Gates Responds

Steve Cantrell, a senior researcher at Gates, sent me an email last night in response to my post from yesterday asking for the MET results to be released.  He said that I was right in suggesting that large, complicated projects sometimes take longer than originally planned.  He said that final scores for coding the videos had just been delivered to the research team and that the full results for the 2009-10 year were now scheduled to be released January 5, 2012.  It’s unclear whether that report will also contain information for the 2010-11 year as well.  The MET web site will be changed to reflect this new schedule.  (Update: According to another email from Steve Cantrell, the January release will only have the full 09-10 results.  The final results including 10-11 and are scheduled for release in early summer of 2012 .)

Steve also clarified information on the cost of the project.  Last year I repeated the New York Times and LA Times description of the project costing $45 million.  More recently I’ve repeated the Wall Street Journal description of the project cost as $335 million.  Steve resolved the confusion by saying that the MET study costs about $50 million and the $335 million figure includes grants to the partner districts.

Let me be clear that I think Gates has a lot of good and smart people working on the MET project.  My concern is not that these are bad people.  My concern is that Gates has a flawed strategy based on centrally identifying what educators should do and then building a system of standards, curriculum, and assessments to impose those practices on the education system.  I don’t think this kind of centralized approach can work and I fear that it creates enormous pressure on good and smart researchers to toe the centralized line — even if it becomes obvious that it is not working.  Everyone at Gates can see what happened to the folks who pushed small schools when the Foundation decided that approach was not working.

And unlike Diane Ravitch, Valerie Strauss, and the Army of Angry Teachers, I am not criticizing the Gates Foundation because I think Bill Gates is in the “billionaire boys club” and therefore somehow disqualified from using his wealth to try to improve education.  I am critical of recent Gates Foundation efforts because I believe Gates can and should try to improve education by adopting a more fruitful strategy.

(corrected typos)

11 Responses to Gates Responds

  1. It’s not that we critics think that Gates is “disqualified from using his wealth to try to improve education.” it’s that we think (we know) he is ignorant and uncomprehending about how education works, what schools need and what will improve them, yet his wealth gives overwhelming, destructive momentum to his every uninformed whim. Is that clearer?

    It’s TOE THE LINE, not TOW THE LINE (think about the imagery).

    • allen says:

      The claim of the educational experts to expertise would be more compelling if there were much in the way of educational success on the part of the experts to point to.

      That, by the way, is why Gates is no longer all that interested in listening to the likes of you. He did, your remedies didn’t work and Gates has drawn the quite proper conclusion that whatever your area of actual expertise it’s not in the area of education.

    • Thanks for the correction on “toe.”

      I understand that you think his ideas are wrong and that his money gives his wrong ideas too much influence. But frankly the way to respond to that is by showing how his ideas are wrong, not by repeatedly calling him one of the “billionaire boys club.”

      The unions have about as much to spend each year on education policy as does Gates to promote what I think are mostly wrong ideas. With money on different sides of these issues, the focus should be on the merits or defects of the ideas, not the money behind them.

  2. Absolutely agreed that it’s more effective to explain why the ideas are wrong than to toss off lines like “billionaire boys’ club.” Though the reform side provides a constant barrage of ITS scripted soundbites (“defenders of the failed status quo,” “lackeys of the teachers’ unions,” on and on), so the sudden concern about whether that’s an effective tactic is inconsistent.

    In any case, the weight of the money behind Gates’ ideas gives them gives unearned, unwarranted impact (to put it mildly). If some schmo on the street who has no actual contact with nor understanding of public schools has an uninformed whim about how to magically fix them, nothing happens. Bill Gates, who has no actual contact with nor understanding of public schools, has an uninformed whim about how to magically fix them and declares “Make it so!” That’s the entire reason his money is the main topic of the discussion.

    Teachers’ union money is not analogous, because its purpose is to promote the interests of those who work in schools, not impose ideas that are helicoptered in from outside, from sources as far removed from and as ill-informed about actual schools as possible.

    • Daniel Earley says:

      From the vantage point of not believing in a superiority of centralized Borg-like solutions in general, it’s always at least mildly amusing to see one power cartel up in arms over the prospect of a rival infringing on its turf.

      • Well, obviously, that’s one way to look at it. Still, the fact is that one side represents the people most deeply involved and committed, who work in schools and classrooms with kids every day. The other side represents people with absolutely zero contact with schools, classrooms, or messy, noisy, unpredictable actual kids, except possibly the occasional orchestrated dog-n-pony-show tour of some glittery it’s-a-miracle charter school.

  3. matthewladner says:

    It would take Gates a century to achieve half of the harm produced by the unions, even if he were trying to do so, which he isn’t.

  4. Have already heard versions of your wriggly, squiggly explanation for why states with no union protections consistently post the lowest academic achievement and states with the strongest unions consistently post the highest academic achievement. So we don’t really need to hear that again. But just pointing out the facts as a reminder.

  5. Sandra Stotsky says:

    I think Allen’s critique deserves some comment. It quite rightly points to the issue of “expertise.” Exactly who does have expertise on an issue in education? Researchers who know where the evidence is, if there is any, and tell us where it is if it exists? Educators who have hunches based on experience and describe their experiences? Funders who are neither researchers or educators but have their own agendas? Allen, please give us the names of a few experts in any area of education you wish, and then tell us what makes them experts. Sandra Stotsky

    • allen says:

      No, I’m not commenting on expertise but the means by which expertise is determined.

      The best method is the scientific method or some approximation.

      Annunciating a hypothesis, determining a means of disproving the hypothesis and then collecting your Nobel Prize when the hypothesis turns out to be as explanatory as you’d hoped is the tried and true means by which expertise is measured. More simply, if you know what you’re talking about by virtue of offering proof you’re generally acknowledged to be an expert.

      That’s not a standard of expertise widely admired in the education field since it leads to embarrassment. That’s why Caroline has to dismiss Gates as a member of the “billionaire boys club”. Denigration is the means to defang the fact that the faux experts who decorate the public education landscape had an opportunity to try out some of their pet ideas and came up a cropper. Rather then just ignoring the failure of those ideas, as has been the tradition in the public education system, Gates et all chose to retract their support of those experts.

      In virtually any other area of our society that action would have elicited a shrug and puzzlement at any objections. The experts prescriptions didn’t work, what else is Gates going to do? Throw good money after bad?

      In the public education sphere the answer to that question is “yes”.

      That’s why Caroline and her like are reduced to name-calling. They can’t point to the successes of the experts as evidence of Gates’ ignorance. There are no such successes to point to.

      Neither can they leave Gates’ withdrawal of support unaddressed. Gates *does* have credibiltiy by virtue of his membership in that “billionaire’s boys club” and his withdrawal of support is damaging to the credibility of the experts whose job it is to try to maintain the educational status quo. But without a substantive response name-calling’s all that’s left.

      Education experts? Well, there’s a number to choose from.

      There’s Dennis Litsky, Pierre Dulaine, David Macenulty, Marva Collins, Jaime Escalante. Ben Chavis looks like he knows a thing or two about educating kids.

      The list is actually pretty long but since they’re teachers they garner no respect within the public education system. It’s only outside the public education system that they get some of the respect they deserve.

  6. Efavorite says:

    So now you’re calling Caroline a namecaller,over and over, while disregarding the names reformers have called those who do not value the reformers so-called reforms and supporting Gates in using his financial muscle however he chooses.

    Sounds like you’re losing confidence in the reform movement.

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