Billions of Dollars Couldn’t Fix US School System

The Gates Foundation is regrouping after they didn’t get the intended results from the investment poured in to overhauling teacher evaluation. That does not mean they are pulling out of educational reforms.

The storyline remains the same for years and years. The failure can be understood from the following reasons despite of US$4 billion a year and bipartisan support.


Aims that are high

The Gates Foundation invested $700 million in upgrading the evaluation systems between 2008 and 2013. Another similar scenario occurred decades ago, the philanthropist acknowledged that $2 billion spent in making American High Schools smaller didn’t achieve desired results.

But Gates is not the only one. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spent $100 million of their own money to improve Newark school system. It also attracted another $100 million. Even though some education scholars have detected improvements in Newark, and test scores have increased but all over it failed to meet the funders’ lofty goals. The government is also active in the school reform plan.

But along the way, reformers –those in government and the philanthropic world alike –have made big promises to American voters which are irresistible. But these proposals have always fallen short.

Staying Tough

Many other billionaires support educational reform efforts, including Eli Broad, Sam Walton and Betsy DeVos. However, all of these projects have differed from each other. Even then they have sought to transform the way schools look and operate.

All of them have encountered setbacks. Still, the larger ethos of reform has not changed much and none of these billionaires seem to weaken their efforts.

Lawmakers have always been equally committed to large-scale reform. The federal government has taken a highly interventionist approach to education policy.

The chief reason that this activity has produced so little change is that the movement’s populist politics encourage reformers to make promises that can’t be expected to deliver. The result is a cycle of searing critique, sweeping proposal, disappointment and new proposal.

Cookie Cutter Approach

But this dysfunctional cycle is not all. The other big reason is that these school reforms are both too narrow and too generic. A report says that what students achieve in a school reflects their living conditions outside its walls.

Rather than addressing the daunting issues like persistent poverty that shape children’s lives and interfere with their learning, these reformers have largely embraced a management consultant approach. Reformers seek systems-oriented solutions that can be assessed through bottom-line indicators.

The reformers take a one-size-fits-all approach. With this approach, they can’t have a deep impact in all schools and in every community. Successful schools are thriving ecosystems adapted to local circumstances.

Entrepreneurs from outside

Many entrepreneurs from outside have come into the government. These reformers see failure as an acceptable part of their entrepreneurial process. They don’t second guess their approach and go on believing that they placed the wrong bet. As a result, the constant blare of pitches and promises will keep on continuing. It’s highly possible that none of them will ever measure up.


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