Bill Gates bankrolls 'reverse Teach First' as English scheme crosses pond

4th March 2011 at 00:00
Billionaire funds initiative to develop 'missing link' in US teacher training

The world's second richest man, software billionaire Bill Gates, is bankrolling the introduction of an English educational programme across the United States.

Teaching Leaders, a scheme to increase the effectiveness of department heads and other 'middle leaders' in England's secondary schools, has caught the eye of education reformers in America.

The principle behind the project - developing the middle "missing link" in teacher training - was given the blessing of President Obama's education team in December 2009.

Now the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has stepped up to finance a pilot that should make the concept a reality in 12 US regions over the next five years.

The American programme, dubbed Leading Educators, is also being supported by Ark, the hedge fund-backed charity that sponsors academies in England, and US charity the New Schools Venture Fund.

The move will be seen as a "reverse Teach First", following England's adoption of the Teach for America scheme, which brings "the brightest graduates" to the classroom in a fast-track training programme.

Sharath Jeevan, director of Teaching Leaders in England, played a leading role in securing support for the American expansion and believes it will also benefit teachers on this side of the Atlantic.

"We are very excited about having the opportunity for our programmes and our middle leaders to exchange ideas," he said. "We could have a head of maths in London peer-mentoring with the head of a maths faculty in the US."

Leading Educators will build on the base already established in New Orleans in the past two years by Jay Altman, Ark's former head of education in London, who also co-founded Teaching Leaders.

Two expansion schemes in a southern state and a city in the Midwest are already being developed and the plan is for Leading Educators to gain a presence in all the US's big urban areas, including California, New York and New Jersey.

"The plan is to get into the largest number of high-need schools possible," said Jonas Chartock, the scheme's new chief executive.

He visited England within four weeks of starting the job to learn as much as possible from Teaching Leaders, and was impressed by the scheme's "sophisticated" content for heads of year and heads of department and the way it was able to measure its success.

Mr Chartock's previous job involved approving new charter schools in New York. But, he said, Leading Educators would work with all types of state-funded school in the US.

"You won't find anyone against improving the quality of teacher leaders, regardless of the school they work in," he said. "We may be in a position to build bridges between charter schools and other state schools in some districts. There will be a real power in bringing them together."

Asked what those behind England's free-schools policy could learn from US charter schools, Mr Chartock said: "The importance of authorising and accountability is huge. You have to have standards and really clear benchmarks."

In New York, he said, that meant schools lost their charters if they did not reach the required standards within a certain number of years.

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