Federal Opinion

Bill Gates Dances Around the Teacher Evaluation Disaster He Sponsored

By Anthony Cody — April 04, 2013 3 min read
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No one in America has done more to promote the raising of stakes for test scores in education than Bill Gates.

Yesterday, Mr. Gates published a column that dances around the disaster his advocacy has created in the schools of our nation.

You can read his words there, but his actions have spoken so much more loudly, that I cannot even make sense out of what he is attempting to say now. So let’s focus first on what Bill Gates has wrought.

No Child Left Behind was headed towards bankruptcy about seven years ago. The practice of labeling schools as failures and closing them, on the basis of test scores, was clearly causing a narrowing of the curriculum. Low income schools in Oakland eliminated art, history and even science in order to focus almost exclusively on math and reading. The arrival of Arne Duncan and his top level of advisors borrowed from the Gates Foundation created the opportunity for a re-visioning of the project.

Both the Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers processes required states and districts to put in place teacher and principal evaluation systems which placed “significant” weight on test scores. This was interpreted by states to mean that test scores must count for at least 30% to 50% of an evaluation.

The Department of Education had told the states how high they had to jump, and the majority did so.

The Gates Foundation promoted these practices not only through their migrated staff members, but also through numerous policy and advocacy groups that were well funded, or even created for this purpose. We have the Data Quality Campaign, the National Council on Teacher Quality, and groups like Teach Plus, given millions of dollars to advocate for the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. The NCTQ, for example, has asserted that:

It is fair to say that the school districts in the nation that do the best in the face of the challenge of educating disadvantaged students have become obsessive about using data to drive instruction.

The Gates-funded advocacy group Teach Plus organized and prepared teachers to testify in FAVOR of a new law in Indiana, which mandated that test scores be used as a significant part of teacher evaluations.

The Gates-funded Media Bullpen pushes aggressively for news coverage in education that is critical of unions, and favors the expansion of vouchers and charter schools.

And there are literally hundreds of similar actions that have been taken under the direct sponsorship of the Gates Foundation over the past decade.

That has directly led to the situation that Bill Gates described in his column yesterday:

In one Midwestern state, for example, a 166-page Physical Education Evaluation Instrument holds teachers accountable for ensuring that students meet state-defined targets for physical education, such as consistently demonstrating "correct skipping technique with a smooth and effortless rhythm" and "strike consistently a ball with a paddle to a target area with accuracy and good technique." I'm not making this up!
This is one reason there is a backlash against standardized tests -- in particular, using student test scores as the primary basis for making decisions about firing, promoting and compensating teachers. I'm all for accountability, but I understand teachers' concerns and frustrations.

Where did this PE evaluation come from? It is likely it resulted from language such as that in the Indiana law that Gates proxies got passed two years ago. There, the law passed states:

A school corporation shall implement the plan beginning with the 2012-2013 school year.
(b) A plan must include the following components:
(1) Performance evaluations for all certificated employees, conducted at least annually.
(2) Objective measures of student achievement and growth to significantly inform the evaluation. The objective measures must include:
(A) student assessment results for certificated employees whose responsibilities include instruction in subjects measured in statewide assessments; and
(B) methods for assessing student growth for certificated employees who do not teach in areas measured by statewide assessments.

That is exactly what the PE teacher evaluation which Bill Gates mocks in his column attempts to do.

This is an echo of the recent article on teacher evaluation co-signed by AFT president Randi Weingarten and Vicki Phillips, which likewise attempted to walk back support for teacher evaluations “done on the quick.”

This amounts to an attempt to distance the Gates Foundation from the asinine consequences of the policies they have sponsored, while accepting no responsibility for them whatsoever.

This is a non-starter, as far as I am concerned.

When Bill Gates states he is all for accountability, perhaps he might start with himself. Until then, I really do not value his views on what good accountability systems for others ought to consist of.

Update: I have offered the first Billionaire Philanthropist Evaluation, as a means of holding Mr. Gates accountable. Please read and offer your feedback -- since he so values this for others, I am sure he will welcome it for himself.

What do you think? Should we be grateful that Bill Gates recognizes that test score-based evaluations might go overboard?

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The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.