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Bill Gates Plans to Give a Big Speech on Education ... What Will He Say?

By guest blogger Alyson Klein

Wednesday in Seattle, Bill Gates, who heads up "the only foundation you can see from space," is to give a big speech at an event called the "U.S. Education Learning Forum," which is meant to mark the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's 15th year playing in the education field.

The foundation is calling Gates' speech his "first major retrospective speech on education issues in almost eight years," according to education blogger and media critic Alexander Russo, who will be moderating a panel on "unlikely allies" at the forum. (More on Russo's blog, This Week in Education.)

Liana Heitin, your usual Curriculum Matters blogger, is on the ground in Seattle and will cover the speech live, so watch this space. (Education Week has received Gates Foundation funding over the years for news coverage and other projects.) UPDATE: For coverage of Bill Gates' speech, which took place earlier today, click here.

The Foundation hadn't released an advance draft of speech as of Tuesday. So we have no idea what Gates will say about the foundation's past work on teacher quality (it funded one of the biggest and deepest experiments on new methods of evaluation) or standards (it provided some of the early funding to the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Governor's Association, and other organizations that developed the Common Core State standards, and it has helped finance implementation and advocacy around the standards).

But, if you're curious about the foundation's work over the past 15 years, we've got tons of required reading for you in the EdWeek archives:

  • The foundation's early work was primarily focused on funding small schools, which had a mixed track record, as my former colleague, Erik W. Robelen reported back in 2005.
  • Later, Gates moved beyond (some critics would say "ditched") the small-school idea and began to focus on broader policies (like high school redesign and, ultimately, higher education standards, foreshadowing its work on common core.) Erik's 2006 take here
  • In 2008, Gates played in the political arena by teaming up with the Eli and Edythe  Broad Foundation on "Ed in '08," an initiative to get the presidential candidates engaged on K-12 issues. (Erik and I wrote in 2007 that it was a "quixotic effort from the start." And even Bill Gates himself later said it boiled down to "mouthing platitudes.")
  • The foundation announced in 2008 that it was retooling its strategy to focus on standards, teachers, and innovative practices to support struggling students.
  • Gates also funded the Measures of Effective Teaching study, or MET, which took a long and deep look at how districts should pinpoint their most-effective teachers. Obviously, like anything dealing with teacher evaluation that relies at least in part on test scores, the work was controversial. My colleague Stephen Sawchuk took a look at it here. And check out  Steve's 2013 interview with Melinda Gates here. Steve and my former co-blogger at Politics K-12, Michele McNeil, also took a look at all the Gates Foundation refugees who populated the Obama administration's Education Department.
  • Right now, the foundation seems to be focused on pouring muscle and money into helping teachers implement the common standards through "math and literacy collaboratives" and raising up teacher voice. (Steve explains here why that can be a tricky task, given that a lot of teachers are suspicious of the foundation.)

Obviously, all this work has generated plenty of pushback and that's all over our archives, too.

Some of the foundation's most vocal critics include Anthony Cody, a former science teacher who writes the Living in Dialogue blog (which used to be hosted by Education Week).

There's a priceless exchange between Vicki Phillips (who heads up the Gates Foundation's education work) and Cody on teacher quality. (Phillips says the foundation's work on MET is about improving teacher practice and helping districts identify their best teachers, and Cody feels like Gates let the teacher-evaluation-through-test-scores toothpaste out of the tube by funding MET.)

And on common core, Cody's guest blogger, Peter Greene, also a long-time teacher, wrote in 2013 on why the standards aren't great for teachers (they're too closely linked with testing, in his mind, for one). 

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