Gates, Again: The Gates Foundation Commits $1.7 Billion to the Creation of “Networks of Schools,” Creating a “Bottom Up” Model, or, Swimming Against the Tide?

Our nation has a long history of philanthropy, the wealthy supporting “worthy causes;” the Bloomberg School of Public Health at John Hopkins, the Langone Medical Center at New York University, buildings at colleges named after a deep-pocketed contributor, and, recently, vast dollars to promote a specific cause. The Walton Family Foundation’s cause is charter schools, “The foundation has invested more than $407 million to grow high-quality charter schools since 1997.”

Daniel Loeb, a billionaire hedge fund manager chairs the Eva Moskowitz Success Academy board, and, according to Chalkbeat, “donated millions of dollars to the network.”

Bill Gates, at a speech at the Council of Great City Schools (10/19/17) announced a new major project, described below, revolves around the creation of school networks and the use of data.

“… we will expand investments in innovative research to accelerate progress for underserved students.

Overall, we expect to invest close to $1.7 billion in U.S. public education over the next five years.”

This is the third major investment in education by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. His first, the small high school initiative, Gates dollars, $600 million, helped in the creation of 1200 schools around the nation, with mixed results, as reported by Gates.

From our work creating small schools to increase high school graduation and college-readiness rates, we saw how small schools could be responsive to their students’ needs. While the results in places like New York City, Los Angeles, and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas were encouraging, we realized that districts were reluctant to scale small schools because of the financial and political costs of closing existing schools and starting new ones.

 In New York City the Gates dollars were funneled through New Visions for Public Schools to community-based organizations that supported the school theme. I worked at New Visions for a few years on a team that worked to support schools; meaning providing expertise in a range of areas. Highly dedicated people working in schools run by a number of different superintendents with differing goals and leadership styles.

The small schools movement predated the Gates initiative; the Chancellor’s High School District phased out large dysfunctional schools and created small theme-based schools. While the management model was structurally different, the small schools created by the Chancellor’s District were at least as effective as the Gates schools. One might ask whether the 600 million could have been put to better use.

Gates then moved on to the next big thing, the Measures of Effective Teaching project, a massive undertaking.

Our investments in the Measures of Effective Teaching provided important knowledge about how to observe teachers at their craft, rate their performance fairly, and give them actionable feedback. While these insights have been helpful to the field, we saw that differentiating teachers by performance, and in turn by pay scale, wasn’t enough to solve the problem alone.

 A three year-long study involving 3,000 teachers across the nation “provided important knowledge,” however, “wasn’t enough to solve the problem alone.”

The study placed 360 degree cameras in classrooms, video recording lessons, coding the teacher behavior, and attempting to isolate specific teaching behaviors. Unfortunately the study also used pupil performance on tests, value-added measurement (VAM), as the tool to assess teacher performance. Whether intended or not, the use of VAM by Gates added to the movement to assess teacher performance and pay teachers according to increases in test scores.

Two massive project intending to change the face of education that ultimately failed to achieve their goals.

The Foundation is embarking on a new massive project. “Networks of schools.”

In his speech Gates only spoke in general terms,

We anticipate that about 60 percent of this [the 1.7 billion] will eventually support the development of new curricula and networks of schools that work together to identify local problems and solutions . . . and use data to drive continuous improvement.

Many states, districts, and schools now have the data they need to track student progress and achievement, and some are using it to great effect.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering, what are these “networks of schools” and where are they? You’re not alone.

Gates continued,

We will focus our grantmaking on supporting schools in their work to improve student outcomes—particularly for low-income, Black, and Latino students—by partnering with middle and high schools and identifying new approaches that are effective and that could be replicated in other schools.

We will do this by investing in networks of schools to solve common problems schools face by using evidence-based interventions that best fit their needs, and data-driven continuous learning. We will also invest in ensuring that teachers and leaders have what they need to be successful—high-quality preparation, standards-aligned curriculum and tools, accompanied by professional learning opportunities. And we’ll keep our eyes on the horizon; advancing research and development in support of new innovations that will help our education system keep pace with our rapidly changing world.

The Foundation has published a “Request for Information,” a document requesting information from current or former self-designed networks,

We believe when teams of educators within schools and across schools work collaboratively with communities and have a strong partnership with families to solve common problems and continuously improve, change will be more enduring.

Take a look at the Request for Information document here.

The leader of K-12 Education and the new initiative at Gates is Bob Hughes, who led New Visions for Public Schools in New York City.

I first met Bob at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) trial. Bob was one of the attorneys leading the heroic effort for fair funding in New York City. I attended about 30 sessions of the 107 session trial reporting the activities of the day to the UFT legal team. A few years later Bob moved to New Visions, and with a $54 million grant managed the creation of small school communities, schools working closely with community partners.  In 2003 I began to work on a team that assisted in the design of new schools and the phase-out of Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn.

Bob and the New Visions staff are dedicated to improving schools, and, in spite of the obstacle of working within a school system that at times was obstructionist, created a network of schools.

In February, 2016 Bob moved from New Visions to the head of K-12 Education at Gates.

From the limited information on the Gates website it appears that the “next big thing” will be an attempt to marry the New Visions model with networks across the nation.

As an example of the model New Visions has created an Open Educational Resources (OER) project; curricula, designed by subject area specialists and classroom teachers. New Visions encourages,

A broad group of teachers participate in ongoing professional development which provides them with support for the use of these materials. [Explore the curricula on the site above – open and free to all]

New Visions has taken over the role of the school district.

New Visions has also created a host of data tools,

Empowering teacher and school administrators through flexible open source tools and resources, the New Visions CloudLab is a home for community driven tool development and support.

I am a supporter of the network approach, the current rigid, top-down, paramilitary structure (salute and comply) has never worked, kids did well not because of the management system, they did well because of the nature of the school population or the extraordinary ability of school or school district leadership.

Schools and school districts should be learning communities, not “absorbers” of the message of the moment.

The New Visions model, the Internationals Network, and a few others are currently embedded within New York City, and, there will be opportunities for other networks.

One interesting possibility, the creation of a PROSE network, a cluster of schools taking advantage of new section of the bargaining agreement that encourages schools to create innovative designs.

PROSE stands for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, and the opportunities for redesign at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.

Hopefully the Bill and Bob team can create interesting options to our current test prep driven school districts.


2 responses to “Gates, Again: The Gates Foundation Commits $1.7 Billion to the Creation of “Networks of Schools,” Creating a “Bottom Up” Model, or, Swimming Against the Tide?

  1. This is like inventing fire or the wheel again and if it works, claiming it was your idea … something Donald Trump does all the time.

    Bill Gates is so ignorant and arrogant that he doesn’t know that the United States already had networks of schools. They were called community-based, democratic, transparent, non-profit public schools that were held accountable by state Constitutions, court verdicts, legislation turned into ed-codes and laws. The only thing missing in most if not all of those school districts was the bottom up idea because idiots like Bill Gates at the top wouldn’t let that happen.


  2. This story should bust the myth that we live in a true democracy. One man, due to his fortune, essentially has the voting power of billions. He single handedly distorted the pillar of this lofty experiment that is public education. Gates, who was lucky enough to have his high school’s rich parents association purchase one of a handful of computers at the time for him to play with, now believes he knows why economically deprived kids struggle. He is to education as Tom Cruise is to the field of Psychology. The ironic part about all this, is that the Gates approach is by definition top-down – with him at the top.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s