Sunday, March 31, 2013

Curious Grade for Teachers: Nearly All Pass

Sarah Beth Glicksteen for The New York Times
Melissa Fullmore, principal of Ruediger Elementary in Tallahassee, Fla., criticized aspects of the state’s teacher assessments.
In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.”
In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better.
Advocates of education reform concede that such rosy numbers, after many millions of dollars developing the new systems and thousands of hours of training, are worrisome.
“It is too soon to say that we’re where we started and it’s all been for nothing,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and policy organization. “But there are some alarm bells going off.”
The new systems, a central achievement of the reform movement, generally rate teachers on a combination of student progress, including their test scores, and observations by principals or others. The Obama administration has encouraged states to adopt the new methods through grant programs like Race to the Top.
The teachers might be rated all above average, like students in Lake Wobegon, for the same reason that the older evaluation methods were considered lacking. Principals, who are often responsible for the personal-observation part of the grade, generally are not detached managerial types and can be loath to give teachers low marks.
“There’s a real culture shift that has to occur and there’s a lot of evidence that that hasn’t occurred yet,” Ms. Jacobs said.
But even the part of the grade that was intended to be objective, how students perform on standardized tests, has proved squishy. In part, this is because tests have changed so much in recent years — and are changing still, because of the new “Common Core” curriculum standards that most states have adopted — that administrators have been unwilling to set the test-score bar too high for teachers. In many states, consecutive “ineffective” ratings are grounds for firing.
“We have changed proficiency standards 21 times in the last six years,” Jackie Pons, the schools superintendent for Leon County, Fla., said. In the county, 100 percent of the teachers were rated “highly effective” or “effective.”
“How can you evaluate someone in a system when you change your levels all the time?” Mr. Pons asked.
Until recently, Florida teachers were typically observed once a year for about 20 minutes and deemed satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Roughly 100 percent of them were rated satisfactory in 2010-11. Florida districts are spending $43 million in federal Race to the Top grant money on devising and beginning new methods.
Generally, 50 percent of the evaluation is now based on administrators’ observations of teachers and 50 percent on student growth as measured by test scores (districts can alter that ratio to some extent). For the observation part, teachers are no longer rated simply on “classroom management” and “planning,” but rather on 60 specific elements, including “engaging students in cognitively complex tasks involving hypothesis generation” and “testing and demonstrating value and respect for low expectancy students.”
One Leon County principal, Melissa Fullmore of Ruediger Elementary school in Tallahassee, said that had it been solely up to her, one or two of her teachers would have been graded “highly effective,” the top category. Three would have been marked “needs improvement,” one rung up from the bottom, and the rest would have fallen under “effective.”
But because Leon County set the test-score bar so low, when their marks came out, all but one were highly effective, and the other was categorized as effective. “I wouldn’t put stock in the numbers,” Ms. Fullmore said.
The same was true at Springwood Elementary School nearby. “We had three or four teachers that were rated as ‘needs improvement’ on the observation, but due to changes in the cut scores, they were all bumped up to effective,” Dr. Christopher Small, the principal, said.
Officials in another county, Alachua, set scores relatively high, but when only 78 percent of teachers were deemed highly effective or effective, and when they saw how lenient other districts were, they set them much lower; ultimately, 99.4 percent of teachers were rated effective or highly effective. “It’s inconsistent, it’s unfair and it’s unscientific,” the superintendent, Dan Boyd, wrote in a letter to The Gainesville Sun criticizing how the state’s new evaluations had been carried out.
Kathy Hebda, Florida’s deputy chancellor for educator quality, said: “Directionally, we are off to a good start. But we have pockets in the state where we need attention.”
Grover J. Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, said variations in teacher quality had been proven to affect student academic growth. If an evaluation system is not finding a wider distribution of effectiveness, “it is flawed,” he said.
“It would be an unusual profession that at least 5 percent are not deemed ineffective,” he added.
The new evaluation systems have been closely scrutinized in the education world by policy makers, publications like Education Week, and foundations that have provided money to help perfect the methods.
Education reformers insist they help to identify and remove ineffective teachers, while offering more feedback for teachers to improve their practice.
But teachers’ unions have fought to make sure evaluations do not rely too heavily on testing data, contending that the data are prone to errors. (In Florida’s first go-round with the new evaluations, for example, some teachers had to be rated based on students in their school, but not in their classrooms, because there was not enough data for their own students.) The linking of teachers’ employment, and sometimes their pay, to test scores has also been blamed for sporadic incidents of cheating, and on Friday, 35 Atlanta educators, including the former superintendent, were indicted in a what prosecutors called a widespread scheme of doctoring students’ answers.
In January, talks between the Bloomberg administration and the New York City teachers’ union fell apart, costing the city about $250 million in state aid. Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders announced measures designed to help put an evaluation system in place.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that even though the data from these systems “was not ready for prime time,” it proved what she had long argued: That the majority of teachers are very good.
“Maybe this information will debunk the myth about bad teachers,” she said.
In New Haven, Conn., where the teachers’ union collaborated with the school district in devising the new evaluation system, 90 percent of teachers were rated “exemplary,” “strong” or “effective,” and 2 percent received the lowest rating, “needs improvement.”
As part of the program, teachers are warned months ahead of time if they are in danger of receiving the lowest mark; some improved, and some left.
Washington, D.C., like New York a center of education reform, was among the first to try new evaluations, replacing a system under which 95 percent of teachers were meeting expectations and 0.4 percent received the lowest rating.
Three years ago, when the new method began, only 82 percent of teachers were rated as effective or highly effective. Two percent were rated ineffective and the rest “minimally effective.”
Most recently, 89 percent received one of the top two ratings, and only 1 percent were ineffective, which Scott Thompson, the deputy chief of human capital for teacher effectiveness for D.C. public schools, said was evidence that the evaluations were making teachers better.
“We are seeing improvements in practice,” he said, noting that 400 teachers had been fired as a result of the new system, and several hundred had left voluntarily after weak ratings.
Despite any hiccups, principals and education officials said the new systems had helped them better discern specific teaching weaknesses. Dr. Small, from Springwood Elementary School in Florida, said he had more detailed feedback to offer teachers.
“I can identify an aspect of their teaching and work on that element versus the catchall from before,” he said.
In Michigan, Dr. Joseph A. Martineau, executive director for the Bureau of Assessment and Accountability in the state Education Department said that even with all the system’s flaws, many of which will be corrected under new legislation, the 0.8 percent of teachers deemed ineffective last year translated to nearly 800 teachers who will be in jeopardy of losing their jobs.
“There’s a possibility, a real possibility, that students will have a more effective teacher,” he said

An Idea Whose Time Has Gone

Conservatives abandon their support for school vouchers. By Greg Anrig

In 1955, the libertarian economist Milton Friedman proposed what was, for its time, a radical idea: that schoolchildren be given government-funded vouchers to enable them to attend private schools. As ubiquitous as the notion of "school choice" has since become, Friedman's suggestion didn't immediately catch on, remaining mostly confined to academia for well over a decade. Then, in the 1970s, Lyndon Johnson-era liberals connected with President Nixon's Office of Economic Opportunity suggested that generous vouchers be provided to low-income students, hoping to increase funds available for poor students and promote racial integration. But a coalition of teachers unions and school administrators strenuously objected, and the idea went nowhere.
It wasn't until Ronald Reagan's election to the presidency in 1980 that the modern school voucher movement took shape. Reagan's own relatively modest voucher proposals were repeatedly rebuffed by Congress. However, his ascent unleashed a torrent of money into conservative think tanks and advocacy groups promoting policies that would advance the movement's agenda of weakening the government, and, by extension, the Democratic Party. Conservative activists like William J. Bennett, Jack Kemp, and Clint Bolick seized on vouchers as a particularly potent example, in part because they struck at the heart of the nation's most deeply established governmental activity—public schooling. If conservatives could show that private schools worked better than public ones, and that the introduction of competition improved entire school systems, that would advance their arguments for welfare rollbacks, Social Security privatization, and other initiatives to replace government programs with the free market.
Based on such thinking, the John M. Olin and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundations led the way in pouring millions of dollars into institutions and activities that promoted vouchers and school choice. By 1987, the notion of vouchers had become sufficiently commonplace that Bennett, who had become Reagan's secretary of education, observed: "When I started talking about choice a couple of years ago, it was still regarded as somewhat heretical. Now it seems to be the conventional wisdom." In 1990, the Wisconsin legislature launched the nation's first publicly financed voucher initiative to include private schools in Milwaukee, backed by Tommy Thompson, the reform-minded Republican governor; Annette "Polly" Williams, a liberal African American state legislator; and the pugnacious Michael S. Joyce, the head of the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation. The voucher idea received a further infusion of legitimacy that same year from a hugely influential book called Politics, Markets, & America's Schools, by the scholars John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe. Although the book was funded by the Olin and Bradley Foundations, it was published by the liberal Brookings Institution, where Chubb was a senior fellow. This affiliation suggested, misleadingly, that their argument wasn't rooted in right-wing ideology.
Throughout the 1990s and the early part of this decade, voucher advocates sustained the offensive, gaining increasing support from African Americans such as Colin Powell and the prominent civil rights activist and mayor of Atlanta, Andrew Young; and Democrats such as Robert Reich, who believed that a radical experiment like vouchers was worth trying after the failure of more traditional reforms to produce functional urban school systems. After a favorable state supreme court ruling in 1998, Milwaukee's voucher experiment was expanded, from about fifteen hundred students attending less than two dozen secular schools to more than five thousand students spread among nearly a hundred mostly parochial schools; this school year, roughly twenty thousand Milwaukee students attend 122 voucher schools. In 1996, Cleveland launched a voucher program for several thousand students, which was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002. The Florida legislature enacted a school voucher plan in 1999, as did Colorado in 2003, and the U.S. Congress, for Washington, D.C., in 2004. And although the No Child Left Behind Act rankled many conservatives because it extended the federal government's reach into a traditionally state and local realm, the Bush administration attempted to mollify the right by including provisions that allowed failing public schools to be reconstituted by private contractors. By casting liberal opponents of vouchers as defenders of a miserable status quo in America's cities, conservatives were generally successful at portraying themselves as the genuine reformers fighting to liberate poor minority children trapped in lousy schools.
But in recent months, almost unnoticed by the mainstream media, the school voucher movement has abruptly stalled. Some stalwart advocates of vouchers have either repudiated the idea entirely or considerably tempered their enthusiasm for it. Exhibit A is "School Choice Isn't Enough," an article in the winter 2008 City Journal (the quarterly published by the conservative Manhattan Institute) written by the former voucher proponent Sol Stern. Acknowledging that voucher programs for poor children had "hit a wall," Stern concluded: "Education reformers ought to resist unreflective support for elegant-sounding theories, derived from the study of economic activity, that don't produce verifiable results in the classroom." His conversion has triggered an intense debate in conservative circles. The center-right education scholar Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and a longtime critic of public school bureaucracies and teachers unions, told the New York Sun that he was sympathetic to Stern's argument. In his newly published memoirs, Finn also writes of his increasing skepticism that "the market's invisible hand" produces improved performance on its own. Howard Fuller, an African American who was the superintendent of schools in Milwaukee when the voucher program was launched there, and who received substantial support from the Bradley Foundation and other conservative institutions over the years, has conceded, "It hasn't worked like we thought it would in theory."
From all appearances, then, the voucher movement may not long outlive its founder, Friedman, or its most vigorous advocate and funder, Michael Joyce, who both died in 2006. How did one of the conservative policy world's most cherished causes crumble so quickly?
One simple reason why voucher supporters have become disillusioned is that the programs haven't delivered on their promises. School choice advocates claimed that vouchers would have two major benefits: low-income kids rescued from dysfunctional public schools would do better in private schools; and public schools would improve, thanks to the injection of some healthy competition.

Let's start with the contention that the academic performance of low-income children would improve after they moved to private institutions. For a long time, it was absurdly difficult to find out whether this was true in the one place where vouchers had been tried over an extended period: Milwaukee. After that city's initial small-scale initiative produced ambiguous, but generally unimpressive, results (and a lot of fighting over that data), the Wisconsin legislature chose to omit testing requirements altogether when the program was significantly expanded in 1998. This February, however, a group of researchers led by professors Patrick J. Wolf and John F. Witte produced the first installment of a study intended to follow how comparable groups of students in the public and private voucher schools perform over time. At least at the outset, they found no statistically significant differences in the test scores between the public and private school fourth and eighth graders for the 2006-07 school year. For the private as well as the public school students, the scores generally hovered around the 33rd percentile—in other words, a typically low performance for schools with high concentrations of poverty.
In Cleveland, a similar but now completed study that followed the same students over time showed dispiriting results from that city's voucher program. Tracking the scores of students who began kindergarten in the 1997-98 school year through their sixth-grade year in 2003-04, Indiana University researchers found no significant differences in overall achievement, reading, or math scores between students who used vouchers and those who stayed in public schools, after taking into account socioeconomic differences.
What about the effect of vouchers on public schools that were forced to compete for students with private ones? Voucher supporters believed that public schools would improve for two reasons. First, school administrators, faced with diminishing funds for every child that used a voucher to transfer to a private school, would be impelled to do better. And second, because parents would be encouraged to shop for the best place for their children, they would become more involved in the school they chose and hold it to higher standards.
Neither of these pressures has had a discernible impact on public school performance. In Wisconsin, this was made starkly evident in last year's results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the federally sponsored gold standard of testing. Reading scores for black fourth- and eighth-grade students were the lowest of any state, and the reading achievement gap between black and white students remains the worst in the nation. Since about 70 percent of Wisconsin's black students attend Milwaukee public schools, any competition-induced improvements evidently haven't amounted to much. One study, by Harvard's Caroline M. Hoxby, a voucher advocate, purported to find test score improvements in the Milwaukee public schools most affected by the risk of losing students to private schools; but the gains may have been caused simply by the lowest-performing students moving to private schools, as Hoxby herself concedes. In any case, the Manhattan Institute's Stern points out that Hoxby's analysis, published in 2001, is outdated compared to the more comprehensive and recent NAEP results, and calls the public school performance in Milwaukee after years of voucher competition "depressing."
In the Cleveland public schools, fourth-grade math scores on the NAEP test improved significantly from 2003 to 2005, though comparable gains occurred in seven of ten other big cities without vouchers. Cleveland's fourth-grade reading test improvements were more modest, and smaller than gains in Atlanta and New York City—neither of which has a public voucher program.
Also disappointing to voucher advocates has been the discovery that the innovation of choice hasn't caused parents to become noticeably more involved in public schools. One of the strategies that the Bradley Foundation initially used to lay the groundwork for vouchers in Milwaukee was to create a think tank called the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, which churned out studies trashing public schools. Last October, however, WPRI produced a report on the Milwaukee voucher experience, titled "The Limits of Parent-Driven Reform," that confessed: "The report you are reading did not yield the results we hoped to find. We had expected to find a wellspring of hope that increased parental involvement in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) would be the key ingredient in improving student performance." Instead, the institute found that only 10 percent of parents had been the kind of "active consumers" that would "exert market-based influence to the school system," and concluded that focusing on parental choice and involvement "cannot be seen as a substitute for substantive reforms in the hierarchy of MPS and in the classrooms throughout Milwaukee." WPRI employed questionable methodology to reach its conclusions, as it had often done in the past, but this time the results undercut an initiative the institute had championed for years.
Ultimately, the voucher experiments confirmed what their critics had asserted all along. The heart of the problem with our urban schools is neither the education bureaucracies nor teachers unions, as Chubb, Moe, and many other voucher advocates have contended, flawed though those institutions may be.
Instead, as the sociologist James S. Coleman found in the 1960s, a student's family's income and the collective social and economic background of his classmates are by far the most important influences on his academic future. Not only do lower-income students tend to score relatively poorly, children of any background who attend high-poverty schools are far more likely to produce worse test results than they would in schools with primarily middle-class students. America's urban school systems remain almost universally dysfunctional, primarily because the country as a whole is about as segregated by race and income as at any time since the civil rights revolution.
This means that in the existing voucher programs, which have been confined to city school districts, students have had only a limited choice between public schools in low-income neighborhoods and private institutions—mostly parochial schools—that serve almost identical populations. In 2005, a team of reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel visited all but a handful of the private choice schools, and found that "the voucher schools feel, and look, surprisingly like schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools district. Both ... are struggling in the same battle to educate low-income, minority students." The Journal Sentinel also reported that the absence of oversight from the much-derided government bureaucracy had led to a significant waste of public funds, and even outright fraud. At least ten of the 125 private schools in the voucher program "appeared to lack the ability, resources, knowledge, or will to offer children even a mediocre education." Most of those schools were led by individuals who had negligible experience and had no resources other than state payments. (One notorious case was Alex's Academics of Excellence, a school started by a convicted rapist that continued to enroll students for years after enduring two evictions, allegations of drug use by school staff on school grounds, and an investigation by the district attorney, before finally closing in 2004.) The Journal Sentinel also found that many parents left their children in bad schools long after it was clear that they were failing. Recently, national studies of NAEP tests have confirmed that private and charter schools on average perform little or no better than traditional public schools (and in some cases worse), after taking into account the socioeconomic background of the students.
Vouchers would hardly be the first conservative policy fixation to founder on the shoals of empirical evidence. Yet the conservative backers of, say, supply-side economics or health savings accounts haven't traditionally allowed hard facts to deter them. Many of the erstwhile champions of school choice are having second thoughts not only because vouchers are a policy failure, but also because they didn't materialize into the political game changer that right-wing activists were hoping for.

In 1997, the conservative writer Michael Gerson (who would go on to be George W. Bush's chief speechwriter) took a tour of small-town Indiana when the state was considering a voucher program. He found that its predominantly conservative population prized its public schools (mostly because of their proud basketball tradition) and resented the suggestion that these institutions were failing their students. Over the years, various proposals for vouchers in Indiana have never progressed very far. "Conservative politicians running in this state quickly find that criticizing public education—or suggesting that some people might want to opt out—is like spitting on the school colors," Gerson wrote in U.S. News & World Report, noting that in 1997, support for voucher programs was higher in the liberal Northeast than the more conservative Midwest.
In 2000, both California and Michigan offered referendums on voucher programs for all children in the state. The initiatives were defeated by margins of forty-two and thirty-eight points, respectively. Voucher supporters like to blame the defeats on well-funded teachers unions, but the law professors James E. Ryan and Michael Heise found that voucher supporters had outspent the opposition in Michigan, and both sides had spent about the same amount of money in California. They concluded that the decisive resistance to vouchers had come from suburban voters who feared that the programs would take money away from local schools and worried about the arrival of lower-income and minority students in their children's classrooms. And last year, in the conservative, predominantly white state of Utah, the Republican legislature put a November referendum for a voucher program on the state ballot, which CEO Patrick Byrne and his family supported with about $4 million. It lost by 62 percent to 38 percent—the eighth decisive loss for a statewide voucher ballot initiative. There have not been any victories.
Bill Burrow, the associate director of the Office on Competitiveness under the first President Bush, has noted that school choice is "popular in the national headquarters of the Republican Party but is unpopular among the Republican rank-and-file voters who have moved away from the inner city in part so that their children will not have to attend schools that are racially or socioeconomically integrated." Indeed, the term "voucher" has become so politically unattractive that in his January State of the Union address this year, President George W. Bush concocted the euphemism "Pell Grants for Kids" to propose a federal initiative to support private religious schools that has no chance of passing Congress.
Finally, conservative activists are increasingly realizing that even if they can overcome political resistance to statewide voucher programs, they may be defeated in the end by the courts. In 2004, Colorado's supreme court ruled that the state's voucher law violated the state constitution's requirement that local districts retain control over locally raised funds. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court struck down its statewide voucher program on the grounds that it violated a section of the constitution requiring a free and "uniform" system of public schools. Many other state constitutions include so-called Blaine Amendments, which explicitly bar government aid to sectarian schools and institutions—greatly limiting the jurisdictions in which voucher plans are legally viable.
As these realities have set in, the conservative movement's formidable resources and energy have, to a large extent, shifted away from vouchers and toward the much less controversial idea of charter schools. (Because charters are sanctioned by state governments but allowed to operate autonomously from the public school hierarchy, they appeal to the right's desire to sideline the bureaucracy and the teachers unions, while posing much less of a threat to the public schools than vouchers.) The right's spending on educational issues is now led by the Walton Family Foundation, which devoted about 80 percent of its education spending toward activities related to charter schools—an allocation of some $50 million a year. The Olin Foundation spent itself out of existence in 2005, but the Bradley Foundation remains active, with, for example, a $3 million grant in 2007 to the Charter School Growth Fund. For all the Sturm und Drang created by the right-wing marketing machine, the number of students who have used publicly financed vouchers to attend private schools over the past eighteen years amounts to no more than the population of a medium-size suburb, and only a small fraction of those now enrolled in charter schools.
The conservative infatuation with vouchers did contribute to one genuine accomplishment. The past thirty years have been a period of enormous innovation in American education. In addition to charter schools, all kinds of strategies have taken root: public school choice, new approaches to standards and accountability, magnet schools, and open enrollment plans that allow low-income city kids to attend suburban public schools and participate in various curriculum-based experiments. To the extent that the threat of vouchers represented a "nuclear option" that educators would do anything to avoid, the voucher movement helped to prompt broader but less drastic reforms that offer parents and students greater educational choices.

Along the way, some success stories have emerged, along with the many disappointments. But among the most promising approaches, as my Century Foundation colleague Richard Kahlenberg recently wrote in Democracy, are strategies that combine school choice initiatives like magnet and charter schools with policies to integrate poor and middle-class students. Wake County, North Carolina, for instance, introduced a policy in 2000 mandating that no school could have more than 40 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Because this program makes use of choice and incentives like magnet schools to integrate poor and middle-class kids, it avoids the political hazards of compulsory busing. So far, the results have been impressive. In 2006, 60.5 percent of low-income students in Wake County passed the high school End of Course exams, compared to 43 percent of low-income students in a nearby county of a comparable size.
Of course, the inherent limit to this idea is that many urban school districts are so uniformly poor that there are few, if any, middle-class communities with schools that low-income kids can attend. One way to get around this problem would be to amend the No Child Left Behind Act to give students in failing schools the ability to attend a school outside their own district. If voucher proponents are truly motivated by a desire to help disadvantaged kids, and not merely an ideological urge to weaken public institutions, they have a chance to show it by putting their prodigious energies and money behind choice programs like these that actually work.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates


Rick Wilking/Reuters
Bill Gates's foundation spent $373 million on education efforts in 2009, the latest year for which its tax filings are available.


They described themselves simply as local teachers who favored school reform — one sympathetic state representative, Mary Ann Sullivan, said, “They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.” They were, but they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
For years, Bill Gates focused his education philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation’s education policies. To that end, the foundation is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.
In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.
“We’ve learned that school-level investments aren’t enough to drive systemic changes,” said Allan C. Golston, the president of the foundation’s United States program. “The importance of advocacy has gotten clearer and clearer.”
The foundation spent $373 million on education in 2009, the latest year for which its tax returns are available, and devoted $78 million to advocacy — quadruple the amount spent on advocacy in 2005. Over the next five or six years, Mr. Golston said, the foundation expects to pour $3.5 billion more into education, up to 15 percent of it on advocacy.
Given the scale and scope of the largess, some worry that the foundation’s assertive philanthropy is squelching independent thought, while others express concerns about transparency. Few policy makers, reporters or members of the public who encounter advocates like Teach Plus or pundits like Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute realize they are underwritten by the foundation.
“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who said he received no financing from the foundation.
Mr. Hess, a frequent blogger on education whose institute received $500,000 from the Gates foundation in 2009 “to influence the national education debates,” acknowledged that he and others sometimes felt constrained. “As researchers, we have a reasonable self-preservation instinct,” he said. “There can be an exquisite carefulness about how we’re going to say anything that could reflect badly on a foundation.”
“Everybody’s implicated,” he added.
Indeed, the foundation’s 2009 tax filing runs to 263 pages and includes about 360 education grants. There are the more traditional and publicly celebrated programmatic initiatives, like financing charter school operators and early-college high schools. Then there are the less well-known advocacy grants to civil rights groups like the Education Equality Project and Education Trust that try to influence policy, to research institutes that study the policies’ effectiveness, and to Education Week and public radio and television stations that cover education policies.
The foundation paid a New York philanthropic advisory firm $3.5 million “to mount and support public education and advocacy campaigns.” It also paid a string of universities to support pieces of the Gates agenda. Harvard, for instance, got $3.5 million to place “strategic data fellows” who could act as “entrepreneurial change agents” in school districts in Boston, Los Angeles and elsewhere. The foundation has given to the two national teachers’ unions — as well to groups whose mission seems to be to criticize them.
“It’s easier to name which groups Gates doesn’t support than to list all of those they do, because it’s just so overwhelming,” noted Ken Libby, a graduate student who has pored over the foundation’s tax filings as part of his academic work.
An early example of the increased emphasis on advocacy came in 2008, when Mr. Gates teamed with Eli Broad for a campaign aimed at focusing the presidential candidates on issues like teacher quality and education standards. The Gates Foundation spent $16 million on the effort.
Mr. Gates later acknowledged that it achieved little, but in the years since, the foundation has helped leverage sweeping changes. Its latest annual report, for instance, highlights its role — often overlooked — in the development and promotion of the common core academic standards that some 45 states have adopted in recent months.
The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which developed the standards, and Achieve Inc., a nonprofit organization coordinating the writing of tests aligned with the standards, have each received millions of dollars.
The Alliance for Excellent Education, another nonprofit organization, was paid $551,000 in 2009 “to grow support for the common core standards initiative,” according to the tax filings. The Fordham Institute got $959,000 to “review common core materials and develop supportive materials.” Scores of newspapers quoted Fordham’s president, Chester E. Finn Jr., praising the standards after their March 2010 release; most, including The New York Times, did not note the Gates connection.
“What Gates got for their money was an honest review,” said Mr. Finn, a longtime advocate of national standards. “All I could say to Gates before the common core came out was that we were hoping the new standards would be good.”
The Center on Education Policy, which calls itself “a national independent advocate,” was awarded $1 million over two years to track which states adopted the standards. Its president, Jack Jennings, said he had nonetheless publicly criticized the Gates stand on other issues, including charter schools and teacher evaluations. “I feel free to speak out when I think something is wrongheaded,” he said.
In 2009, a Gates-financed group, the New Teacher Project, issued an influential report detailing how existing evaluation systems tended to give high ratings to nearly all teachers. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cited it repeatedly and wrote rules into the federal Race to the Top grant competition encouraging states to overhaul those systems. Then a string of Gates-backed nonprofit groups worked to promote legislation across the country: at least 20 states, including New York, are now designing new evaluation systems.
While the foundation has given money to both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, totaling about $6.3 million over the last three years, some of its newer initiatives appear aimed at challenging the dominance that unions have exercised during policy debates. Last year, Mr. Gates spent $2 million on a “social action” campaign focused on the film “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” which demonized Randi Weingarten, the president of the federation.
In 2010, the foundation gave $500,000, to the Foundation for Educational Excellence, founded by Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida.
In 2009, the foundation spent $3.5 million creating an advocacy group to buttress its $290 million investment in programs to increase teacher effectiveness in four areas of the country: Tampa, Pittsburgh, Memphis and Los Angeles.
A document describing plans for the group, posted on a Washington Post blog in March, said it would mobilize local advocates, “establish strong ties to local journalists” and should “go toe to toe” with union officials in explaining contracts and state laws to the public.
But to avoid being labeled a “tool of the foundation,” the document said the group should “maintain a low public profile.”
Ms. Weingarten complained to the foundation that the document appeared to be antiunion, and Mr. Golston said the foundation had shifted the group’s mission to support union-management engagement.
“Unlike some foundations that would rather just scapegoat teachers and their unions, Gates understands that teaching is a profession, that you have to invest in and support teachers,” Ms. Weingarten said. “That doesn’t mean we agree with everything they do.”
Two other Gates-financed groups, Educators for Excellence and Teach Plus, have helped amplify the voices of newer teachers as an alternative to the official views of the unions. Last summer, members of several such groups had a meeting at the foundation’s offices in Washington.
Two Bronx teachers, Sydney Morris and Evan Stone, founded Educators for Excellence in March 2010, to argue against seniority-based layoffs. But it was a $160,000 donation from Mr. Gates months later, Ms. Morris said, that allowed them to sign up 2,500 teachers.
Teach Plus was founded in 2007 in Boston by Celine Coggins, a former teacher with a Ph.D. from Stanford, to give young educators incentives to make the classroom a career.
With relatively small grants from other foundations, Ms. Coggins began working with teachers in Chicago and Indianapolis in 2008. The next year, she received Gates foundation awards totaling $4 million, for expenditure over three years, which allowed her to expand to Los Angeles and Memphis, build a Web site and move into new offices at the Boston headquarters.
In Chicago, union activists have accused Teach Plus of being an “Astroturf” grass-roots organization. In Indiana, some lawmakers accused the group of being “part of a conspiracy by Gates and hedge fund managers” to undermine the unions’ influence, according to Ms. Sullivan, a Democrat who voted to end seniority-based layoffs, as Teach Plus wanted. “I don’t believe in conspiracy theories.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 9, 2011
An article on May 22 about the Gates Foundation’s financing of education advocacy groups misstated the location of the Florida school districts receiving part of a $290 million investment by the foundation in programs to increase teacher effectiveness. They are only in Tampa; not in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Ex-Schools Chief in Atlanta Is Indicted in Testing Scandal

Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times
After a 2½-year investigation, Beverly L. Hall, a former district superintendent who won fame and fortune for her performance, was charged with racketeering, theft and other crimes in the doctoring of students' test answers.
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During his 35 years as a Georgia state investigator, Richard Hyde has persuaded all sorts of criminals — corrupt judges, drug dealers, money launderers, racketeers — to turn state’s evidence, but until Jackie Parks, he had never tried to flip an elementary school teacher.
It worked.
In the fall of 2010, Ms. Parks, a third-grade teacher at Venetian Hills Elementary School in southwest Atlanta, agreed to become Witness No. 1 for Mr. Hyde, in what would develop into the most widespread public school cheating scandal in memory.
Ms. Parks admitted to Mr. Hyde that she was one of seven teachers — nicknamed “the chosen” — who sat in a locked windowless room every afternoon during the week of state testing, raising students’ scores by erasing wrong answers and making them right. She then agreed to wear a hidden electronic wire to school, and for weeks she secretly recorded the conversations of her fellow teachers for Mr. Hyde.
In the two and a half years since, the state’s investigation reached from Ms. Parks’s third-grade classroom all the way to the district superintendent at the time, Beverly L. Hall, who was one of 35 Atlanta educators indicted Friday by a Fulton County grand jury.
Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for her; she could face up to 45 years in prison.
During the decade she led the district of 52,000 children, many of them poor and African-American, Atlanta students often outperformed wealthier suburban districts on state tests.
Those test scores brought her fame — in 2009, the American Association of School Administrators named her superintendent of the year and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, hosted her at the White House.
And fortune — she earned more than $500,000 in performance bonuses while superintendent.
On Friday, prosecutors essentially said it really was too good to be true. Dr. Hall and the 34 teachers, principals and administrators “conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistle-blowers in an effort to bolster C.R.C.T. scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores,” the indictment said, referring to the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
Reached late Friday, Richard Deane, Dr. Hall’s lawyer, said they were digesting the indictment and making arrangements for bond. “We’re pretty busy,” he said.
As she has since the beginning, Mr. Deane said, Dr. Hall has denied the charges and any involvement in cheating or any other wrongdoing and expected to be vindicated. “We note that as far as has been disclosed, despite the thousands of interviews that were reportedly done by the governor’s investigators and others, not a single person reported that Dr. Hall participated in or directed them to cheat on the C.R.C.T.,” he said later in a statement.
In a 2011 interview with The New York Times, Dr. Hall said that people under her had allowed cheating but that she never had. “I can’t accept that there is a culture of cheating,” she said.
Paul L. Howard Jr., the district attorney, said that under Dr. Hall’s leadership, there was “a single-minded purpose, and that is to cheat.”
“She is a full participant in that conspiracy,” he said. “Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree it took place.”
Longstanding Rumors
For years there had been reports of widespread cheating in Atlanta, but Dr. Hall was feared by teachers and principals, and few dared to speak out. “Principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated,” the indictment said.
Reporters for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and state education officials repeatedly found strong indications of cheating — extraordinary increases in test scores from one year to the next, along with a high number of erasures on answering sheets from wrong to right.
But they were not able to find anyone who would confess to it.
That is until August 2010, when Gov. Sonny Perdue named two special prosecutors — Michael Bowers, a Republican former attorney general, and Robert E. Wilson, a Democratic former district attorney — along with Mr. Hyde to conduct a criminal investigation.
For weeks that fall, Mr. Hyde had been stonewalled and lied to by teachers at Venetian Hills including Ms. Parks, who at one point, stood in her classroom doorway and blocked him from entering.
But day after day he returned to question people, and eventually his presence weighed so heavily on Ms. Parks that she said she felt a terrible need to confess her sins. “I wanted to repent,” she recalled in an interview. “I wanted to clear my conscience.”
Ms. Parks told Mr. Hyde that the cheating had been going on at least since 2004 and was overseen by the principal, who wore gloves so as not to leave her fingerprints on the answer sheets.
Children who scored 1 on the state test out of a possible 4 became 2s, she said; 2s became 3s.
“The cheating had been going on so long,” Ms. Parks said. “We considered it part of our jobs.”
She said teachers were under constant pressure from principals who feared they would be fired if they did not meet the testing targets set by the superintendent.
Dr. Hall was known to rule by fear. She gave principals three years to meet their testing goals. Few did; in her decade as superintendent, she replaced 90 percent of the principals.
Teachers and principals whose students had high test scores received tenure and thousands of dollars in performance bonuses. Otherwise, as one teacher explained, it was “low score out the door.”
Ms. Parks, a 17-year veteran, said a reason she had kept silent so long was that as a single mother, she could not afford to lose her job.
When asked during an interview if she was surprised that out of Atlanta’s 100 schools, Mr. Hyde turned up at hers first, Ms. Parks said no. “I had a dream about it a few weeks before,” she said. “I saw people walking down the hall with yellow notepads. From time to time, God reveals things to me in dreams.”
“I think God led Mr. Hyde to Venetian Hills,” she said.
Whatever delivered Mr. Hyde (he said he picked the school because he knew the area from patrolling it as a young police officer), 10 months after his arrival, on June 30, 2011, state investigators issued an 800-page report implicating 178 teachers and principals — including 82 who confessed to cheating.
By now, almost all are gone. Like Ms. Parks, they have resigned or were fired or lost their teaching licenses at administrative hearings.
Higher Scores, Less Aid
Some losses are harder to measure, like the impact on the children in schools where cheating was prevalent. At Parks Middle School, which investigators say was the site of the city’s worst cheating, test scores soared right after the arrival of a new principal, Christopher Waller — who was one of the 35 named in Friday’s indictment.
His first year at Parks, 2005, 86 percent of eighth graders scored proficient in math compared with 24 percent the year before; 78 percent passed the state reading test versus 35 percent the previous year.
The falsified test scores were so high that Parks Middle was no longer classified as a school in need of improvement and, as a result, lost $750,000 in state and federal aid, according to investigators. That money could have been used to give struggling children extra academic support. Stacey Johnson, a Parks teacher, told investigators that she had students in her class who had scored proficient on state tests in previous years but were actually reading on the first-grade level. Cheating masked the deficiencies and skewed the diagnosis.
When Erroll Davis Jr. succeeded Dr. Hall in July 2011, one of his first acts as superintendent was to create remedial classes in hopes of helping thousands of these students catch up.
It is not just an Atlanta problem. Cheating has grown at school districts around the country as standardized testing has become a primary means of evaluating teachers, principals and schools. In El Paso, a superintendent went to prison recently after removing low-performing children from classes to improve the district’s test scores. In Ohio, state officials are investigating whether several urban districts intentionally listed low-performing students as having withdrawn even though they were still in school.
But no state has come close to Georgia in appropriating the resources needed to root it out.
And that is because of former Governor Perdue.
“The more we were stonewalled, the more we wanted to know why,” he said in an interview.
In August 2010, after yet another blue-ribbon commission of Atlanta officials found no serious cheating, Mr. Perdue appointed the two special prosecutors and gave them subpoena powers and a budget substantial enough to hire more than 50 state investigators who were overseen by Mr. Hyde.
Mr. Bowers, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Hyde had spent most of their careers putting criminals in prison, and almost as important, they could write. They produced an investigative report with a narrative that read more like a crime thriller than a sleepy legal document and placed Dr. Hall center stage in a drama of mind-boggling dysfunction.
She had praised Mr. Waller of Parks Middle as one of the finest principals in the city, while Mr. Wilson, the special prosecutor, called him “the worst of the worst.”
According to the report, Mr. Waller held “changing parties” where he stood guarding the door as teachers gathered to erase wrong answers and make them right. “I need the numbers,” he would urge the teachers. “Do what you do.”
(When questioned by investigators, Mr. Waller cited his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.)
Dr. Hall arrived in Atlanta in 1999, the final step in a long upward climb. She had advanced through the ranks of the New York City schools, from teacher to principal to deputy superintendent, and then in 1995, became the superintendent in Newark.
In Atlanta, she built a reputation as a person who got results, understood the needs of poor children and had a strong relationship with the business elite.
Her focus on test scores made her a favorite of the national education reform movement, nearly as prominent as the schools chancellors Joel I. Klein of New York City and Michelle Rhee of Washington. Like them, she was a fearsome presence who would accept no excuses when it came to educating poor children. She held yearly rallies at the Georgia Dome, rewarding principals and teachers from schools with high test scores by seating them up front, close to her, while low scorers were shunted aside to the bleachers.
But she was also known as someone who held herself aloof from parents, teachers and principals. The district spent $100,000 a year for a security detail to drive her around the city. At public meetings, questions had to be submitted beforehand for screening.
In contrast, her successor, Mr. Davis, drives himself and his home phone number is listed.
As long ago as 2001, Journal-Constitution reporters were writing articles questioning test scores under Dr. Hall, but when they requested interviews they were rebuffed. Heather Vogell, an investigative reporter, said officials took months responding to her public information requests — if they did at all. “I’d call, leave a message, call again, no one would pick up,” she said.
Community Pressure
What made Dr. Hall just about untouchable was her strong ties to local business leaders. Atlanta prides itself in being a progressive Southern city when it comes to education, entrepreneurship and race — and Dr. Hall’s rising test scores were good news on all those fronts. She is an African-American woman who had turned around a mainly poor African-American school district, which would make Atlanta an even more desirable destination for businesses.
And so when Mr. Perdue challenged the test results that underpinned everything — even though he was a conservative Republican businessman — he met strong resistance from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
“There was extensive subtle pressure,” Mr. Perdue said. “They’d say, ‘Do you really think there is anything there? We have to make sure we don’t hurt the city.’ Good friends broke with me over this.”
“I was dumbfounded that the business community would not want the truth,” he said. “These would be the next generation of employees, and companies would be looking at them and wondering why they had graduated and could not do simple skills. Business was insisting on accountability, but they didn’t want real accountability.”
Once the special prosecutors’ report was made public, it did not matter what the business community wanted; the findings were so sensational, there was no turning back.
Ms. Parks of Venetian Hills was one of many who wore a concealed wire for Mr. Hyde.
As he listened to the hours of secretly recorded conversations of cheating teachers and principals, he was surprised. “I heard them in unguarded moments,” Mr. Hyde said. “You listen, they’re good people. Their tone was of men and women who cared about kids.”
“Every time I play those tapes, I get furious about the way Beverly Hall treated these people,” he said.
Another important source for him at Venetian Hills was Milagros Moner, the testing coordinator. “A really fine person,” Mr. Hyde said. “Another single mom under terrible pressure.”
Ms. Moner told Mr. Hyde that she carried the tests in a tote bag to the principal, Clarietta Davis, who put on gloves before touching them.
After school, on Oct. 18, 2010, the two women sat in the principal’s car in the parking lot of a McDonald’s. Inside Ms. Moner’s purse was a tape recorder Mr. Hyde had given her. Thirty yards away, he sat in his pickup truck videotaping as they talked about how the investigation and media coverage had taken over their lives.
Ms. Moner: I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, my kids want to talk to me, I ignore them. ... I don’t have the mental energy. ...
Ms. Davis: You wouldn’t believe how people just look at you. People you know.
Ms. Moner: You feel isolated.
Ms. Davis: There’s no one to talk to. ... See how red my eyes are? And I’m not a drinking woman.
Ms. Moner: It has taken over my life. I don’t even want to go to work. I pray day and night, I pray at work.
Ms. Davis: You just have to pray for everybody.
Later, when investigators tried to question Ms. Davis about her reasons for wearing the gloves, she invoked the Fifth Amendment. On Friday, she was one of the 35 indicted.
Kim Severson and Robbie Brown contributed reporting from Atlanta

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