- A seven-year education initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation centered on improving teacher effectiveness didn’t work, according to a new report from RAND.
- The initiative, called the Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching, didn’t improve student graduation rates or schools’ ability to retain effective teachers.
- The Gates Foundation believes that while the initiative fared poorly overall, it led to “critical conversations” and “drove change” across the country.
A seven-year, nearly $1 billion education initiative centered on improving teaching quality in low-income schools – and bankrolled in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – largely failed to help students, according to a new report from nonprofit policy think tank RAND.
RAND was selected at the outset of the initiative by the Gates Foundation to evaluate whether the project improved outcomes for students.
“Overall…the initiative did not achieve its goals for student achievement or graduation, particularly for LIM [low-income minority] students,” the report’s summary said.
By 2015, six years into the initiative, “student achievement, access to effective teaching, and dropout rates were not dramatically better,” than in schools that didn’t participate in the program, according to the RAND study.
Improving teacher effectiveness
In 2009, the Gates Foundation, along with local partners, selected three school districts and four charter school networks in California, Arkansas, Florida, and Pennsylvania for the Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative, which aimed to improve teacher effectiveness by changing the way schools recruit, retain, and reward teachers.
The hope was that by monitoring and improving teacher effectiveness, students would get a higher quality education. That, in turn, would improve graduation rates, and college acceptance for low-income and minority students.
- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The program devised a series of metrics to help evaluate, improve, and retain quality teachers – effectively reshaping how teachers are incentivized – in the hope that this would pay off for students.
The Gates Foundation sank over $200 million into the initiative since 2009, with local tax dollars and the federal government adding to the pot. RAND estimates the initiative cost around $1 billion in total over the seven school years, factoring in the approximately $73 million it cost to staff the initiative and evaluate teachers each year.
The initiative did ‘more harm than good’
Over the seven-year cycle of the initiative, RAND found little-to-no evidence that participating schools were likely to hire more effective teachers.
Schools that participated in the program weren’t able to retain more effective teachers, either.
Students in participating schools also didn’t show any real improvement in test results and graduation rates. “Our analyses of student test results and graduation rates showed no evidence of widespread positive impact on student outcomes six years after the IP initiative was first funded in 2009-2010,” the RAND study said.
The study concluded that the initiative fared poorly because the schools got better over time at implementing measures of teacher effectiveness, rather than using these measures to actually improve student outcomes.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with trying a reform and having it fail,” Jay Greene, a professor of education at the University of Arkansas, wrote on Education Next. “The key is learning from failure so that we avoid repeating the same mistakes.”
In his view, the Gates Foundation initiative “appears to have generally done more harm than good.”
“It cost a fortune,” Greene writes. “It produced significant political turmoil and distracted from other, more promising efforts.”
Matthew A. Kraft, a professor of education and economics at Brown University, said on Twitter “[t]he story here is really about implementation – what actually happened on the ground,” and that teacher evaluation could still be a useful framework for improving schools, despite what the results of this particular study show.
There are some bright spots in the initiative
The Gates Foundation doesn’t regret trying.
“We believe that this work, which originated in ideas that came from the field, led to critical conversations and drove change and partnerships across the country,” Allan Golston, who runs the foundation’s US education initiatives, said in a statement.
“We have taken these lessons to heart, and they are reflected in the work that we’re doing moving forward, where we will support the efforts of networks of schools to identify locally driven solutions, rooted in a commitment to the use of evidence and data to improve student outcomes in middle and high school,” Golston said.
A spokesperson for the Gates Foundation told Business Insider in an email that certain participating schools showed strong improvement in students’ reading scores – particularly among black high school students in Pittsburgh – and that “most teachers thought that the evaluation system helped them improve their teaching.”
Gates himself noted the initiative’s poor results in an October speech.
“We’ll no longer directly invest in teacher evaluation, but we’ll continue to gather data on the impact of these systems and encourage the use of all of those tools that help teachers improve their practice,” Gates said.