The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching aimed at identifying effective teachers whose practices raised students’ test scores, giving minority and poor students access to such teachers, and creating new ways of evaluating teachers than currently exist. I offer this example to illustrate how policy elites (top public education officials, civic and business leaders including donors) influence every step of the policy process: framing the problems to be solved, proposing top-down solutions, relying (or not relying) on research, and making requisite policy changes that ripple through the entire decentralized system of U.S. schooling.
Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching
Between 2009 and 2016, three school districts (Hillsborough County, Florida; Memphis City Schools, Tennessee; Pittsburgh Public Schools, Pennsylvania) and four California-based charter networks (Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire, Green Dot, and Partnerships to Uplift Communities) spent over a half-billion dollars of which Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed $213 million in creating IPET policies that would identify, recruit, train, and evaluate effective teachers while giving low-income minority children and youth access to those effective teachers. Giving children heretofore excluded from having the best teachers would offer equal opportunity to children and youth, one goal of the project. [i]
Teachers would learn how to do peer evaluations, collaborate with other teachers, receive professional development and dollar bonuses if their students scored well on tests. Finally, the project would determine whether student test scores, graduation rates, and attendance in college improved as a result of these policies.
Money would go to those teachers who meet the criteria (i.e., student test score gains, highest ratings from peer and supervisor observations). Such money-loaded programs spur many individual teachers to secure the highest ratings from evaluators. That such programs also encourage collaboration through peer evaluation, that is, teachers learning together how to judge fellow teachers while giving every teacher the chance to participate in such efforts reveals the values embedded in the process of determining “successful” teachers. [ii]
These years then brought together national policymakers and donors to push ahead on programs that policy elites determined were the best levers to improve the performance of U.S. public schools. Even prior to this, the Gates Foundation had funded research to identify valid measures of effective teaching that were then incorporated into proposed policies that participating districts and charter networks could put into practice.
In the first decade of the 21st century, then, there was a convergence of the largest U.S. foundation investing in both research on effective teaching and the Common Core curriculum standards intersecting with President Obama’s educational initiative –designed and shepherded by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan–for a competitive Race to the Top, and the policy elite’s passion for holding teachers accountable by evaluating teachers using test scores. The dollar-infused IPET partnership of districts and charter networks fueled by sponsored research into effective teaching was a top-down initiative that national and state policymakers enthusiastically endorsed. To keep tabs on this massive effort, the Gates Foundation funded the RAND corporation to independently evaluate the reform.
In short, then, reigning educational policy elites embraced and enacted targeted teacher accountability as the lever for lifting public schools out of the morass of mediocrity. Part 2 looks at what happened to this initiative when it got implemented in schools.
[i] Brian Stecher, et. al., “Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching Enhanced How Teachers Are Evaluated But Had Little Effect on Student Outcomes,” Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018, p. 3; Matt Barnum, Chalkbeat
[ii] Brian Stecher, et. al., “Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching Enhanced How Teachers Are Evaluated But Had Little Effect on Student Outcomes,” Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018