Gates: Reforming districts like Hillsborough face uphill climb
TAMPA -- Hillsborough County and other districts face a "high risk" of failure in carrying out reforms funded with $335 million in teacher effectiveness grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said co-chairman Bill Gates in his annual letter.
Hillsborough, which won $100 million, plans to set up a new teacher evaluation system, with full-time mentors for new teachers, peer review for veterans, and merit pay for high performers. Other recipients include school districts in Memphis, Pittsburgh, and a group of Los Angeles charter schools.
Such changes could bring huge benefits if they gain traction and other districts emulate them, Gates said. But poor leadership or teacher resistance could doom them.
"This is an instance where there isn’t a clean separation between the creation of the innovation—ways to evaluate teachers and help them improve—and the delivery of the innovation, which requires teachers to embrace a change to the personnel system," Gates said in his letter. "We are working on both at the same time. Teachers will be evaluated and given incentive pay based on excellence. If most of the teachers in these locations like the new approach and they share their positive experience, then these evaluation practices will spread. The goal is for them to become standard practice nationwide.
"The benefits of this would be unbelievably large, which is why we are pursuing it even though we know there is a high risk that it could fail," he said. "Previous efforts along these lines seemed to thrive for a few years, but if the system is not well run or if teachers reject differentiation, it gets shut down."
Still, foundation officials have said Hillsborough can make it work if anyone can.
"Our belief is the best (district) we could show as a model was the Hillsborough County public schools," senior program officer Don Shalvey told the board last month.
-- Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer