Tag Archives: Gates Foundation

Bill Gates’ Quest for the Mythical Magic Bullet: Next Quest: Algebra 1

From Small High Schools to Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) to Value-Added Measurements (VAM) to the Common Core State Standards, the Gates Foundation has been searching for the magic bullet, a vaccine for curing education, and the “cures” have proven fruitless (See links above)

The next magic bullet is a cure for Algebra 1, the course viewed as standing in the way of graduation and success in the post graduate world.

The Gates Foundation released an application for a new initiative: “Balance the Equation.”

Algebra 1 is one of the most important on-track indicators of students’ future success. Students who do not complete Algebra 1 have a one-in-five chance of graduating from high school and, as it currently stands, Algebra 1 acts as a gatekeeper – rather than a gateway – to future success.

We are looking for partners to help us radically transform and rethink the traditional math classroom to better support students who have been historically marginalized in math, including Black and Latino students, student who speak a language other than English, and students affected by poverty in the United States

The two-year one million dollar grants, called “Balance the Equation: A Grand Challenge for Algebra 1” asks applicants to address five areas,

These areas have the biggest opportunity for altering the traditional classroom experience for priority students in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Specifically, these areas include:

  • Building out support systems
    • Improving relevance of algebra content
    • Elevating understanding of mathematical language
    • Empowering and strengthening teacher practices
    • Developing new or better feedback mechanisms

As you would expect the application is detailed and specific – it’s only a few pages, read here.

The Gates Foundation poured hundreds of millions, maybe a few billion into “innovative” proposals, the small high school initiative created about 1200 small high schools across the nation, and Gates admitted his efforts “fell short

Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way. 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. Even so, many schools had higher attendance and graduation rates than their peers. While we were pleased with these improvements, we are trying to raise college-ready graduation rates, and in most cases, we fell short.

Externally imposed reorganizations rarely are embedded in organizational cultures, At the core of organizational change are two axioms: “change is perceived as punishment” and “participation reduce resistance,” ignoring the axioms commonly dooms “new ideas.”

In New York City the small school movement began in a collaborative climate, and, under Bloomberg became a race to close as many large high schools as possible. Some small high schools are prospering; too many others are simply smaller replicas of the schools they replaced.

The Common Core is another massive initiative, designed to change the face of American education, stumbled, and fell by the wayside.

 Gates realizes that the large-scale transformation he envisions will require greater attentiveness to “locally-driven solutions identified by networks of schools.”

The statement evinces some realization that what might work well in some places might not work well in others. But the new-found sensitivity to locale is more than offset by the insistence on “data-driven continuous learning” (and who will store, manage, and mine this data, one wonders, if not large-scale tech companies, such as the one owned by Bill Gates?), “evidence-based interventions,” and the insistence on using “data to drive continuous improvement.” This data will provide us with shocking revelations, such as the data in Chicago that revealed students who attend class, complete courses, accumulate credits, and receive higher grades are more likely to graduate.

There are many who view Gates as the personification of evil, a bored mega-billionaire using his dollars to impose “solutions,” deeply flawed solutions, on the American education landscape. Others see him using his clout to enrich himself by driving education to “large scale tech companies” instead of locally based solutions.

Bob Moses, the iconic civil rights leader began the Algebra Project over thirty years ago in rural South, successfully teaching algebra to impoverished children of color with excellent outcomes.  Read assessment here

Why is the Gates funding another algebra initiative? Why not expand the Moses Algebra Project?

Bill is tip-toeing into another education morass.

The threshold question:  Should we be requiring Algebra 1 as a condition of high school graduation?

Andrew Hacker, in a New York Times op ed questions whether “Algebra is Necessary?”

The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school …  Most of the educators I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.

… a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above.

Mathematics is used as a hoop, a badge, a totem to impress outsiders and elevate a profession’s status.

Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives … [courses to] familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.

Peter Flom, a math teacher challenges Hacker,

Most of what we learn in school has limited applicability outside school. I took art in high school. I have never drawn or painted since. I took biology. I have not used that since, either. That is not the point. The point of education is not to teach children things they need to know, it is to expose them to the glories of the human mind.

By this logic, almost all of high school would not be required.

Is algebra necessary? In the strict sense, no. You can live without it. You can also live without art, music, literature or sports. Would you want to?

Cathy N. Davidson, a professor and founder of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York joins the debate,

For too many students, algebra is not the gateway to mathematical literacy. It is the gatekeeper.

Algebra is the single most failed course in high school, the most failed course in community college, and, along with English language for nonnative speakers, the single biggest academic reason that community colleges have a high dropout rate

 Do you fail someone from formal educational opportunities who has will, skills, and intellectual abilities simply because they can’t master algebraic thinking? Or do you offer alternative, productive forms of math competencies to challenge them and help them grow?

Whether to require or not require algebra — in both high school and in college — boils down to one’s view of the purpose of education. If the purpose is credentialing — certifying that the student has earned passing grades in a predefined suite of courses that, collectively, constitute the requirements for a diploma — then it is fine to require anything you want, including algebra.

But if you have a longer view of the purpose of education — that its true mission is to prepare students for everything that comes after graduation — then it is time get rid of the one-size-fits-all prescriptive curriculum.

Linda Gojak, the President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics raises the question of when to teach Algebra 1, the traditional ninth grade, or, as is increasing ly common in the seventh or eighth grade. Gojak sees the seventh and eight grades as opportunities to explore math concepts, preparing students for algebra.

 Seeing the relevance of mathematics in real-world situations and future career options encourages students to take more mathematics rather than to wonder, “When are we ever going to use this?” Solving interesting problems with high cognitive demand offers students experiences to make mathematical connections, form generalizations, and develop mathematical strategies that lead to making sense of early algebra concepts. Working on projects that deepen the level of mathematical understanding and promote algebra applications has the potential to prepare students for the level of abstraction and symbolism that students need for success in rigorous algebra courses.

Gates jumped beyond the question of whether Algebra is necessary, one can say from the frying pan into the fire

Math teachers are among the most contentious sets of teachers.

Professor Hung Wu, at University of California, Berkeley, the primary author of the Common Core Math Standards and the new Geometry standards, in a widely circulated article (“Potential Impact of the Common Core Mathematics Standards on the American Curriculum”), skewers all that preceded his standards.

Long before the advent of the Common Core State Standards Mathematics, American schools had a de facto national mathematics curriculum, namely, the curriculum dictated by school mathematics textbooks. While there are some formal differences among these books, the underlying mathematics is quite similar throughout. The resulting curriculum distorts mathematics in the sense that it often withholds precise definitions and logical reasoning, fails to point out interconnections between major topics such as whole numbers and fractions, and employs ambiguous language that ultimately leads to widespread nonlearning. The CCSSM make a conscientious attempt to address many of these problems and, in the process, raise the demand on teachers’ content knowledge for a successful implementation of these standards.

Professor Wu looks upon elementary school teachers as being “mathematically illiterate,” and implies that we first have to teach mathematics to elementary school teachers before they can teach mathematics to their students.

For elementary teachers, there is at present a feeling that they have been so damaged by their K–12 experience…that we owe it to them to treat them with kid gloves…. Those that I have encountered are generally eager to learn and are willing to work hard. The kid-glove treatment would seem to be hardly necessary. …There is another school of thought arguing that for elementary teachers, one should teach them not only the mathematics of their classrooms, but at the same time also how children think about the mathematics. Again, I can only speak from my own experience. The teachers I observed usually had so much difficulty just coming to terms with the mathematics itself that any additional burden about children’s thinking would have crushed them.

Additionally, there is a raging debate among math teachers about the Geometry Common Core course adopted by most states, mathematics teachers sharply disagree with Professor Wu.

Will the Gates investment result in a curriculum or a set of lesson plans, high quality videos of lessons, teaching Algebra 1 on Snap Chat or Instagram or the new social media site?  Will a “culturally relevant” Algebra 1 curriculum engage students?  How about including BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) in algebra lessons? Whatever works …

Teachers are writers, actors, producers, directors and critics of a play that runs for one day. Hopefully we are reflective: What “worked?”  What didn’t “work?”  Why didn’t it “work?”  We mess around in our tool kit to look for the proper tool to fix the situation, and, we’re always looking for new tools.

We ask our colleagues, how did you teach this or that?  Can I come into your classroom and watch you?  Can you take a look at me and can we talk?

There are no magic bullets.

Teaching is a frustrating and at the same time a gratifying job.

When a kid left my room after a lesson and said, “Mr. G, that was really hard, I think I got it,” I beamed inside.

A school leader invited me to sit in on a teacher meeting; New York State switched to the Common Core Algebra 1 curriculum and a Common Core Algebra 1 Regents Examination.

The teachers completed grading the exam and constructed an “error matrix,” the most common wrong answers, and, asked the lower grades to sit in on the meeting: everyone brought their lesson plans.

Why did the kids get a specific question wrong, and, how could they adjust their plan to better teach the concept?

In order to change outcomes you have to change inputs.

In how many schools if kids do poorly on a test do we offer remediation, defined as teaching more of what they failed to understand the first time.

Bill,I have a suggestion, save the millions, how can we create collaborative school cultures, schools in which teachers, facilitated by the school leaders, can explore instructional practice; how can we redefine professional development, not as a block of time sitting in a room with a sage, but what you do every day.

As my friend Jonathan is fond of saying, “The answers are in the room,” we just have to find them.

The Enigmatic Governor of New York State: Presidential Pretender or a Model Governor for the Nation?

In San Francisco, in the summer of 1984 at the Democratic National Convention, Mario Cuomo, the governor of New York State delivered an iconic speech, a revival of the progressive spirit of the FDR New Deal years,

 A shining city is perhaps all the President [Reagan] sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there’s another city, another part to the shining city—the part where some people can’t pay their mortgages and most young people can’t afford one. Where students can’t afford the education they need and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate. In this part of the city there are more poor than ever, more families in trouble, more and more people who need help but can’t find it.

 Even worse, there are elderly people who tremble in the basements of the houses there. And there are people who sleep in the city’s streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn’t show. There are ghettoes where thousands of young people without a job, or an education, give their lives away to drug dealers ever day. There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces you don’t see, in the places you don’t visit, in your shining city.

Watch the speech here.

 The speech thrust Cuomo pere into the front ranks of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination; in 1992 he seemed to be on the verge of declaring his candidacy, he was hours away from jumping on a plane to begin his campaign in New Hampshire. Unexpectedly, at an Albany press conference he declared he had decided not to run.  The speculation: why he decided not to run  has been endless.

Cuomo fils, in his third term as governor, as was his father, denies he has presidential ambitions. His daily press conferences are national news, he has skillfully guided the state through the swamps of Republican Washington politics, and, and is slowly moving the state towards a staged re-opening, he is “presidential,”

The state still teeters on draconian budget cuts without an infusion of federal dollars, Cuomo addressed the issue, and, with the Republican governor of Maryland issued a plea for funding for states, to pay police, firefighters, school teachers and sharply criticized the last bailout bill for shoveling money to the largest corporations who used the funds to boost their stock prices. Andrew called for a massive infrastructure program to rebuild highways and airports and schools; without assistance states face draconian cuts and the loss of jobs,

The governor and the state budget director have unilateral power to reduce aid to school districts and localities mid-year if the state doesn’t meet projected revenues.   The next revenue report is due from the State Comptroller’s office on Friday.

Last week, it seems like longer than that; Cuomo announced a 100 member blue ribbon commission;  Eric Schmidt, Google CEO (2001-2011) will lead the re-imagining of the state economy, Schmidt appeared briefly by webcast to say he would focus on issues such as “telehealth, remote learning and expanding broadband access.”

Cuomo also announced he would partner with the Gates Foundation to “re-imagine education in New York State,” with a comment,

The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom and the teacher is in front of that classroom, and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms — why with all the technology you have?”

The Gates Foundation in a statement said,

“[We are] committed to work with New York State on its efforts to ensure equitable access to education for its students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will soon provide more details about the partnership.

Thousands of e-communications filled the governor’s mailbox opposing any relationship with Gates.

The governor, in the spirit of the FDR New Deal has become the nation’s governor; partnering with other governors across the political spectrum, partnering with legislators , fighting the virus and pushing to revive the national economy.

At the peak of the crisis, not enough ventilators, no enough PPE, not enough health professionals Cuomo averred,

We have to get the private and public [health care] systems working together in New York in a way they never had before …  The distinction between private and public hospitals has to go out the window. We’re one health care system.”

 The underlying issue: dollars.  If public and private hospitals coordinate can the state retain the same level of services and lower costs? Create a private-public hospital partnership.

In my view Cuomo is seeking to control Medicaid expenses thorough reorganization of hospitals in the state. Maybe he’s right.

Education is another major item in the state budget.

Every year a combination of parents, school boards, teacher unions and legislators fight to increase state education funding.  Cuomo has grumbled, “we spend more per student than any other state and graduation rates and student progress is way down the list of states.’

Does Cuomo have a plan to use remote learning to control education costs?

An Education Week article asks, “How Effective Is Online Learning? What the Research Does and Doesn’t Tell Us;” research is clear, online learning is less effective than in-person learning, especially for at-risk students.

Cuomo’s rather anonymous education advisory committee  except for national teacher president Randi Weingarten, a resident of New York City, is devoid of New York City educators, a slap at Mayor de Blasio, who just appointed his own education advisory committee.

Bill and Melinda Gates are well aware of public criticism, and, after major stumbles the Foundation has moved in different direction.

We certainly understand why many people are skeptical about the idea of billionaire philanthropists designing classroom innovations or setting education policy. Frankly, we are, to; Bill and I have always been clear that our role isn’t to generate ideas ourselves; it’s to support innovation driven by people who have spent their careers working in education: teachers, administrators, researchers, and community leaders.

But one thing that makes improving education tricky is that even among people who work on the issue, there isn’t much agreement on what works and what doesn’t.

Is the governor using his new found role, his national popularity, to create a pathway to the White House? To reduce funding for education in the state? Or, is he a model for the nation?

Cuomo’s favorability polling is off the charts.

Am I being too cynical?

Is he still the bully simply using the crisis for his own political benefit?

Mario Cuomo’s 1984 speech is as relevant today as in 1984, perhaps more so, the nation desperately needs a leader to meld our nation together, to lead our nation out of the current morass.

Could Cuomo be that leader? Or, is he Geppetto, pulling our strings?

What Type of Chancellor Do We Need in New York City: An “Innovator” or a “Collaborator”?

On Thursday I helped facilitate an event, “How does the New ESSA Law Impact my School?” – about fifty principals and teacher union (UFT) staff listening to and interacting with two experts, one from the Department of Education and the other from the UFT: labor and management, principals and teachers, working together to comprehend a complex new law changing school assessment. I think I might even understand the difference between proficiency, growth, progress, measurements and goals.

Ironically the same day the NY Daily News published an op ed by former Bloomberg Department of Education staffer Andrew Kirtzman (“Needed: An Education Innovator to Follow Carmen Farina”) The innovators Kirtzman praises described themselves as “disrupters,” breaking apart a school system and building another based on their ideas. Kirtzman’s innovators/disrupters created turmoil. Over 2000 teachers in the ATR pool, Open Market transfers, aka, teacher free agency, Fair Student Funding, change after change, a chaotic era antagonized the work force. Teachers despised the Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott, “innovations” that were actually an attempt to end tenure, weaken and/or destroy the union, an attempt that rallied teachers and created a vibrant opposition. Farina’s first job was to clean out the Augean Stables.

Obama/Duncan/King pumped out hundreds of millions of dollars: the Common Core, evaluating teachers by student test scores, in New York State four tests for prospective teachers, extending teacher probation, and, choice aka, charter schools. Once again, alienating the work force; teachers in classrooms across the nation and the state.

The most successful corporations, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Zappos, all build teams of employees, teams with wide latitude to create and collaborate.

One of the most successful entrepreneurs is Tony Hsieh, the president and CEO of Zappos, an online shoe and apparel site.  In a new book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, Hsieh argues that workplace culture is the key to highly effective employees that create a highly effective business enterprise. Spend a few minutes listening to Hsieh here.

 Workplace culture in New York City has dramatically changed, from the toxic culture of the previous administration to an increasingly collaborative culture. The 2014 teacher contract created PROSE schools,

Of all the breakthrough ideas in the 2014 contract, none has more potential to empower teachers and their school communities than the PROSE initiative. 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.

See the PROSE application and rubric for 2018 »

Over 100 schools are currently in the program, bending management/union rules, redesigns, school communities finding better ways to deliver services to students.

The change in culture also comes from Albany, Commissioner Elia and Regent Chancellor Rosa involved the education community across the state in major policy decisions. The creation of the state ESSA plan included scores of meetings, hundreds of educators from all levels participating, thousands of comments, months and months of discussions created a plan that moves from how many kids reach a proficient grade (3.0) on a state test to a system that combines proficiency, growth and progress. The topic I referenced above, the work groups included all the educational stakeholders.

The former administration imposed a teacher evaluation system based on Value-Added Measurements, student test scores, to assess teacher quality. After a long, arduous battle Governor Cuomo agreed to toll the system for four years, teachers are currently assessed by a system called “the matrix,” a combination of teacher observations and locally-agreed upon measurements of student learning (MOSL) and student learning objectives (SLO).

With the moratorium in its third year the commissioner has asked for feedback from staff across the state.

See the APPR survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/commissionersAPPRsurvey

BTW, fill it out and submit- join thousands of teachers across the state.

We’ve had enough of “innovative” leadership, leadership firmly convinced they possess the Holy Grail, leadership imposed so-called innovations, and moved on to their next job.

The Gates Foundation has a new director of K-12 education, Bob Hughes, the former leader of New Visions for Public Schools, an organization that created and works with small public high schools. (He was also one of the attorneys on the successful Campaign for Fiscal Equity law suit team). I know, I know, we’ll all suspicious of the word Gates. I worked with Bob for a few years, I respect him. The Foundation is requesting proposals for networks of schools.

The networks we invest in will use a continuous improvement process to improve student outcomes by tackling problems that are common across the network. At the foundation, we believe connecting schools that are facing similar challenges will increase the likelihood of school leaders identifying the approach that is most likely to be effective in their school. We also believe that principals and teachers, through focused planning, collaboration, and data-sharing within networks, can raise achievement and increase the academic success of Black, Latino, and low-income students

I arrived early for a meeting with a principal and asked whether it was possible to push up the meeting, the school secretary, “No, he’s teaching.” I was surprised, “He’s covering a class of an absent teacher?” The secretary: “No, he teaches first period.” I was intrigued.

When we met I asked the principal why he was teaching a first period class.

“I take three classes into the gym; we do exercises, maybe some yoga, a few basketball skills. it allows me to get the temperature of the kids, it allows three teachers to meet and co-plan for the day.”

I asked if I could speak with one of the teachers, the principal, “Of course.”

The teacher: “We love it, we can concentrate on particular kids, particular skills, I’m really enjoying this year and I feel we’re making a difference.”

There are school leaders and teachers across the city collaborating to improve their schools, unfortunately the “ideas” are rarely shared, after all, what do teachers know (sadly too often the higher-ups attitude).

The Gates Networks, the UFT-Department of Education PROSE schools, the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium, all move schools and kids forward, all make teaching more rewarding.

We need a collaborative leader, a chancellor who can build on the trust that Farina created. We need a chancellor who understands the answers are in the schools and classrooms. Distributive leadership throughout the ranks strengthens ties, gives every voice a place within strong school cultures.