Gates Foundation Pushes Back On Report Saying $215 Million Education Investment Was A Flop

Rob Shimshock | Education Reporter

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates’ $215 million investment in education was a colossal failure, according to a report by the RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research. But the foundation emphasized Friday some of the initiatives “important outcomes.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated the funds to three public school districts in Memphis, Tennessee; Pittsburgh and Hillsborough County, Florida, reported The Washington Post. The school districts, as well as four charter management groups, provided more money, boosting the endowment to $575 million.

The project aimed to implement teacher evaluation systems based on students’ test scores, as well as the input of “peer evaluators.” It was not very effective, according to the 587-page study.

“Overall, the initiative did not achieve its stated goals for students, particularly LIM [low-income minority] students,” the study said. “We did not find improvement in the effectiveness of newly hired teachers relative to experienced teachers; we found very few instances of improvement in the effectiveness of the teaching force overall; we found no evidence that LIM students had greater access than non-LIM students to effective teaching; and we found no increase in the retention of effective teachers, although we did find declines in the retention of ineffective teachers in most sites.”

The study authors offered only speculation concerning why exactly the Gates initiative had failed. RAND and the American Institutes for Research noted that the effects might not have manifested during the six years between the project’s 2009 inception and the report’s last year of inspection, 2015. The authors suggested that districts “encountered unexpected resistance” when it made “high-stakes personnel decisions” based on the test score system, even though those who critiqued the decisions had originally supported the system.

But Gates Foundation spokesman Edward Wyatt emphasized outcomes of the initiative that supported the process of teacher evaluation, when speaking with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“A majority of teachers thought that the evaluation measures were a valid measure of their effectiveness as a teacher,” Wyatt said. “And most teachers thought that the evaluation system helped them improve their teaching.”

The spokesman noted that Pittsburgh public school students, particularly black ones, improved their high school reading scores during the initiative.

“When we began this work in 2009, few people were talking about teacher evaluation,” he said. “Today, it has become a standard tool among districts and schools seeking to improve outcomes for students.”

Gates’ approach to evaluating teachers based on student test scores was shared by Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The Obama administration used additional funds as an incentive for school districts that adopted test score-based teacher evaluation systems via the Race to the Top initiative.

The Gates’ teacher evaluation project was not the only public education investment made by the foundation. Gates announced his intent to give $1.7 billion to traditional and charter schools in October 2017, directing the funds toward helping disabled students, as well as research and development. The foundation has previously supported efforts expanding Common Core, charter schools, and teacher training. (RELATED: Bill Gates Drops $1.7 Billion To Reform Public Schools)

This post has been updated to include comment from the Gates Foundation. 

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