Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gates' unveils '3 pillars'

Eric Robelin at Edweek reports on the secret Gates summit meeting in Seattle, a meeting which everyone in ed reform and their granny knew about weeks ago. At yesterday’s meeting Bill Gates and Vicki Phillips handed down the new party line to their cadre about big changes in the power foundation’s funding strategy. The cadre of 130 including top-downers like Michelle Rhee and Sec. of Education hopefu,l Joel Klein are all carefully taking notes.

Phillips told her crew that the foundation has "moved beyond" the 3 Rs (Rigor, Relevance, & Relationships) to the 3 Pillars (identifying and promoting higher standards for college readiness, improving teacher quality, and fostering innovations to aid struggling students). It will be the cadre’s job will be to transmit the 3-Pillars line down to the rank-and-file grantees when they return home.

The reason for the strategic shift? Writes Robelin:

Ms. Phillips said the new strategic blueprint emerged as a result of taking a “hard retrospective” look at the past eight years of giving by the philanthropy. The rethinking was also influenced by conversations with leading education thinkers, “including some of our most innovative school and district leaders,” and a careful look at existing research in the field, she said. The philanthropy has provided about $2 billion to its work on high schools this decade. The strategy document notes that one key lesson from the foundation’s early emphasis on supporting the establishment of small schools was that a strategy that stressed school structure was insufficient.

Thus, the new 3 Pillars strategy strikes a mighty blow against all those who claimed that “school structure was sufficient.” But who are they? Sufficient to do what? Does this mean that the 3 Pillars are “sufficient?” Who knows? Who dares to ask? And doesn’t the foundation make this same discovery--about small not being a panacea—every three years or so?

So while change is in the air in Seattle, some things remain the same. Power philanthropy still rules the roost of top-down school reform. Critical thinking is still AWOL. For those in the schools, it’s buy-in or buy-out. You’re not at the table.

Top-down reform inevitably fails. When it does, there’s always another secret summit, a new set of cadre, and a new set of threes.

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