Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Friday, August 12, 2016

Another 'shift' at the Gates Foundation. More mea culpas.

“I want the foundation to be the neutral broker...” -- Melinda Gates

I suppose this means that the power philanthropists are now projecting themselves as disinterested reform partners rather than who they are -- the most powerful, top-down, non-governmental (unelected) shapers of global social/economic policies in history. Not to mention, being a shell for tax avoidance for the world's richest man. 

Melinda's quote comes from yesterday's Washington Post, supposedly signaling some introspection and a strategic adjustment of Gates Foundation investments in Common Core. The changes come in the face of mounting criticisms of corporate-style school reform and of the foundation itself. Much of that criticism is coming from black community organizations, the opt-out movement, and from within oppositional forces within the Democratic Party as election time draws near.  

Some are anticipating a shift away from current reform policies with the election of Hillary Clinton. I'm not counting on it. 

It seems like every five years or so, faced with stinging criticism from those most affected by their reform interventions, Gates Foundation leaders go through similar self-adjustments while sticking to their same overall theory of change.They tweak their top-down reform funding strategies, admit they've bet on the wrong horse, leave old projects hanging, and promise next time, to be "better listeners". But how real is their self-crit? It's usually limited being "too impatient" or "too naive" about great amount of time it takes to bring the uninsightful, unwashed masses to buy into their interventions. 

And here's the latest:
CHICAGO — Melinda Gates said she and her husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, learned an important lesson from the fierce pushback against the Common Core State Standards in recent years. Not that they made the wrong bet when they poured hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting the education standards, but that such a massive initiative will not be successful unless teachers and parents believe in it.
“Community buy-in is huge,” Melinda Gates said in an interview here on Wednesday, adding that cultivating such support for big cultural shifts in education takes time. “It means that in some ways, you have to go more slowly.”
 That does not mean the foundation has any plans to back off the Common Core or its other priorities, including its long-held belief that improving teacher quality is the key to transforming public education. “I would say stay the course. We’re not even close to finished,” Gates said.
In the past, some within the philanthropy community have charged that Gates has effectively bought the silence of would-be critics. 

“The danger isn’t in what people do tell you—it’s in what they don’t,” departing foundation CEO Patty Stonesifer warned in the 2007 annual report.
In other words, Stonesifer says, the Gates Foundation needs honest feedback and criticism to help it figure out how best to improve the health of the world’s poor, boost food production in Africa and improve schools in the U.S.
Honesty can be hard to come by, though, when you’re handing out staggering amounts of cash. And some question how sincere the foundation is about listening to critics.
“They’re not really fostering tough debate,” said Pablo Eisenberg, a columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy and senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. “They have not solicited and gone after people who will tell them the truth.”
Last year, Bill Gates himself acknowledged the foundation’s struggles in a speech at an event in Seattle, marking the 20th anniversary of its Global Health initiative. He said, that on the measure of “which of these inventions would go on over time to actually save lives, I have to say at the time I was pretty naive about how long that process would take”. 

Gates pushing Common Core in Honduras.
Faced with increasing criticism of their health investments in third-world countries, Gates copped to "underestimating the effort required to implement new technologies in countries without basic services, including clean water and reasonable medical care".

But that hasn't stopped the foundation from pushing Common Core in underdeveloped countries like Honduras. 

Naive? Really?

Remember when they ditched their $2B investment in high-school reform and small schools, claiming that their pet projects didn't produce fast enough results (standardized test scores)? Bill Gates' 2009 letter, which was posed as a self-critical evaluation, actually blamed the Gates-funded schools themselves for not being "radical" enough and indirectly, the teacher unions for not being faithful to his top-down model. 
These tended to be the schools that did not take radical steps to change the culture, such as allowing the principal to pick the team of teachers or change the curriculum. We had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school.
The letter marked the foundation's shift away from public school reform to a one-track strategy of underwriting privately-run charters and the management organizations that run them. It's a strategy that ultimately helped widened educational inequality and accelerated school re-segregation.

After that it was on to "teacher quality" and the pushing teacher evals based mainly on test scores. But then...
The foundation... publicly acknowledged pitfalls in overemphasizing test scores and argues that while test scores should play a role in teacher evaluations, those evaluations must also give teachers the feedback they need to improve through classroom observations, student surveys or other subjective methods.
It seems that now the foundation is trying to adapt it's investment strategies to the new reform environment under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which shifts more decision-making power from the federal level, back to the states. Now, along with pouring dollars into national Common Core efforts and placing foundation people inside the D.O.E., Gates will have to push reform interventions state by state making it that much tougher to gain quick results.
Gates said the foundation also will work to persuade states to invest in databases that gather information about students, tracking their backgrounds, experiences and performance from preschool to college and career.
But Gates self-critique misses the mark. It's not about you going more slowly so that school community folks can finally get it. It's not about teachers and parents "believing" in Gates' initiatives. Gates-ism is not a religion. Neither is it about getting a "buy-in" for reform products -- in this case the aforementioned "big cultural shift". BTW, the term buy-in should be banished forever from reform lexicon along with every other cliche that sees reform as a commodity.

But are they betting on the right horse?
Not buying-in is Black Lives Matter

This from EdWeek:
Organized under the Movement for Black Lives, the agenda also targets some of the most powerful philanthropic backers of the charter school sector—the Walton Family Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—for bankrolling what it calls "an international education privatization agenda".
According to WaPo:
Last week, the Movement for Black Lives — a coalition of dozens of black-led organizations, including the Black Lives Matter Network — released a policy platform that decried the Gates Foundation as part of a “systematic attack” on public schools that “strips Black people of the right to self-determine the kind of education their children receive.” It called for an effort to invest in, not close, struggling schools serving black children, and it accused education policymakers of listening to unelected philanthropists instead of students, teachers and parents.
That critique will be a tough one for Gates to tweak.

For more background, take a look at this WaPo piece by Lindsey Layton from 2014: "How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution." Here my favorite line from Layton's piece...
Gates grew irritated in the interview when the political backlash against the standards was mentioned. “These are not political things,” he said. “These are where people are trying to apply expertise to say, ‘Is this a way of making education better?’ ”
The one thing you don't want to do is get this man "irritated".

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