a long time.

In my next post on this topic I’ll look at why the Foundation might spend funds to support other philanthropic organizations, what are some of the projects funded in the “Other” category, and a look at the organizations that received the most money from the Foundation in 2014.

Reflections on Cody’s Book The Educator vs. The Oligarch: The Poor Get Poorer

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Pew Research Center

In the book The Educator And The Oligarch Anthony Cody critically examines the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts to reform education and describes a series of blog posts written by Cody and high ranking officials in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which focused on five mutually agreed upon issues.   To me, the key issue was the role of education in the elimination of poverty.

According to Chris Williams, author of the Gates Foundation’s response,

When Bill and Melinda Gates started their foundation more than a decade ago, they made addressing the impact of poverty its central philanthropic mission. They looked at what kept people in poverty around the world, and focused on the challenges that were the biggest obstacles to families moving out of poverty, but were not high enough on the global agenda.  Today the foundation’s top priorities are a reflection of that approach—vaccines that save children from serious illness and death, more resilient and productive seeds that allow families to feed themselves and earn a living, access to contraception to ensure that women can decide when to have children, and a great teacher who can make a dramatic difference in the life of low income students in the United States.

Well said.  But Williams immediately backtracks, saying that that the Gates Foundation doesn’t have enough money to solve the problems of poverty here in the U.S.  They had to “make decisions about how to focus our resources…”  Their decision?  “In the U.S., we focus on giving teachers the tools they need to be most effective.”

In his book Anthony Cody rightly states that the underlying issues keeping people in poverty need to be addressed – that focusing on teacher quality alone (through the analysis of student test scores) will not be enough to move many students out of poverty.  The Foundation’s Williams dismisses the big picture and states “a good education is one of the best avenues out of poverty.”  Why doesn’t the Foundation even want to try to make a difference outside of the classroom?

The Sargent Shriver Center for Poverty Law website cites six Policy Agenda items they are working on.  They include issues such advancing fair statutes for educational and employment opportunities, integrating job training with economic development, expanding access to food and nutrition programs, quality child care, ensuring fair workplaces, and improving access to quality education and skill building opportunities.  Many of these are policy issues, not resource issues.  The Gates Foundation seems more than willing to support policy issues related to the proliferation of charter schools, the expansion of student testing, and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers – but not poverty.

In his post Williams said, “What we can’t do, however, is address all of the problems that put or keep families in poverty.”  Look back up at Williams’ overview of the Foundation’s mission.  He said, “addressing the impact of poverty [is] its central philanthropic mission” and then talked about what they are doing globally to support that mission.  It doesn’t seem that they are willing to provide the same type of supports here in the U.S.  Couldn’t they throw a few million earmarked for the Common Core implementation or teacher evaluation toward supporting policies in America that save impoverished American kids from “serious illness and death”, guarantee better nutrition for impoverished American kids, and access to contraception for impoverished American women?

Why the laser focus on “improving” American teachers?  It’s not to eliminate poverty here since the Gates Foundation won’t support the same antipoverty policies in the U.S. that they do elsewhere.  In his 2012 Annual Letter Bill Gates said, “Our work in U.S. education focuses on two related goals: making sure that all students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and that young adults who want to get a postsecondary degree have a way to do so.”  By not working to address the broader range of issues that keep kids in poverty, Gates is implicitly promoting a further widening of the wealth gap.  If successful in improving teacher quality the Foundation will get more middle- and upper-class American kids into college – and better jobs.  The heck with those poor kids.

Cody 1:Gates 82Billion… Cody Wins!

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Anthony Cody’ book The Educator And The Oligarch meticulously documents the efforts of Bill and Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation’s efforts to “reform” public education.  But more than a well-researched book, Cody documents how his criticism of the Gates Foundation led to a public dialogue (through online posts) with the foundation about the efficacy of the Foundation’s intent to change public education.

If you’re looking for evidence about the Gates’ plan to reform schools, this is an excellent resource with 350 references to articles, books, public speeches, YouTube videos, online documents, and personal communications.  Cody does an excellent job of weaving in these references with classroom-based insights about what might happen to public education if Gates is successful.

In 2012 Cody “received an email from a highly placed individual in the Gates Foundation” (p. 55).  This opened a dialogue with officials in the Gates Foundation and led to a series of five blog posts with each side giving their perspectives about public education.  Cody reprints large portions of his blog posts in the book and comments on what the Gates Foundation officials wrote.  He gives links to the Foundation’s posts, but I would have liked to read more of what they wrote – I like to hear both sides of an argument.

Toward the end of the book Cody makes some predictions about what public education might look like if Gates is successful.  I found these predictions entirely plausible and very scary.  Everybody concerned with the direction of public education should read those predictions and ask, “Is this where we want to go?”  If your answer is “No”, then use the information in the book to push back against these changes: if your answer is “Yes” or “I don’t know” then you’ll be using this book 10 years from now when researching “How did we get ourselves into this mess?”

Thank you Mr. Cody for taking the time to present to us a clear view of what Bill and Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation have said, done, and funded and where they are leading us.  Will we follow?

A successful history of—and the threat to—Public Education in the United States

Lloyd Lofthouse has written a brief history of public education, including information about the threats to public education. He starts out by saying:

I’m sure you’ve heard for years—even decades—that the public schools are failing; that teachers are lazy, incompetent and their labor unions are responsible for this so-called failure.
The solution: fire the teachers, close the public schools and get rid of the labor unions. Then turn education over to private sector corporations run by CEOs who only answer to their wealthiest stock holders.

I think you’ll find it an informative read.

Crazy Normal - the Classroom Exposé

I’m sure you’ve heard for years—even decades—that the public schools are failing; that teachers are lazy, incompetent and their labor unions are responsible for this so-called failure.

The solution: fire the teachers, close the public schools and get rid of the labor unions. Then turn education over to private sector corporations run by CEOs who only answer to their wealthiest stock holders. For instance, Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, the Walton family, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdock and a flock of Hedge Fund billionaires.

Let’s see what you think after we go back to 1779 and walk through 235 years of history to the present. It won’t take long—a few facts and a conclusion.

  • We’ll start with Thomas Jefferson in 1779, because he thought the US should have two education systems: one for the wealthy and one for everyone else.  As Jefferson said, we’ll “rake a few geniuses from…

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Demographic Analysis of Charter Schools in New Jersey

newjersey-700x700Those reading posts from this blog may have wondered, “Why is he critical of charter schools?”.  There are many reasons why charter schools hurt public education and today I’d like to focus on the fact that they aren’t fair.  As public educators, we always feared that charter schools would skim off the “good” students and leave public schools with those students who require the most assistance.  A recently released report has substantiated that concern.

Authors Mark Weber and Julia Sass Rubin released the report titled “New Jersey Charter Schools: A Data-Driven View, Part 1“. Click on a synopsis of their report HERE.   In the words of co-author Mark Weber:

The data is quite clear: as a sector, charter schools do not educate the same students as their host districts. On average, charters educate proportionately fewer students in economic disadvantage (as measured by eligibility for the federal free lunch program) than do the district schools in their communities.
Charters also educate fewer students with special education needs; further, the students with those needs that charters do educate tend to have less costly disabilities. In addition, the sector enrolls very few students who are English language learners.  (NJ Spotlight, 11/14/14)

Is this what “choice” is all about?  Leave the kids with the most needs in public schools while the charter schools skim off the kids who are less expensive to educate?  If public schools have a disproportionately higher percentage of students in economic disadvantage, special education needs, and English language learners what will their test scores look like compared to the charter school down the block?  If their test scores are lower, then I guess that would prove that public schools are failing and should be “reformed”.

We Got a “C”!

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Today the newspaper announced the release of a “new report grading public education in Illinois…” (Daily Herald, Nov. 20, 2014).  The report, titled “The State We’re In: 2014”, was published by Advance Illinois.  The report said it looked at 55 metrics and, after comparing the metrics those from the other 49 states, found that Illinois got a grade of “C”.  Using their logic, that means Illinois ranked in the middle of all 50 states overall.  Not bad really, considering the terrible shape our finances are in (of course none of the metrics included the degree to which states fund schools – isn’t Illinois at the bottom there?).

I always look at reports like these from well-funded education think-tanks with jaundiced eyes.  Who is Advance Illinois?  What’s their agenda?  Where’s the money coming from?

Of Advance Illinois’ 18 board members, one is listed as an “Instructional Support Leader” for Chicago Public Schools – the only K-12 educator on the board.  At the end of the report Advance Illinois acknowledges 25 “education experts” for their help – only three appear to be from K-12 public schools.  The Executive Director of Advance Illinois is Robin Steans.  Look at the list of supporters below.  Yep, the Executive Director is the daughter of one of Advance Illinois’ contributors.  Is that a conflict of interest?

How about Advance Illinois’ mission?  In part it says it will be “an independent, objective voice to promote public education in Illinois…”  One of their eight mission statements says, “Students and families should have choices in how to meet their educational needs.”  Is it objective to promote charter schools as a solution?

A look at Advance Illinois’ supporters:

Wonder why support for charter schools is part of Advance Illinois’ mission?  The Gates Foundation has given them almost $2.5 million since 2008.  The Gates Foundation supports charter schools.  The Joyce Foundation recently gave Advance Illinois $1.05 million.  It also recently gave $700K to support the formation of charter schools in Illinois.

The report said that Illinois’ “C” grade was based on the comparison of 55 metrics.  It was only 24.  Seven of the 55 were just facts (i.e. number of schools in Illinois).  Of the remaining 48 metrics, 24 had no data available for Illinois.  So the “C” grade was given with half of the data missing.

I actually like some of the things the report says (i.e. “Illinois is notorious for its inadequate, inequitable method of funding public schools”).  But you have to be careful when reading reports like this from private organizations – you don’t know what their agenda is.  And with well-heeled supporters, there is always an agenda.