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Who Is the Real Secretary of Education?

It's a telling commentary that Bill Gates's warning about evaluating teachers based largely on standardized test scores is accorded such legitimacy. I'm referring to his recent op-ed in the Washington Post that arose from a study his foundation released in January ("Gates's warning on test scores, Los Angeles Times, Apr. 11).

In contrast, when similar views were published before by educational scholars, they never received the same treatment. For example, the Economic Policy Institute released a report on Aug. 29, 2010 ("Problems With the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers"). And that's what's so troubling. Heavy funding by private philanthropies essentially forms educational policy ("Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools," Dissent, Winter 2011).

Perhaps if their reforms were based on research, a case could be made in their defense. But they're not. They're based on ideology. So what happens is that philanthropies first buy their way into public schools and then only belatedly discover that their strategies don't produce the results they promised. Today they advocate for heavy reliance on standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. However, they also laud the beneficial effects of competition on educational quality, merit pay for teachers who boost their students' test scores etc.

Although the greatest clout is wielded by giant philanthropies, they're closely followed by Hollywood celebrities, corporate executives and teachers unions ("L.A. school reform effort draws diverse group of wealthy donors," Los Angeles Times, Apr. 15). In my view, the question ultimately comes down to whether big money from any source should trump empirical evidence. I understand the allure of funds for cash-strapped states. However, they're making a pact without thinking through the implications. That's a mistake they're going to regret in the long run.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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