As noted today at Education Week, the Gates Foundation has fastened its aim on teacher preparation programs. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is ready to drop $34 million cool ones on "cooperative initiatives designed to improve teacher-preparation programs' overall effectiveness."
So what does that mean? Good news? Bad news?
The three year grants are based on four principles:
* developing strong partnerships with school districts
* giving teacher-candidates opportunities to refine a specific set of teaching skills
* using data for improvement and accountability
* ensuring that faculty mentors are effective at guiding novices into the profession
The first sounds great. The second sounds... well, I don't know. Exactly what specific set are we talking about, and what does that even mean? Becoming an interrogatory specialist? Learning to be excellent at teaching fractions? I'm worried that the Gates tendency to believe that all complex activities can be broken down into disconnected, context-free skills is at play here, in which case I'm doubting this will be useful.
Third? Well, if I thought "data" meant what I mean by "data, I'd think this was fine. I use data every minute of every day. But since this is Gates, I'm afraid that "data" means "results from a computer-based bunch of competency-based-baloney" or even "more of the useless data from those dreadful Big Standardized Tests."
Fourth point. Yes, excellent idea, if in fact you have any idea of how to tell that mentors are effective at guiding etc etc. Which I'm betting you don't, or worse, you have some sort of "based on student test scores VAM sauce baloney," which won't do anyone any good.
But hey, maybe the recipients of the Gates money will give us a clue about where this is headed.
Grantee #1 is TeacherSquared (you know-- a place that makes teacher teachers) which is mostly "nontraditional" preparation programs. In fact, it's mostly RelayGSE, a fake teacher school set up by charters so that non-teachers with a little experience could teach non-teachers with no experience how to be teachers. So that is not a good sign.
#2 Texas Tech University, "which will head the University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation National Center" which is six Southern universities welded together. Lord only knows what that will look like.
#3 Massachusetts Department of Education, which will head up an EPIC (Elevate Preparation, Impact Children) center to work with all the teacher ed programs in the state. This is just going to be confusing, because the EPIC acronym has been used before-- including by charter schools in Massachusetts (Effective Practice Incentive Community). But the Massachusetts DoE has a mixed track record on reformy issues, so we'll see.
#4 National Center for Teacher Residencies, which is promoting a full-year residency model which has been popping up around the country and which I think could actually be a great idea.
TeachingWorks at University of Michigan will be a coordinating hub for all the cool things these other grantees will come up with.
According to EdWeek's Stephen Sawchuk, Gates wants each of these "centers" to crank out 2,500 teachers per year which is-- well, that is huge. I'm pretty sure that's more than most entire states produce. It is a grand total of 10,000 teachers. Per year. At a time when enrollment in teacher education programs is plummeting. The USPREPNC would have to get upwards of 600 teacher-grads per year out of its six member universities. I mean, we can turn this number around many ways, and from every angle, it's a huge number. Of the four grantees, only the state of Massachusetts seems likely to handle that kind of capacity.
Want more bad signs? Here's a quote from Vicki Phillips:
“The timing is great because of having great consistent, high standards
in the country and more meaningful, actionable teacher-feedback systems
and some clear definitions about what excellence in teaching looks
like,” said Vicki Phillips, the Gates Foundation’s director of
In other words, this is way to drive Common Core up into teacher education programs, where it can do more damage.
Anissa Listak of the NCTR points out that making sure clinical faculty (i.e. co-operating teachers) are top notch will be a game changer, and I don't disagree. But it sidesteps the question of how the top notch faculty will be identified, and it really side steps the issue of how the program will find 10,000 master teachers who want to share their classes with a student teacher for a whole year-- especially in locations where test scores will reflect on their own teacher ratings (including, perhaps, the ratings that marked them as "qualified" to host a teacher-resident in the first place).
The Gates has identified a need here-- evaluating teacher preparation programs. Nobody is doing it (well, nobody except the scam artists at NCTQ who do it by reading commencement programs and syllabi), and if we had a legitimate method of measuring program quality, it could be helpful to aspiring teachers. But we don't, and it's not clear that any of these grantees have a clue, either.
It all rests on knowing exactly how to measure and quantify teacher excellence. With data. And boy, there's no way that can end badly.
Will the Gates money be well-spent? I'm not optimistic-- particularly not with an outfit like Relay GSE on the list of recipients. And the Gates has a bad history of using grants to push a narrow and unbending agenda that it has already formed rather than truly exploring an issue or trying to get ideas from people who might know something. In other words, if this is all just a way for Gates to impose his own ideas of what teacher training should look like, then it's likely to be as wasteful and destructive as his championing of Common Core.