The research evidence continues to pile up that the old Gates strategy of promoting small schools of choice has proven effective according to rigorous random-assignment design studies, while the new Gates PLDD strategy of building a national system of standards, assessments, and consequences has virtually no rigorous evidence to support it.
Under Tom Vander Ark’s leadership the Gates Foundation not only pursued an agenda based on a plausible theory of school improvement, but also initiated a series of high-quality studies to assess the results. Even though Gates has largely abandoned its old strategy, those results are now pouring in. We previously saw positive outcomes from a study by Lisa Barrow, Amy Claessens, and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of small schools in Chicago. A non-Gates-funded analysis by my students, Anna Egalite and Brian Kisida, showed the same advantage for smaller schools in a national sample. And in New York City, MDRC also demonstrated significant gains from small schools of choice.
Now MDRC has an updated analysis confirming that the benefits discovered earlier were extended and endured. Randomly assigning students to small high schools “continue[s] to produce sustained positive effects, raising graduation rates by 9.5 percentage points.” In addition, “more students are graduating ready for college: the [small high] schools raise by 6.8 percentage points the proportion of students scoring 75 or more on the English Regents exam, a critical measure of college readiness used by the City University of New York.”
What evidence do we have to support the new Gates PLDD strategy? Umm, well, I’m sure Fordham can gather some of their friends together and give higher letter grades to states implementing the Gates PLDD strategy. Over $6 million can buy some really good grades.
This is what the Gates Foundation has been reduced to — an organization that used to commission the most rigorous evaluations of their reform theory now invests overwhelmingly in the marketing and spinning of their new reform theory. And they couldn’t even stick with the old reform theory of promoting small schools of choice long enough to see whether the rigorous evidence supported it.
Small schools?!? That is like so 2007. I think I’ll tweet my friends all about it, since Gates is now more interested in Twitter counts than random-assignment research. Can Gates please put a grown-up in charge, like bringing back Tom Vander Ark?
[UPDATE — An alert reader notes that the score is actually 5-0. I forgot this study of small schools designed as early college. Also, note the comment I added clarifying the nature of my concern with the $6 million given by Gates to Fordham.]