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The first education venture of Bill Gates…

June 14, 2011

Bill Gates and his foundation have been “reforming” education for awhile now.  In an interesting article in the Voice of San Diego Emily Alpert talks about SoComm, School of Communications, a small school within a large school.  What happened was back in 2008 Bill Gates had the idea to break up large high schools and  create smaller schools.  Diane Ravitch has written about how this policy was a failure which broke up communities.

The School of Communications was in trouble almost from the start.

It was supposed to be a place for English learners, a haven for the students whose communication barriers present schools with some of their most bedeviling struggles. Its former principal, Cesar Alcantar, says the San Diego Unified School District told him the school could be exempt from the weighty labels and restrictions of No Child Left Behind, considering its English scores would lag.

But seven years later, that dream has been deflated and its future is in question.

No longer do you hear about this strategy from Gates, what you hear now is that class size doesn’t matter.  Imagine that.  I would love to see Mr. Gates sitting in a classroom of inner city students with numbers approaching 40, and have him exclaim that class size doesn’t matter.

Flush with millions from the Gates Foundation, the massive San Diego High site was broken seven years ago into six small schools, each with its own theme and principal. The idea was to divide huge, anonymous high schools into smaller, more personalized schools geared to different interests.

Nowhere have the mixed results of small high schools been clearer than San Diego High, where one of the district’s most lauded schools and most challenged sit on the same downtown campus. Some flourished, like the School of International Studies, which routinely ranks high on national lists.

Gates provided an initial 11.5 million dollars to break up San Diego High School, then when the funding was gone it was up to the district to keep up the costs for the new schools which were more expensive to run than one larger school.  The media hasn’t connected the dots on Gates’s first failed school enterprise, but I have.

Friday, July 11, 2008 | Four years ago, San Diego Unified decided to test whether size matters when it comes to high schools. With outside help, it split three big high schools into 14 small ones, each with 500 students or fewer. Billed as the antidote to huge, anonymous high schools, the new schools have been credited with reducing dropouts and building closer relationships between students and staff.

But going small has a price. San Diego Unified has estimated that running the smaller high schools costs 16 percent more per student than their larger counterparts. For four years, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation bankrolled some of the expense, pouring $11.5 million into converting Kearny, Crawford and San Diego High into complexes of multiple small schools, each with their own principal, theme, and section of campus.

As that extra funding disappears, San Diego Unified is left to decide whether going small is worth that price. The bulk of the Gates funding marked for the converted schools has expired. The staffer charged with overseeing the small schools project, H.J. Green, has left the school district. Another small school complex in San Diego Unified, unfunded by Gates, was abandoned earlier this year. And a major question overshadows the small high schools that remain.

“Did it work?” asked Camille Zombro, president of the teachers union. “Is it economically viable? Do teachers like it?”

Even more importantly, why is public education open to being manipulated by a billionaire who has not been a teacher and doesn’t know what teacher go through to teach our students?  How many more failed “experiments” do we have to go through before we begin to listen to the people who work in the field and before we value their input?


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