Monday, June 24, 2013

Gates and small schools

The Curriculum Reformation by Sol Stern, City Journal Summer 2012
The Hirsch curriculum has never received anything like the massive amounts of money that philanthropic foundations have poured into structural education reforms, such as creating small high schools (a failed experiment, as the Gates Foundation itself conceded after spending $2 billion on them) 

As I understand it, this is actually wrong. The first head of the GF education arm believed in small schools and started the ball running. He was replaced before the experiment had time to produce any results. The new head went in the direction of the Common Core instead. Later, the results of the small-school initiative came in and were proven to be positive.

However, by then, the GF was in full CC mode and couldn't be bothered with the positive findings of their earlier effort.

Jay P Greene:
The dominant education reform strategy of the Gates Foundation before 2006 was to break large high schools into smaller ones, often using school choice and charter schools.  [...]

But the Gates Foundation wasn’t patient enough to let the experiments produce results.  Instead, they hired SRI and AIR to do a very weakly-designed non-experimental evaluation that produced disappointing results.  Gates had also commissioned a rigorous random-assignment evaluation by MDRC, but it would take a few more years to see if students graduated and went on to college at higher rates if they were assigned by lottery to a smaller school.

Gates couldn’t wait.  They were convinced that small schools were a flop, so they began to ditch the small school strategy and look for a new Big Idea.  Tom Vander Ark, the education chief who had championed small schools, was out the door and replaced with Vicki Phillips, a superintendent whose claim to fame, such as it was, came from serving as Portland’s superintendent where she consolidated schools (not breaking them into smaller ones) and centralized control over curriculum and instruction.  
[...] Under Phillips and deputy education director, Harvard professor Tom Kane, the Gates Foundation has pursued a very different strategy: attempting to identify the best standards, curriculum, and pedagogy and then imposing those best practices through a national system of standards and testing.

And here is where we see that Gates must be the Bizarro Foundation.  The previous strategy of backing small schools has now been vindicated by the rigorous random-assignment study Gates couldn’t wait for.  According to the New York Times:

The latest findings show that 67.9 percent of the students who entered small high schools in 2005 and 2006 graduated four years later, compared with 59.3 percent of the students who were not admitted and instead went to larger schools. The higher graduation rate at small schools held across the board for all students, regardless of race, family income or scores on the state’s eighth-grade math and reading tests, according to the data.
[...] And the Gates-backed “research” supporting the federally-orchestrated Common Core push for national standards and testing has been strikingly lacking in scientific rigor and candor.

In short, the Gates Foundation has ditched what rigorous evidence shows worked and is pushing a new strategy completely unsupported by rigorous evidence.

No comments: