Raising the Gates on Teacher Effectiveness

As most know by now, yesterday the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation officially named the four school districts that will share in the coveted “Deep DIve” prize.  Originally billed as a $500 million endeavor, we learned yesterday that the four winners are now sharing in $335 million grant money.  Hillsborough County Schools in Tampa, FL received $100 million; Memphis, TN secured $90 million, Pittsburgh took in $40 million; and five charter school systems in Los Angeles (including Aspire and Green Dot) picked up $60 million to fund teacher quality and effectiveness efforts.  A full article on the announcement can be found in this morning’s Washington Post here.  And Stephen Sawchuk has a particularly good writeup of the decision over at EdWeek here.

In addition to the district awards, Gates is committing another $45 million to determine how one actually measures teacher effectiveness, an important rubric as most states now scurry to meet the high-points expectations of the teacher quality section of the Race to the Top RFP.  Details to come, Eduflack guesses.
I’ll leave it to the experts to determine the efficacy of these four winning applications, how soon we should see results, and how we’re actually measuring such results in the first place.  These districts are wading into relatively unknown waters at this point, at a time when too many people are defining teacher effectiveness based solely on student test scores.  A lot of eyes will be on these districts, which represent a pretty good cross-section of the challenges facing public education across the nation.  All we needed was a good urban district, and we’d have our little model U.S. public school system.
But the announcement begs three questions.  For nearly a year now, we’ve been hearing how Gates was committing a half a billion dollars to this effort, with WaPo even stating that this investment is on par with the discretionary moneys that Duncan and company are spending over at ED.  So where is the remaining $125 million going?  Is that money that will be spent on this topic at a later date, either to replicate the promising practices found in the winning districts or to further engage in national explorations of measurement and tracking?  Or is this a scale back in overall investment, with Gates already looking to move some of this funding to new priorities and new areas of interest?
Second, why, exactly, did Omaha drop out of the running as it was approaching the final tape?  Did it read the handwriting on the wall and think it would be the only partygoer left without a seat come announcement day?  Did the school district have a change of heart?  Or was it as simple as the “financial constraints” argument they offered EdWeek, where they found that accepting the grant would mean all sorts of additional costs and investments they just weren’t prepared for (a realization that far too many aspiring RttT states still have yet to internalize)?  And if it was an issue of financial constraints, how much are each of the winning districts expected to bring to the table themselves in order to enjoy the dollars being showered by those well-meaning ed reformers from the Pacific Northwest?
And finally, how will this Gates money complement, intersect, or interfere with the $100 million that the Ford Foundation is investing to transforming secondary education.  A big chunk of that money is going to investigate similar issues of teacher quality, both in terms of preparedness and effectiveness.  The American Federation of Teachers is one of the early beneficiaries of this stream of Ford support.  Is there the possibility of collaboration in struggling urban districts like Memphis, or will this become a territorial thing.
It will be interesting to see some of the early returns coming in from the Gates Deep Dive, particularly in Memphis.  Somehow, this city has quickly become ground zero for education reform.  Memphis City Schools is one of the central components to New Leaders for New Schools’ EPIC program, funded through federal TIF dollars.  Tennessee is a clear frontrunner for RttT funding.  The state’s business community has recently moved a major education reform agenda forward.  And now they win a Deep Dive grant.  It’s a city with a strong union presence and many of the pitfalls of modern-day urban public education.  In short order, the glances of all ed reformers will soon be on Memphis, with expectations higher than ever before.

185 thoughts on “Raising the Gates on Teacher Effectiveness

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