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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.
Vision 20/20 icons
Many people (me included) have spent a lot of time wringing their hands over what Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, the Walton clan, and the Koch brothers are doing to public education. As previously posted, I believe a big reason they have gained such a foothold in the conversation is because we the public educators have been too silent. That’s why I am so optimistic about an effort called Vision 20/20. Their policy brief can be found here and the Executive Summary here.
Vision 20/20 is an effort by six professional associations to take back control of the conversation and influence the political decisions shaping public education here in Illinois. The Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO), Illinois Principals Association (IPA), Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS), Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), Superintendents’ Commission for the Study of Demographics and Diversity (SCSDD) came together in November, 2012 to create Vision 20/20 and finalized their recommendations two years later.
They recognized that control of public education was slipping away from the professionals into the hands of non-educators. They promote public education, saying, “As public educators, we believe public education works. We reject the premise that education in Illinois has failed but recognize its impact has not been equitably delivered to all student populations and that there are opportunities for continuous improvement.”
Vision 20/20’s stated outcomes are clear:
Conscious that no single legislative attempt at school improvement can be developed, implemented, or find success without the support, devotion, and hard work of all stakeholders, Vision 20/20 asks not just for state action, but also for local action and the support of educators across the state to fulfill the promise of public education. On behalf of the over two million schoolchildren in Illinois, we challenge the State Legislature, the Governor, and all stakeholders to take action.
Their report includes 24 state policy recommendations in four major areas, as described in their Policy Brief:
Highly Effective Educators – The quality of teachers and school leaders is the greatest predictor of student achievement schools can influence. By attracting, developing, and retaining our state’s best educators, we can have a profound impact on student learning.
21st Century Learning – For success in life, students need more than knowledge of math and reading. It is time to expand the definition of student learning, commit to the development of the “whole child,” and invest in policies proven to link all schools to 21st century learning tools.
Shared Accountability – A quality education for all Illinois students cannot be ensured without the collaboration, compromise, and hard work of both educators and legislators. With that in mind, it is necessary to expand educator responsibility in the legislative process, create a shared accountability model, and restructure mandates to allow more local district flexibility.
Equitable and Adequate Funding – All students in Illinois are entitled to a quality education. It is our duty to ensure our students have access to all necessary resources by improving equity in the funding model, appropriating adequate dollars for education, and allowing local school districts the autonomy needed to increase efficiency.
They are taking Vision 20/20 to local schools boards and asking them to endorse the plan – over 180 districts have done so already. Their next step is to take the policy recommendations to the state legislature and try to get them enacted. These are good steps forward, an attempt to make the needs of public schools be heard over the din of Common Core, budget woes, and high-stakes testing. Their voice would be much louder with the addition of the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Together, perhaps they can reclaim the right to shape education in Illinois.
David Tyack and Larry Cuban’s book Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform is one of my favorite books. They chronicle how Americans have viewed public education as a means to building a better society. From one-room schoolhouses in the 1800s to the influx of immigrants in the early 1900s to the response to Sputnik in the 1950s, Americans have shaped the purpose of public education. Americans – not just one person. Not a foundation.
When did we, as a society, give up our responsibility to determine the purpose of public education? I can remember back in 1985 when the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) went hat-in-hand to the Illinois legislature (again) for a bigger budget and the response was, “If you want more money, you’re going to have to show us that you’re worth it.” State-wide student testing began shortly thereafter. The purpose of education then became, “Earn your keep by showing me how good your schools and teachers are” which was not a societal need but an economic one. Building a better society using public education doesn’t exist in the American consciousness today – and as we know, nature abhors a vacuum.
So if we are unwilling to fill the vacuum of societal purpose for public education, who will? Bill and Melinda Gates along with Warren Buffett. They said “College Ready” is American’s societal need and they have defined for public education how to meet that need:
- Create a standardized “American” curriculum
- Provide professional development to teachers to ensure they teach to that standard curriculum correctly
- Evaluate teachers to see if they are teaching the standard curriculum correctly, and if they don’t, remove them from the classroom
- Use technology to implement the standard curriculum
America didn’t set this agenda. Recognizing this, the Gates Foundation hedged their bet that American public schools might not want to accomplish their agenda so they support charter schools and alternative schools to demonstrate how it should be done. They pour money into national professional organizations and to the Council of Chief State Officers to get the Foundation’s agenda done.
“College Ready” is America’s need? Those kids in Naperville and Winnetka were born “College Ready”. What a frickin’ joke to the kids in Chicago who are just hoping to survive long enough to make it to the safety of their school tomorrow.
Why did we allow them to control the conversation about the educational needs of America? How did it come about that the Gates Foundation is telling us, the education professionals, how to do our business? The sad part is, we let them do this to us because we wouldn’t do it ourselves. We, as a profession, have been reluctant to get involved in politics, to write the newspapers about what schools need, to stand up and tell someone outside of the teacher’s lounge what our kids need. Until we, as a profession, are willing to tell everybody what America’s kids need, the billionaires and their foundations will fill the void.
Next time: Vision 2020 tries to fill the void
I began to write this series (see Part 1 and Part 2) because I wanted to learn more about the Gates Foundation and see for myself if the projects they were funding in the U.S. under the area of “College Ready” (i.e. K-12 education) were supporting public education. In Part 2 I shared my analysis of the 128 projects funded by the Foundation in 2014 and I identified 13 categories of funding – over $93 million spent.
The top recipients of Gates Foundation Funding for 2014:
|Rank||Grantee||Total Granted||# Grants|
|1||New Venture Fund||$13,170,152||4|
|2||Council of Chief State School Officers||$6,148,749||1|
|4||Tulsa Public Schools||$4,421,847||1|
|5||Lake County Schools||$4,390,766||2|
|6||Alliance for Excellent Education Inc.||$4,287,530||2|
|7||National Assoc. Of Charter School Authorizers||$4,000,000||3|
|8||Pacific Charter School Development Inc.||$3,998,633||1|
As can be seen the New Venture Fund (NVF) was awarded 4 grants which totaled $13.2 million – over 14% of the total funding in 2014. In 2013 the NVF received $5.2 million. According to NVF’s website:
NVF was established in 2006 in response to demand from leading philanthropists for an efficient, cost-effective, and time-saving platform to launch and operate charitable projects. We execute a range of donor-driven public interest projects in conservation, global health, public policy, international development, education, disaster recovery, and the arts.
Note that NVF is used to “launch and operate” projects. So my assumption is the Gates Foundation went to NVF and said, “Here’s a bunch of money and these are projects we want you to launch”. As Anthony Cody astutely observed, “One grant that jumps out is one for just over $10 million to the New Venture Fund. The purpose? ‘to support the successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards and related assessments through comprehensive and targeted communications and advocacy in key states and the District of Columbia.’ (emphasis added [by Cody]). Communications and advocacy. Not research and development.”
That communications and advocacy was in full play in 2013, too. The NVF reported on their IRS Form 990 (page 2) that its Education Programs goals included “ADVOCACY FOR EFFECTIVE TEACHING PRACTICES”, “SUPPORT FOR THE COMMON CORE INITIATIVE”, and that their work “… PRIMARILY INCLUDES GRANTMAKING, CONVENING, AND STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS SUPPORT.” One way they did this in 2013 was to provide $75,000 to 12 state department of education offices and $575,104 to the Council of Chief State School Officers (the organization that the head of each state department of education belongs to). So when the Gates Foundation wants to get their agenda up and running the New Venture Fund is used to get the work done.
Speaking of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) notice that it was the second-highest funded organization, receiving over $6.1 million. In some respects CCSSO acts like the NVF for the Gates Foundation – they were given a bunch of money to get the Foundation’s agenda up and running. The CCSSO is the organization that is implementing the Common Core Standards. Since we are well into implementing the Common Core Standards the CCSSO didn’t need as much money in 2014. In 2013 the Gates foundation gave them $11 million.
The Gates Foundation awarded grants to six national professional organizations: National Council for the Social Studies, The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Learning Forward, American Association of School Administrators, and American Architectural Foundation. If you want to influence millions of teachers, get the leaders of their professional organizations thinking the Gates’ way.
One of the more interesting categories funded by the Gates Foundation is “Supporting Philanthropy”. Although not a large total ($1.3 million) funding in this category seems to be used to support organizations that promote philanthropy. The Giving Back Fund ($50,000) “provides philanthropic consulting, management, and administrative services to individuals and corporations. The Foundation Center “is the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide.” Since the Gates Foundation categorized these grants under “College Ready” is it possible that their intent is to help more gazillionaires learn how to fund their own ideas on how public education should be run?
There were 11 grants in 2014 that fell into my “Other” category. They just didn’t fit in anywhere else and seemed a bit wacky. The Institute of Play was given $300,000 to “create learning experiences rooted in the principles of game design”. The National Geographic Society received $10,000 for “students in low-income neighborhoods to [attend] the National Geographic Live! Speaker Series…” Kind of off the wall from the usually focused funding the Foundation usually provides.
As you can see the Gates Foundation’s $93 million went to a lot of different organizations and multiple purposes in 2014. Some were Good Charity. Some were Bad Charity. In my next post I’ll have some final thoughts about the Gates Foundation and its effects on public education.
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:
|Common Core Implementation||$10,413,185||11.2%|
|Strategic Plan Implementation||$7,049,649||7.6%|
|On-line and/or Personalized Learning||$6,057,826||6.5%|
|Provide Classroom Materials||$3,600,000||3.9%|
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”
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.
My wife and I had a great discussion after my last post about the Gates Foundation’s instance that U.S. poverty could be overcome by better schools and teachers instead of a broad-based approach (like the Foundation uses overseas). She led off by saying, “Isn’t Gates a good guy? He’s giving away his money trying to help people.” My response was that putting money into bad ideas doesn’t necessarily help people. With all the publicity about philanthropy lately this has been a topic of discussion (see the New York Times Op-Ed piece “Good Charity, Bad Charity“). To be fair, I really couldn’t tell my wife if all the K-12 education projects the Gates Foundation funds are good or bad ideas.
To their credit, the Gates Foundation maintains a list of all the projects they have funded on their website. I cut and pasted information about the 128 “College Ready” (K-12 education) projects they funded in 2014 into a spreadsheet (ironically a MicroSoft product). Note: K-12 education projects are not limited to public schools, as will be discussed in Part 2.
So to start with, Wow! $93.3 million was given out in support of K-12 education projects in one year. That’s a lot of money but let’s look at it in context. According to Wikipedia the Gates Foundation has a $42.3 billion endowment ($28 billion from Gates, billions more from Warren Buffett). Assuming the endowment funds are properly invested, let’s say that portfolio grows at 10.3% per year (the average historical increase of the markets). That means that the Foundation’s portfolio should increase by $4.4 billion per year. That Wow! of $93.3 million is only 2.1% of the possible earnings of their portfolio and only .2% of the entire endowment.
Two brief thoughts about $93.3 million. First, when you spend that kind of money every year it’s going to make a difference – good or bad. Second, if they really wanted to change (good or bad) K-12 education they could be spending a heck of a lot more.
In order to get a better understanding of what the Foundation was supporting I categorized each of the 128 projects according to the blurb provided on the Foundation’s website (or if that was too vague I went to the project recipient’s website to see what their mission is). I ended up with 12 major categories plus an “other” category.
Want to know what the top-funded category was? You’ll be surprised – I think it falls in the “good” category. Read all about it in my next post.
I love a good analogy and this one is a doozy. Peter Greene over at Curmudgucation is at it again. He says that supporting for-profit charter schools is like being with a hooker. Really. Here’s an excerpt about the logic of those who support for-profit charter schools:
“I don’t care if they are making a pile of money,” is the response. “If they’re getting the results, what difference does it make?”…
That response makes the same sense as saying, “I don’t care if I’m going to bed with a person who’s committed to a loving, long-lasting relationship or if I’m going to be with a hundred dollar an hour hooker. As long as the sex is good, what difference does it make?”
Read the whole piece by clicking HERE.
I read the book Losing Our Way by Bob Herbert over Thanksgiving. Several of my fellow bloggers recommended it so I was eager to begin reading the book when it arrived. After finishing the book I was at a loss as to how to write about it. Then last weekend I saw the movie “Interstellar“. The movie had beautiful scenes, complex characters, an interesting plot yet I came out of theater scratching my head knowing I missed something. I had that same experience after reading Losing Our Way.
When I first heard about Losing Our Way I was excited to think that someone had put their finger on the malaise that seems to surround us now. I was hoping Herbert could trace the roots of some of America’s biggest problems and provide some magical formula as to how to put America back on the right course. Perhaps that was too much to expect. It wasn’t until after reading the book that I took a closer look at the cover and saw that Herbert sub-titled his book “An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America”. That’s what he did a good job at – superbly documenting some of the troubles we are experiencing.
Don’t get me wrong – Losing Our Way was a very enjoyable book to read. Herbert was an op-ed writer for the New York Times for many years and is an excellent writer. He delves deeply into the lives of a few people and tells their story, using them as exemplars of some of the troubles America has. His stories are compelling and written with compassion.
So what troubles do we have? SPOILER ALERT! War is bad. Killing and maiming people during war is bad. Our infrastructure is bad. Fewer people in the middle class is bad. Wealthy people are bad. Education reformers are bad.
Suffice it to say, a very liberal agenda. I could just imagine my dad reading passages like:
The recklessness of the nation’s approach to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was underscored by the federal government’s willingness, even as the troops were pouring into harm’s way, to dramatically cut taxes and sharply increase nonessential domestic spending. (p. 74)
With its Walmart fortune, the Walton clan alone was worth more than the collective wealth of the bottom 125 million Americans. These are the kinds of distortions that used to alarm people when they were associated with thuggish third-world dictatorships. Now they’ve become the norm in a country that for many long decades had pointed proudly to its vast and prosperous middle class as its defining characteristic. (p. 116)
To his credit, Herbert did and excellent job of describing the attacks on education. If you’re wondering why I am concerned about public education I would suggest reading Herbert’s book as he told the story much better than I have.
Should you read Losing Our Way? I think you should. My more conservative friends have now been forewarned that some of the judgmental language will put you off. That shouldn’t stop you from reading the poignant stories of people who have been hurt by some of the mistakes America has taken. My more liberal friends will have many of their beliefs about America validated.
Herbert did a great job of documenting some of the problems we Americans are experiencing. He wants us to get mad enough about those problems to do something. He left it up to us to come up with the solutions.
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.
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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