'Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle' photo (c) 2012, Marc Smith - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The Gates Foundation, for the first time in many years, is making a major move in California by funding substantial professional development efforts in two school districts and suggesting that they’ll making similar grants in the coming months.

According to the post in Ed Source by John Fensterwald, Gates is giving several million to the Fresno and Long Beach districts to develop this professional development around Common Core Standards.

Here are a couple of important excerpts from John’s article (and it’s also important to read the piece in its entirety):

[Gates is]impressed with how Fresno and Long Beach have worked with unions and teacher leaders to personalize professional development. One concept is to allot money to teachers for them to choose their method of training. Long Beach is launching what it’s calling iPD Challenge, using software that will enable teachers to create their own electronic portfolios of their training and subject matter needs, then schedule online collaborations and face-to-face meetings with colleagues with similar interests….

The Gates Foundation has been criticized for being too prescriptive in pushing a reform agenda. Districts and charter schools receiving money to develop an earlier teacher effectiveness model, for example, had to commit to count test scores as at least 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. But Shalvey said that in implementing Common Core, Gates believes that “you make investments in people and organizations and you must have give and take.”

At the end of the grant period, he said, Gates might be looking to see that a third of students had a “rigorous and robust learning experience with the experience of Common Core, and principals and teachers felt confident and competent they were teaching it well.” Results on the Smarter Balanced assessments, the new computer-based tests aligned to Common Core, would not be the only measure of success, he said.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post titled Gates Foundation Discovers It’s Important To Listen To Teachers — Better Late Than Never, where I commented on new efforts by Gates to engage with teachers, and ended it by saying:

I don’t really care if their motives are solely pragmatic or a genuine rethinking of their policies themselves. It’s also not important to me if they acknowledge their past mistakes.

There is only one thing that’s key, and it’s what they do now and in the future.

I also suggested recently in The Washington Post that the new Gates CEO might move them in a similar direction.

Of course, there are many reasons to be very, very wary of any private foundation trying to involve itself in schools (see The Best Resources For Learning About The Role Of Private Foundations In Education Policy) and Gates is the one we should be most wary of — see Arrogance, The Gates Foundation & The “Remembering Self”; Gates Foundation Minimizing Great Tools For Helping Teachers Improve Their Craft and Videotaping teachers the right way (not the Gates way). Those are just a few of many posts I’ve written about their countless negative impacts on schools.

And, speaking of destructive effects on schools, the article gives the impression that Gates might also try to funnel some of their money through the organization created by several districts in California (including the one where I teach) that received a federal waiver from NCLB regulations (see The Best Posts & Articles On The NCLB Waiver Given To Eight California School Districts (Including Ours) ).

Who knows how genuine of an effort this might be by Gates towards true conversation and engagement with teachers? And who knows if some districts have so “poisoned the well” with teachers by that decision to seek the waiver that there’s not enough trust left to make some kind of arrangement that would benefit teachers and their students?

Nevertheless, it’s a very smart move by Gates and, at the very least, offers some intriguing possibilities….