Great Schools Partnership and the Covert Agenda of Assessment Reform

During a required workshop on proficiency-based education this Monday, I spent most of the day moving between anger and awe at the way this billionaire-funded agenda has made its way so seamlessly into our gymnasium, into every school in Maine.

Research to support proficiency-based education does not yet exist, so we were given a copy of the “Ten Principles of Proficiency-Based Learning” instead.

This document, produced by the Great Schools Partnership, states that “students can demonstrate learning progress and achievement in multiple ways through differentiated assessments, personalized-learning options, or alternative learning pathways” and that “students are given opportunities to make important decisions about their learning, which includes contributing to the design of learning experiences and personalized learning pathways.”

The principles match those found in the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s and the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “Ten Elements of High Quality Digital Learning.

Funded almost exclusively by the Gates and Nellie Mae Education Foundations, Great Schools Partnership claim to be experts in proficiency-based education.  They collect fees from districts across the state to consult on the implementation of this model, including the design of professional development sessions like the one we attended Monday.

Gates and Nellie Mae also fund Great School’s sister group, Educate Maine, which was formed for the express purpose of lobbying for Maine’s proficiency-based diploma mandate in 2012.  This mandate is now listed as model legislation for the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

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Directed by David Ruff, who has recently assumed a prominent role in education reform circles, Great Schools Partnership is now leading the nation in the shift to proficiency-based education.

In 2012, at a conference put on by the Coalition for Essential Schools, Ruff gave a presentation titled “Political Advocacy for Practitioner-Based Performance Assessment” with Dan French of the Center for Collaborative Education.

He also advised  former Gates executive and venture capitalist, Tom Vander Ark, on the value of proficiency-based diplomas as “leverage points” in reform.  In “Navigating the Digital Shift,” Vander Ark recommends that all states adopt similar mandates.

Ruff and French each appear to have become connected with Vander Ark and the Gates Foundation in the early 2000’s.  Deborah Meier and French were recipients of a grant to form the “Change Leadership Group” housed at Harvard University Graduate School, while Ruff was a member of the commission that led Maine’s “Promising Future’s” reform effort.

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Sixteen years later, the connections remain.

While Vander Ark’s agenda to push our country toward a digital-based system is clear, the role of the Great Schools Partnership and the Center for Collaborative Education is more covert.

Each of these organizations advocate assessment reform that blends occasional summative testing with ongoing, performance-based formative assessment. In this system, teachers assign “common assessments” and then enter proficiency levels into a data management system.

On Monday, we listened to Power Points and videos on the incompetence of our current grading practices and the need to move to one that is proficiency-based.

An hour or so into the morning session, a teacher raised her hand and asked if there would be an opportunity for us to ask questions.

Not until the afternoon, we were told – but there was a “parking lot” where you could put a question on a sticky note for the committee to review later.

And so we sat in silence, watching Power Points and video clips, including one from a fellow named Douglas Reeves, who was charged with indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 back in 2006.  Reeves was eventually acquitted of this crime, but not until it surfaced that he had been convicted and served jail time for securities fraud in the ‘90’s.

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Reeves, it turns out, is one of Great Schools Partnership’s go-to’s for “research” on ethical grading practice.

In the afternoon session, we did finally have a chance to ask questions and voice our concerns – but not to have them answered.  The questions went up on a piece of chart paper and were told, again, that they would be “reviewed” by the committee.

I asked if they knew Reeves was a criminal.

Just kidding.

What I really asked is when and how they planned to answer our questions, and if teachers would get to be involved in any of the answering.

I’ll let you know when we get a response.



Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

12 thoughts on “Great Schools Partnership and the Covert Agenda of Assessment Reform”

  1. ‘and that “students are given opportunities to make important decisions about their learning, which includes contributing to the design of learning experiences and personalized learning pathways.”‘
    Unlike the teachers, who have to do it THEIR way !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  2. We had a similar experience with Mass Customized Learning and a workshop conducted by Bea McGarvey. Questions were directed to the parking lot, but she did respond to a few later in the workshop. Most of the answers were of the ‘non-answer’ variety: “you’ll have to see how it works in your district/school/classroom.” The workshop was referenced for months as the Workshop About Nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

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