Sarah Reckhow’s and Megan Tompkins-Stange’s 'Singing from the Same Hymnbook': Education Policy Advocacy at Gates and Broad begins in the glory days of test-driven, market driven reform, from 2008 to 2010, when the Broad Foundation proclaimed, “We feel the stars have finally aligned. With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.”
Reckhow’s and Tompkins-Stange’s excellent contribution to the American Enterprise Institute’s conference of edu-philanthropy, Is the ‘New’ Education Philanthropy Good for Schools?, ends with an illustration of the power of Broad and Gates Foundations’ “purposeful convergence” on advancing their accountability-driven beliefs. They quote a Gates Foundation insider:
There was a twinkle in the eye of one of our US advocacy directors when the Obama administration's...education policy framework came out...this person said...“aren’t we lucky that the Obama Administration’s education agenda is so compatible with ours, you know?”...We wouldn’t take credit...out loud even amongst ourselves....But, you know, the twinkle…
Rechkow and Tompkins-Stange add that “the notion of a “twinkle”—rather than claiming credit more openly—highlights one of the more problematic aspects of the concentrated influence of Gates, Broad, and other foundations in the policy realm.”
The Gates Foundation had been reluctant to commit to a coordinated federal advocacy campaign until the election of President Barack Obama and the appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Their Ed in ’08 campaign had fizzled but, during the Obama years, 2/3rds of the states made significant changes to their teacher evaluation process.
'Singing from the Same Hymnbook': Education Policy Advocacy at Gates and Broad shows that this dramatic change was conducted in the “absence of a robust public debate.”
It is beyond the scope of Rechkow's and Tompkins-Stange's study but after reading their work, I wonder even more how it would have been possible for the Gates Foundation to have engaged in an adequate, private discussion of the costs and benefits of their favored policy. Behind closed doors, insiders may or may not have exchanged their opinions on value-added evaluations, but since the evidence required for a meaningful debate over the real world effects of those evaluations did not exist, I wonder if the lack of research on the policy implications of value-added was considered.