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Thompson: Thin-Skinned Response From Gates

GatesDuring the Anthony Cody's five-part exchange with the Gates Foundation at Living in Dialogue, Cody presented a series of closely argued positions on school reform, while the foundation's representatives responded with sound bites. 

Even so,  I was flabbergasted by the response in Impatient Optimists by Irving Scott and Stacey Childress to Cody’s last post.  So, I reread their "The Role of the Marketplace in Education," and Cody’s post to see what I missed that made the foundation’s representatives so angry.   They seemed livid about his words regarding the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) and a contract involving the Wireless Generation. 

I do not know enough to comment on their disagreement with Cody, so for all I know, they might have a point on the details that I don't understand.  For the life of me, however, I cannot see what the teacher/blogger wrote that drove the Gates people to lose their tempers in such a way. And, while I understand their pain if Cody hurt their feelings, I don’t understand why they do not feel the need to apologize for their foundation’s funding of so many baseless attacks on teachers and challenging our integrity. 

  Cody asked, "Must every solution to educational problems be driven by opportunities for profit?" For some reason, the Gates’ Childress answered, “The implication is that charter school operators are personally driven by the chance to make a lot of money running schools.”

Am I alone in not seeing how why she would see such an implication?

Cody wrote, “The opportunity to make money has attracted lots of entrepreneurs towards education as a profit center,” and “one problem with turning education into a hotbed of entrepreneurship is that many advocates of ‘reform’ also stand to make big profits.”

Is there something inaccurate in either statement?  Is Cody implying that competition will never benefit kids or that it will always soak up essential funding for kids?  Or, is he worrying that too much competition, especially from some bad actors will drive out cooperation? 

Perhaps, the Gates Foundation feels aggrieved because some critics argue that it is committed only to competitive solutions.  If so, their response is perplexing, “We think all providers, whether large or small, established or new, for-profit or nonprofit, should compete for the right to serve students and teachers.” (emphasis mine)

In concluding, Scott wrote, “Chris Williams, chose not to respond to a series of questions from Mr. Cody that seemed more rhetorical than sincere. …  His questions, with their biases clear, are in italics.”  One of the questions was the one that I sincerely want to see addressed, and I saw nothing rhetorical in, “Given the undesirable results that we are seeing from the use of VAM in teacher pay and evaluations, is the Gates Foundation willing to put its influence to work on reversing these policies?”

Cody, and the teachers I know, are desperately worried about the harm we already see due to the policies that the Gates Foundation advocated, even before they conducted research on their validity.  Cody had presented a thorough indictment of value-added evaluations, but  Vicki Phillips, the Director of Education, College Ready, had not responded with any evidence from the foundation’s Measuring Effective Teaching project, or any other source that would explain why the use of test score growth in evaluations would do more good than harm.  Similarly, Scott answered with more sound bites, culminating in, “VAM is a potentially powerful tool in measuring teacher performance that we hope will continue to improve over time as new and better assessments of student performances are developed. Many are in the pipeline now.”

Ironically, Scott refused to respond to Cody's questions because he believed that he had challenged his foundation’s sincerity.  What did the Gates spokesperson think he was doing when he quoted Martin Luther King and questioned whether Cody, who dedicated 24 years to the inner city classroom, really believed that all children can learn? 

Scott presented two anecdotes to counter Cody’s detailed arguments that the Gates’ policies did not account for the debilitating effects of poverty.  He offered no contrary evidence to counter Cody's summary of the best social science on poverty and schooling.  Scott seemed to question Cody's commitment to kids, while dismissing his evidence as an "apologia for the status quo." 

Had Cody questioned whether Scott, a former teacher, really mourned when burying a student, that would have been grounds for offence.  But, how is it that a former educator could be so thin-skinned when a teacher challenges a foundation’s policies, and yet he could suggest that inner city teachers who disagree with him are betraying the principles of Martin Luther King?-JT(@drjohnthompson)Image via.

Comments

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I recall being appalled by the tenor of the Cody column and subsequent Tweets, which were very aggressively taunting the Gates Foundation as a cover for profiteers. One of my initial observations was that Cody did not comprehend the subtle distinction between who got money from Gates as a not-for-profit entity and where the Gates Foundation invests its excess cash that is awaiting distribution in the future.

In order to fund future philanthropy, Gates must make prudent investments. And those investments are with firm that maximize profits effectively. In addition, Gates subsidizes change agents whose agendas he considers useful for the development of his causes. He takes a big tent approach, not requiring expressed charitable motives as individuals as a proxy for worthiness in a dialogue. However, the Gates Foundation only "gives" money to charitable trusts and foundations.

It is no accident that Gates stores his money to be donated later with some of the usual for-profit education companies, such as textbook producers Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton-Miflin. These companies are attractive investments because they are following the market out of paper and into digital media. Each has always produced materials for instruction and assessment as shareholder-owned companies. And their digital presence is essential to their survival.

Neither Gates nor educational service companies should be blamed for meeting the market demand for products that are used to hold us accountable for our qualifications as professionals or student outcomes. Gates is seeking equity in education; the rest, including NGOs in health and education, are responding to the rule...If you fund it, they will come.

On the matter of VAM...I believe the Gates Foundation wishes to see more effective measures of accountability created by adding and fine-tuning. The quest for reliable data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness is still in its early stages when one does not throw anything away.

Nice Post. It is useful. Thanks. Cheers.

Nice Post. Thanks. Cheers.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.