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Gates-funded advocacy group to shut down

October 18, 2012 |  3:47 pm

The Gates Foundation, the nation’s most influential education-policy organization, has quietly ended financial support for a locally based national group formed to push for favored reforms, including an overhaul of teacher evaluations.

Communities for Teaching Excellence, headed by former L.A. school board member Yolie Flores, is planning to close its doors next month. Although based in Los Angeles, the group had a presence in Pittsburgh, Memphis and Hillsborough County in Florida — all locations where where the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded the development of new teacher-evaluation systems.

In the L.A. area, $60 million is going to a consortium of charter-school groups. The grants for the other regions totaled $230 million.

Flores, 49, became the founding director of Communities for Teaching Excellence in 2010, after a four-year tenure on the L.A. Board of Education.

Flores described the closure this week as a Gates decision. Flores’ board of directors, which has ties to Gates, took responsibility for the decision, said Amy Wilkins, the president of the board.

Flores’ group brought together advocacy and community groups in the different cities. In L.A. such a coalition lobbied the Los Angeles Unified School District to evaluate teachers on multiple measures, including students' standardized test scores. The district remains in negotiations with the teachers union over such an evaluation system.

“The field was more complex and crowded and building these partnerships was more difficult than anybody had imagined,” said Wilkins. “The inventors of this organization had envisioned more robust activity at the local level than we were achieving.”

Wilkins praised Flores and her staff, but said that the “model” of a national advocacy organization wasn’t working and that it made more sense to support local groups engaged in comparable work.

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-- Howard Blume

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