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Florida: Gates Bails Out of Hillsborough County

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Hillsborough County in Florida was one of the major beneficiaries of the Gates Foundation’s fetish for teacher evaluation and bonus pay. Gates pledged “up to” $100 million, but is refusing to pay the last $20 million because there has been so little evidence of the link between bonuses and test scores. Duh. If the Gates Foundation read the research on incentive pay, it would have spent the money reducing class sizes for the neediest children.

The Gates program has cost a total of $271 million, including Gates’ $80 million.

The Hillsborough plan inspired state legislation:

“Enacted a year after Hillsborough launched its project, Senate Bill 736 in the Florida Legislature phased out teacher tenure and tied pay to supervisor evaluations and student test scores.”

The program never met its goal of firing 5% of teachers every year:

“The original proposal and a 2010 timeline called for the district to fire 5 percent of its teachers each year for poor performance. That would amount to more than 700 teachers. The thinking was they would be replaced by teachers who earned entry level wages, freeing up money to pay the bonuses for those at the top.

“But the mass firings never happened. While an undetermined number of teachers resign out of dissatisfaction or fear that they will be fired, only a handful of terminations happen because of bad evaluations.”

The Gates Foundation has another flop.

MaryEllen Elia, the superintendent of the Hillsborough school district when it received the Gates grant,, was fired by the school board, then hired this year as state superintendent in Néw York.

“Late in the process, the foundation rejected several of the district’s funding requests for Empowering Effective Teachers, which involves evaluating teachers using specially trained peers and bumping their pay with the idea that it would boost student performance.

“Each of the proposals were robustly outlined and presented,” a district report said.

“But Gates officials responded by pointing to language in the original agreement saying the foundation had promised “up to” $100 million, not necessarily the whole amount, according to the report.

“The district picked up the unpaid costs.

“Much of the disagreement amounted to a change in Gates’ philosophy, Brown said. “After a few years of research,” she said, “they believed there was not enough of a connection between performance bonuses and greater student achievement.”

Now for some laughs, enjoy Peter Greene’s take on Gates’ cancellation of $20 million. He reminds us that Hillsborough was a jewel in Gates’ crown in 2012.

Peter writes:

“Well, that was 2012. A few other things have happened in the meantime. Back in 2010, Arne Duncan and Dennis Van Roekel stopped by to make a fuss, but that was about the last time that anybody wanted to throw an EET party.

“That fire 5% of the sucky teachers thing? It should have gotten rid of 700 (700!!!) teachers– you know, the expensive ones, because everyone knows that the bad teachers that need to be rooted out are, coincidentally, the older teachers who cost a bunch of money. But it never happened.

“And that $100 million grant that Kinser was so proud of? Funny thing. Gates officials would now like you to know that the grant actually said “up to” $100 million.

“I am kind of excited about that, because I know realize that I can tell, say, a used car dealer that I will pay “up to” seventy grand for a car and just pay five thousand bucks. I could promise to buy a new house with “up to” $10 million and just fork over a check for $10.75. I do regret not knowing this trick when my children were young and I could have bribed them to do chores with offers of “up to” $100 for mowing the lawn.”

Now for a deep analysis, read Mercedes Schneider’s analysis of the Hillsborough debacle. The Gates money was a Trojan horse. Not only did it fail to produce a new generation of super-teachers, it drained the district’s reserves.

The Gates money–$80 million, not the promised $100 million–was a cause of great celebration when it was announced. Hillsborough would be a “national model.” In the end, Superintendent Elia was fired in January 2015, the district lost millions, and Gates learned…what?

Mercedes writes:

“Of course, Gates had some ideas about how this “teacher effectiveness” business should work. The report linked above has as its second sentence, “A teacher’s effectiveness has more impact on student learning than any other factor under the control of school systems, including class size, school size, and the quality of after-school programs.” When pro-corporate-reform organizations toss around such statements, they never seem to follow it with the fact that factors external to the classroom hold far more sway that does the teacher. (In analyzing the proportion of teacher influence captured via value-added modeling– VAM– the American Statistical Association notes that teacher influence accounts for between 1 and 14 percent of variance in student test scores. Thus, between 86 and 99 percent of a student’s test score is out of the teacher’s control.)

“Nevertheless, ignoring that the teacher controls so little of student outcomes in the form of market-driven-reform-loving test scores, in its efforts to try to purchase higher student test scores, the Gates Foundation offered ten school districts nationwide the multi-million-dollar-funded opportunity to prove that teachers could indeed be cajoled into producing better “student achievement” (i.e., ever-higher test scores) when such teachers were measured by their students’ test scores and offered more money for “raising” said scores.

“As a 2009 winner of an Empowering Effective Teachers grant, Hillsborough was thrilled (“We’ll be a national model!”). A December 21, 2015 archive of Hillsborough schools’ “Empowering Teachers” webpage includes a number of enthusiastic responses regarding the newly-acquired, $100 million Gates grant. Front and center in these celebratory public statements is then-Hillsborough superintendent, MaryEllen Elia (Then-Governor Charlie Crist: “I commend Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and the Hillsborough County School District for their enthusiasm and commitment to working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation during the next seven years to improve student academic performance through rewarding high quality teachers both professionally and monetarily. The foundation’s generous grant award of $100 million will greatly enhance the work the district has already done in this area.”)

“However, part of the Hillsborough-Gates agreement involved Hillsborough’s ponying up money of its own– which ended up eating into the Hillsborough schools’ reserves and threatening its bond rating. As reported in the August 04, 2015, Tampa Bay Tribune, the Empowering Effective Teachers initiative is not the only financial stressor affecting the Hillsborough bond rating, but it is nevertheless noteworthy.”

How many more such defeats can the reformers take before they figure out that their ideas are failures?

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