Shifting strategy

To fight poverty in U.S., Bill and Melinda Gates say they may move beyond education

PHOTO: Department for International Development/Russell Watkins

Bill and Melinda Gates say they are rethinking how they address poverty in the U.S. — a move that could have them expand their influential philanthropic efforts beyond education.

The couple’s philanthropy has had an outsized influence on U.S. schools over the last two decades, as they’ve given hundreds of millions to encourage new models for high schools, the Common Core standards, and sweeping changes to teacher evaluation. In a letter released Tuesday, though, they indicate that they’re grappling with how improving education alone isn’t enough to move people out of poverty, and their strategy may be about to shift as a result.

“We’ve been looking at how we might expand our work in the U.S. beyond education,” Bill Gates writes. A trip to Atlanta last fall “reinforced the importance of education,” he said, but also underscored how issues of race, employment, housing, mental health, and incarceration are also connected to their mission. (Gates also supports Chalkbeat.)

It’s an acknowledgement that the U.S. is still grappling with issues that have been more central to their international giving. And it’s in line with some recent research showing that education may matter less than other factors, like local labor conditions, in determining whether poor children move up the economic ladder.

Here are a few other notable lines from the Gates’ annual letter:

  • “Cash-strapped school districts are more likely to divert money and talent toward ideas they think we will fund.” The letter includes a lengthy section grappling with their own disproportionate influence. It’s unfair, they say, but they make up for it by being transparent and changing course when things don’t work — as they’re doing now with their education initiatives. We’ve written recently about their new focus on “networks” of public schools and improving curriculum.
  • “For any new approach to take off, you need three things. First you have to run a pilot project showing that the approach works. Then the work has to sustain itself. Finally, the approach has to spread to other places.” This formula didn’t work for their teacher evaluation work, they acknowledge, as only a few places — including Memphis — have stuck with new systems over the long term.
  • “I wish our president would treat people, and especially women, with more respect when he speaks and tweets.” The letter also includes an appeal to President Trump to be a role model and, on education, to help simplify the financial aid process for poor students applying to college.

The race

As governor, Bill Schuette would consider ‘all options’ for struggling schools, including closings

Attorney General Bill Schuette is the GOP nominee for governor in Michigan.

Attorney General Bill Schuette is putting struggling Michigan schools on notice: Shape up or face the consequences if he becomes governor.

“You have to look at schools and see how we can make them improve and function better,” Schuette told reporters last week. “But if a school … isn’t doing the job, then we need to make sure that we help the parents and help the children … Education and outcomes. That ought to be our focus and nothing but that.”

Schuette, the state’s Republican nominee for governor, stopped short of saying that he would actively close schools but he has supported school closings in the past.

In 2016, he issued a legal opinion aimed at clearing a path for school closures in Detroit.

His campaign spokesman, John Sellek, added that Schuette “believes all options should be on the table because the main focus must be on achieving the best outcome for each child, as soon as possible.”

Schuette’s remarks came during an hour-long interview last week with reporters from the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, which includes Chalkbeat and five other nonprofit news organizations.

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, the former state senate minority leader, was one of six gubernatorial primary candidates who sat down for similar interviews in July. She has been invited to do another interview now that she’s the Democratic nominee but that has not yet been scheduled. Schuette did not do an interview during the primary.

During his sit-down last week, Schuette took questions on a range of subjects including crucial education issues.

On how Michigan funds schools: He called for a “review” of K-12 education spending, adding “we need to focus on outcomes.”

On whether schools serving children with higher needs should get more funds: He said “we have to look at how we can provide greater training for teachers and for those who have a challenge in terms of their student population.”

On school accountability: He called for an A to F grading system that would lead to improving schools getting extra funds. “I believe in incentives,” he said.

On whether Michigan should provide pre-K to all 4-year-olds: He said he’ll consider it.  “We ought to look at every idea and if it doesn’t work then try something else,” he said.

Watch the full interview with Schuette, including his comments on roads, infrastructure and other issues here. Or, scroll down to read an unedited transcript.

prizes

Tipton County school leader named Tennessee’s principal of the year

Vicki Shipley stands with Education Commissioner Candice McQueen after being named Tennessee's principal of the year. Shipley is principal of Munford Middle School in Tipton County in West Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Department of Education)

A Tipton County middle school administrator is Tennessee’s 2018-19 principal of the year.

Vicki Shipley is in her eighth year as principal of Munford Middle School, north of Memphis, and her 18th year in school administration.

She received the honor at a banquet Thursday evening in Nashville during the state education department’s annual LEAD conference for school leaders at all levels.

Praised for her collaborative approach and emphasis on professional learning, Shipley was one of nine finalists for the annual award and also was named the top principal for West Tennessee.

Other regional winners were:

  • Velena Newton, Richland Elementary, Giles County Schools, Middle Tennessee
  • Joseph Ely, Lincoln Heights Middle, Hamblen County Schools, East Tennessee

The awards were handed out as Tennessee increasingly emphasizes and invests in school leadership. When it comes to the impact of school-related factors on student learning, research shows that school leaders are second in importance only to teachers — but also can have a multiplier effect on the quality of teaching.


READ: How do you improve schools? Start by coaching principals, says new study


Tennessee also honored Maria Warren of Loudon County Schools as its supervisor of the year.

Warren supervises elementary schools in her Knoxville area district and oversees academic interventions for struggling students. She is a 27-year educator and was lauded for her organization of professional learning opportunities for local educators.

Other regional supervisor winners were:

  • Regina T. Merriman, Cannon County School District, Middle Tennessee
  • Angie M. Delloso, Lakeland School System, West Tennessee

Last month, Tennessee named first-grade teacher Melissa Miller of Franklin as its 2018-19 teacher of the year.

You can learn more about recognition of Tennessee’s top educators here.