Padlocked schoolyard

August 14, 2012; Impatient Optimists (Official Gates Foundation Blog)

Anthony Cody of Education Week takes on one aspect of the education funding of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (which, by the way, subsidizes Education Week itself), asking whether education is well served by the typical kind of education reforms that foundations like Gates promote. Cody says that Gates “asserts that teacher effectiveness is the best lever in this regard, and it has focused most of its research and advocacy on promoting public investment in systems that measure and promote teacher effectiveness.”

Cody further explains, “In the name of reform, the Gates Foundation has wielded its political influence to effectively shift public funds, earmarked for the service of poor children, away from investment in those children’s direct education experience. Through the Race to the Top and NCLB [No Child Left Behind] waiver conditions, the U.S. Department of Education has instead dedicated public resources to creating state and federal mandates for the Gates Foundation’s costly project—making sure every aspect of our educational system is ‘driven by data.’”

Cody’s analysis? “This is a huge error. In the U.S., the linchpin for education is not teacher effectiveness or data-driven management systems. It is the effects of poverty and racial isolation on our children.” He notes that “the differences between teachers only account for at most 20% of the variance in student test scores, and more than 60% of score variance correlates to out-of-school factors,” concluding that policies such as those promulgated by Gates “ignore the inequitable and inadequate resources available to low-income children in their homes and communities, as well as their schools.”

A teacher from high-poverty schools in Oakland, Calif., Cody thinks Gates is on the wrong track and he challenges the lockstep catechism of the educational reformers of our time: “One of the central tenets advanced by many education reformers is that poverty is used as an excuse, a bogus justification for poor academic performance, that allows schools and teachers in poor neighborhoods to remain ineffective. Therefore, the best way to beat poverty in these circumstances is to set high expectations for everyone, hold teachers accountable for increasing test scores, and accept no excuses.” But Cody explains in detail exactly what poor kids