Under Tom Vander Ark’s leadership the Gates Foundation pursued an education reform strategy focused on creating smaller high schools. The theory was that smaller high schools would create tighter social bonds between schools and students, preventing students from slipping through the cracks and increasing the likelihood that they would graduate and go on to college. Smaller high schools could also be more varied in their approaches and offerings, allowing students to choose schools that best fit their needs.
But around the same time Vander Ark left the Gates Foundation at the end of 2006, the reform strategy shifted. Rather than fostering small, diverse schools of choice, the Gates Foundation now wanted to build centralized systems of what everyone should be taught (Common Core) and centralized systems of evaluating, training, and promoting teachers (Measuring Effective Teachers). As I’ve written before, the shift in Gates strategy was not prompted by research. In fact, the high quality random-assignment study that Gates had commissioned to evaluate the small high school strategy showed strong, positive results. But the post-Vander Ark leadership at Gates couldn’t wait for the evidence. The knew the truth without any pesky research and had abandoned the small high schools strategy in favor of their new centralization approach years before those results were released.