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February 17, 2010
Report on small schools finds more choice, but modest interest
A new report on the rapid proliferation of small schools in New York City finds that while the schools have expanded students' options, most students choose to attend larger schools. Commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the report is one of four that will eventually be released in order to study how the schools have multiplied, who is attending them, who is teaching in them, and whether they're succeeding. The Gates Foundation popularized and funded the small schools movement in New York, fueling the growth of nearly 200 small schools with a $150 million investment. A New York-based research group, MDRC, conducted the report, which does not look at the schools' academic record — that analysis will come out in spring — but focuses on the schools' enrollment and demographics.
November 23, 2009
Citing tenure law, New York barred from Gates Foundation help (updated)
A reader points us to another sign that New York's teacher tenure law might hurt the state's Race to the Top chances: In a memo released in September, the Gates Foundation removed New York from a list of states able to receive help building its application. The memo specifically named the tenure law, which bans school districts from using student data as a factor in teacher tenure decisions, as the reason New York was struck from the list. The foundation had vowed in August to give 15 states $250,000 each to hire consultants to help with applications, and New York was on the official list. But when the foundation extended its offer of aid to any state meeting its criteria, Gates director of education Vicki Phillips said New York would no longer be eligible until it makes "explicit progress on...removing barriers to linking student and teacher data." UPDATE: Christopher Williams, spokesman for the Gates Foundation, told me Phillips' memo referred to New York's chances at future foundation initiatives. "It means we probably won't be making a lot of grants unless the law is changed," he said. But the foundation is not cutting the state off from the aid it is receiving to help build its Race the Top application, he said.
November 19, 2009
Gates Foundation to pour more money into teacher quality research
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced today that it will invest a total of $335 million into teacher effectiveness initiatives. The vast majority of those funds, $290 million, are headed to three school districts — Pittsburgh, Memphis and Hillsborough County, Florida — and a consortium of Los Angeles charter school operators. Foundation officials said the programs it is supporting are making strides in figuring out how to measure high-quality teaching and then encourage it. Even though none of the money is going to New York, observers here might be interested in some of the initiatives the grants are funding. In Hillsborough County, for example, the grant is going to help overhaul the teacher tenure process, linking tenure decisions to teachers' demonstrated effect on boosting student achievement. New York has a law explicitly banning the use of student data in tenure decisions, though the law is set to expire next year and many predict it won't be renewed.
November 17, 2009
Ex-Gates director looks to open a charter school in New York
Former Gates Foundation education director Tom Vander Ark is behind one charter school's application to open in New York City next year. For years, Vander Ark shaped the educational giving for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, overseeing grants the organization gave to cities that agreed to build small high schools. Now a partner at an education public affairs firm in California, Vander Ark has supported such causes as lifting New York State's charter cap and bringing more and better technology into classrooms. A spokeswoman for the Department of Education confirmed that Vander Ark is behind the application for Bedford Preparatory Charter School, a small high school school that, if approved, would open in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn next school year.
November 3, 2009
Nearly 100 schools sign up for Gates-funded teacher quality study
A two-year project to study what makes a teacher good or bad is taking root in some of the city's schools after struggling to bring teachers on board. The United Federation of Teachers and the city's Department of Education announced in September that they had joined forces to promote a study of teacher effectiveness paid for by the Gates Foundation. The $2.6 million project, called Measures of Effective Teaching, will look at ways of measuring teacher quality beyond using test scores. A UFT special representative, Joseph Colletti, said 96 schools, most of them high schools, have signed onto the project. The goal is to have 100. "They run the gamut from very high performing schools to schools that are challenged, from senior staff, to new staff," Colletti said. Though UFT president Michael Mulgrew enthusiastically supported the project, his eagerness took some time to trickle down to the union's membership. The DOE changed its mid-October deadline for applications to a rolling deadline after too-few teachers applied.
August 10, 2009
Challenge for schools tied to colleges: Locating near a college
The ongoing plight of parents at a Bronx secondary school could augur the future for a new Gates Foundation education initiative. Last week, the Gates Foundation announced that it would pour $6 million into opening new early college schools in New York State. It's not clear how many, if any, of the programs will be in New York City, but any that are could face the same problems as Bronx Early College Academy, a three-year-old school that is being moved far away from the college with which it's ostensibly linked. Parents at BECA have been lobbying all year against the move, which they say will make it harder for the school to carry out its mission of providing students a college experience while they're still in high school. I wrote about Annabel Wright, a BECA parent leader, back in May, and now she has published an open letter to President Obama about the school at the NYC Public School Parents blog. Writes Wright: Parents believed in the academic program and the mission of BECA enough to look beyond what we did not have. We held on to the promises made by DOE officials that they would find us a suitable site near to Lehman or on the college campus itself, with all of the amenities that a high-tech, early college program should provide - as well as a site that would allow our children to easily attend college classes during the school day when they reached 9th grade. Yet now, the school is being moved six miles away to the South Bronx --even further away from Lehman. The pattern is a familiar one for early college schools, which aim to offer a college experience while students are still in high school. Several of the city's early college schools have had seen their CUNY collaborations erode over time because of space constraints and the colleges' competing priorities. I wrote about the trend in April in the Village Voice.
June 17, 2009
Klein: Small high schools still succeeding, and more are coming
The high school report released today shows that the Gates Foundation's support for small schools was worthwhile, according to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. His statement contrasts with the foundation's own evaluation of its small schools spending, which it said last year had not produced the academic gains it had hoped. Bill Gates himself said in November that while New York City's small schools have done better than others his foundation started, the schools still do not adequately prepare students for college. Delivering introductory remarks before a panel discussion about small schools this morning, Klein said the Center for New York City Affairs report "confirms the work of the Gates Foundation," which provided much of the funding that allowed the city to open small schools. Today's report "carefully documents" that the schools have gotten better results than the large schools they replaced, Klein said — and with the same type of students, contrary to the charges by critics who say the small schools' students start off better prepared. (In the schools' early years, they enrolled students who were slightly less at-risk, but they now admit their fair share of overage students, students with disabilities, and students who are learning English, the report concludes.) Despite his generally favorable review, Klein disputed some of the report's findings, especially around graduation rates.
May 12, 2009
Gates ed head: Less is more when it comes to nat'l standards
Back in November, Elizabeth crashed the Gates Foundation’s annual meeting and reported that the foundation was planning to turn its attention to pushing for national…
May 1, 2009
Foundation-, union-led "innovation fund" is seeking grantees
Four major foundations that have for years poured resources into growing charter schools this week announced that they are also giving money to the American Federation of Teachers, the national teachers union. Their donations are paying for an "Innovation Fund" that would let teachers pilot reforms in their own schools. Along with representatives of the Gates, Broad, Ford, and Mott foundations, Randi Weingarten announced the fund's creation at an event in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. (Weingarten is the head of the AFT as well as New York City's local union.) An informative video the AFT produced from the event is below the jump. Contrary to what some critics have charged, unions are a natural engine for innovation because they can insulate their members from retribution if their risks don't pan out, Weingarten said on Tuesday. "Collective bargaining allows teachers to take well-considered risks," she said. "If teachers are afraid to do something outside the norm because their evaluations or their jobs are on the line, they may be less inclined to give change a chance." Now, the AFT is asking local affiliates to suggest projects for the first round of Innovation Fund grants. Priority will go to projects that aim to develop new compensation and evaluation systems for teachers, or projects that extend learning time for students. If I know nothing else, I know that GothamSchools readers are full of ideas about how to improve schools. What do you think the Innovation Fund should support? Leave a comment with your suggestions.
April 21, 2009
At a city school, Stephen Colbert earnestly reports on new grant
Stephen Colbert appeared at Manhattan Bridges High School this morning to announce a $4 million grant that will help teachers buy supplies. The comedian Stephen Colbert took time out from his regular ranting to conduct a polite, earnest interview at a Manhattan high school this morning, in an appearance meant to announce a new "citizen philanthropy" project by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation is giving $4.1 million to a Web site that connects private donors with classroom teachers who need extra supplies, DonorsChoose.org, . Colbert, who sits on the site's board, made the announcement in the style of his televised interviews, before an audience of students at Manhattan Bridges High School, but without any of his usual mean comments. (He did draw laughs with an awkward attempt to use Spanish, the native language of many Bridges students, to explain that he was a "perdedor gigante," or giant loser, when he was in high school.) The panel he interviewed included Vicki Phillips, the head of Gates' education division; DonorsChoose founder Charles Best; and a Manhattan Bridges English teacher. The Gates money will be disbursed to teachers who apply for small grants through DonorsChoose's existing "Double Your Impact" program, which allows foundations and companies to earmark donations for specific kinds of projects. When a DonorsChoose user views projects that fall into that category, they appear as already being 50 percent funded. The Gates Foundation money will go to support as many as 17,000 projects that are identified by DonorsChoose as boosting students' readiness for college, one of the new goals the foundation adopted after it re-considered its mission last year.
January 27, 2009
Bill Gates on the difficulty of measuring what works in education
The importance of raising teacher quality and a ramped-up declaration of support for charter schools are the education points getting attention from Bill…
November 26, 2008
As school year began, officials retreated north to discuss future
From an invitation advertising the retreat. Here's an interesting picture of how things happen at the Department of Education. A while ago, a source told me about a retreat he attended at a hotel in Westchester, where the Department of Education invited a bunch of education people — especially small school and charter school leaders — to a hotel for a two-day community-building experience. An invitation had promised discussion of "The Future of Our Work," including a run-down of the successes and challenges of the Bloomberg administration's school efforts. Successes included the fast expansion of small and charter schools, which the invitation concluded are out-performing traditional district schools and the reorganization of the school system with "schools at the center." Challenges included the financial "sustainability" of partner groups that assist the schools; the requirement of sharing facilities with traditional public schools; and "Human Capital development." There was also a lot of worrying about what is probably a bigger potential obstacle: The possibility that, come 2009, when the state Legislature votes on whether to keep, abolish, or alter mayoral control of the public schools, the system could be organized in a completely different way. There was no question on which side the Department of Education stood. At the end of the first day, a group that is fighting for the preservation of mayoral control of the public schools, but which has said it has no formal ties to the Bloomberg administration, spoke about its political plans. Chancellor Joel Klein also gave a speech passionately declaring that the successes that have happened would endangered if mayoral control was abolished.
November 25, 2008
Squeezing lemonade (lemon-aid?) out of budget cut lemons
Writing at the Huffington Post, former Gates Foundation honcho Tom Vander Ark suggests a radical response to education budget cuts that could actually gain traction in New York City: While far from easy, states with courageous governors could use this crisis to make a radical change: cut the budget by 10% and send the money directly to schools. Every school would get a three year performance contract (i.e., charter) and would be required to join a support network (which could include what used to be a school district, a university, a non-profit like New Tech Foundation, a charter management organization like Green Dot, a for-profit like Edison Learning, or a self-organized coop). New York City schools already get to choose exactly how much bureaucratic support they want by selecting from a menu of support organizations, and paying the fee the organization (Empowerment? New Visions? Knowledge Network?) charges. What if a school could also select a new menu option: no bureaucracy at all?
November 25, 2008
Could the Gates Foundation lobby against school budget cuts?
The Wall Street Journal draws attention to this “Statement on the Financial Crisis,” posted on the Gates’ Foundation’s Web site, which discloses…
November 12, 2008
The bad economy could empower Gates Foundation, says Levine
Here’s an interesting insight on the subject of how much impact the Gates Foundation’s new investments in education will have: The Chronicle of Philanthropy…
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