Where Is Their Accountability?


In recent years, major corporations (usually through foundations) toy with public education. They have “great ideas” that they shop to school boards looking to find new revenue to keep their schools afloat. The problem is that nobody seems to hold these foundations accountable. With enough money, you don’t have to actually face scrutiny.

Consider a recent conference held by the Texas High School Project. The THSP gets a fair amount of funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as many philanthropic groups from around the state and the nation. On the first night, they held a moderated panel on funding effectiveness.

 The first panelist was Stephanie Sanford, a national representative of the Gates Foundation. Her presentation was based on the recent Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching…”study.” She gave a short PowerPoint presentation of the survey’s findings. Like several of the slides, the numbers showed things that any reasonable person would dispute. She even began some of her points with phrases like, “You’d think the opposite would be true, but…”  In one example, she showed “proof” that after five years, teachers don’t get any better—or worse. Not at all. The line was completely flat for almost twenty years. Of course, that’s based on test scores, but it doesn’t matter. The idea that a teacher can go 19 years without learning anything is ludicrous.

 It’s deeper than that, though. The National Education Policy Center had Jesse Rothstein read that same document. He is former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and a former senior economist for the Council of Economic Advisers. He found the Gates report to be based as ridiculous as I found Ms. Sanford’s comments. I’ve never seen such a condemnation of someone’s research. Here is the review’s subtitle:

‘Measures of Effective Teaching’ report is based on flawed research, unsupported data and predetermined conclusions, review shows

I’ve worked in academic research for over a decade, and I’ve never read or seen such a review. The MET report made the reviewer (and the Center) so disgusted that they called the actual motives of the study into question. Not data analysis. Not an important set of data that was ignored. Not shoddy workmanship.

“Predetermined conclusions.”

Here is one screaming example:

The MET report’s data suggest that teachers whose students have low math scores rank among the best at teaching “deeper” concepts. Yet the MET report draws the conclusion that teachers whose students score highly on standardized math tests “tend to promote deeper conceptual understanding as well.”

 This review was never brought up after she presented, and I didn’t get to ask any question on it. The other two members of the panel were Representative Rob Eissler (the chair of the Texas House of Representatives Public Education Committee) and Jesús Chávez, the superintendent of Round Rock ISD. They engaged in a heated discussion, and most questions were directed at the two of them.

Nobody held Ms. Sanford accountable, and nobody holds the Gates Foundation accountable. With 50 million public school children’s education on the line, somebody should.

About Paul T. Henley, Ph. D.

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