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Opinion
Cathy O'Neil

Here's How Not to Improve Public Schools

The Gates Foundation’s big-data experiment wasn’t just a failure. It did real harm.

Quality can be hard to measure.

Quality can be hard to measure.

Photographer: Dave Einsel/Getty Images

The Gates Foundation deserves credit for hiring an independent firm to assess its $575 million program to make public-school teachers more effective. Now that the results are in, it needs to be no less open in recognizing just how wasteful — and damaging — the program has been.

The initiative, known as Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching, sought to improve education for low-income minority students, in large part by gathering data and using an algorithm to assess teacher performance. It focused on measures such as test scores, the observations of school principals and evaluations from students and parents to determine whether teachers were adding value. The goal: Reward good teachers, get rid of bad ones and narrow the achievement gap.