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Data Command Force


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    Sticker shock: How Hillsborough County's Gates grant became a budget buster
    Ohanian Comment: One more example of why data demons should not make school policy. One more story about that corporate frenzy that the media and everyone except people who cared about public schools embrace.

  • U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Hillsborough, declaring it a national model.

  • By far the most controversial goal was this one: "At least 5 percent of tenured teachers dismissed for under-performance annually."

  • The union ratified a contract in 2010 -- including the reforms -- by 96 percent.

  • The University of Wisconsin got $3.4 million for a complex system to tabulate the student data part of teacher scores.

  • The district paid Cambridge Education $3.2 million to train the peer evaluators, plus about $500,000 each year after that to "calibrate" their findings.

  • And so on and so on. You see who gets rich. Meanwhile, Wage statistics for 2014 tell us that 38 percent of all American workers made less than $20,000 last year 51 percent of workers made less than $30,000.

    School reform must start with a living wage for every American.

    by Marlene Sokol

    TAMPA -- The iconic photograph from 2009 shows Hillsborough County School Board members in happier times, holding hands with superintendent MaryEllen Elia to celebrate a $100 million gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

    The partnership would reform the way teachers were evaluated and paid. Its goal would be to make school better for children ΓΆ€” especially poor and minority children. The Gates name would put Hillsborough on the map, and make its superintendent an education superstar.

    Six years later, Elia is gone and there is more hand-wringing than hand-holding as the nation's eighth-largest district comes to grips with an experiment that left it in financial disarray.

    A review by the Tampa Bay Times has found that:

    ΓΆ€ΒΆ The Gates-funded program ΓΆ€” which required Hillsborough to raise its own $100 million ΓΆ€” ballooned beyond the district's ability to afford it, creating a new bureaucracy of mentors and "peer evaluators" who don't work with students.

    ΓΆ€ΒΆ Nearly 3,000 employees got one-year raises of more than $8,000. Some were as high as $15,000, or 25 percent.

    ΓΆ€ΒΆ Raises went to a wider group than envisioned, including close to 500 people who don't work in the classroom full time, if at all.

    ΓΆ€ΒΆ The greatest share of large raises went to veteran teachers in stable suburban schools, despite the program's stated goal of channeling better and better-paid teachers into high-needs schools.

    ΓΆ€ΒΆ More than $23 million of the Gates money went to consultants.

    ΓΆ€ΒΆ The program's total cost has risen from $202 million to $271 million when related projects are factored in, with some of the money coming from private foundations in addition to Gates. The district's share now comes to $124 million.

    ΓΆ€ΒΆ Millions of dollars were pledged to parts of the program that educators now doubt. After investing in an elaborate system of peer evaluations to improve teaching, district leaders are considering a retreat from that model. And Gates is withholding $20 million after deciding it does not, after all, favor the idea of teacher performance bonuses ΓΆ€” a major change in philosophy.

    ΓΆ€ΒΆ The end product ΓΆ€” results in the classroom ΓΆ€” is a mixed bag.

    Hillsborough's graduation rate still lags behind other large school districts. Racial and economic achievement gaps remain pronounced, especially in middle school.

    And poor schools still wind up with the newest, greenest teachers.


    Since news broke that the foundation is holding back the last $20 million, critics of the reform movement have been chortling.

    They're lumping it in with corporate-led school turnaround efforts in other cities where businesses got rich while children continued to struggle. They're comparing it with a widely publicized experiment in Newark, N.J., where Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million "challenge grant" to public schools resulted in layoffs and school closings as millions went to consultants and richer teacher contracts.

    Closer to home, Hillborough's new superintendent, Jeff Eakins, is trying to figure out how much of the costly system to continue. . . .

    U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Hillsborough, declaring it a national model.

    Union president Jean Clements had her picture in Newsweek.

    The plan was to develop a sophisticated instrument that would sort teachers into a hierarchy and pay them accordingly. "Young, exceptional teachers will be able to earn as much as a 20-year teacher currently earns," the proposal said. . . .
    Go to the newspaper site for the rest.

    — Marlene Sokol with Ohanian comment
    Tampa Bay Times
    October 23, 2015

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