Gates targets education policy

The Gates Foundation, with a whopping $37 billion in assets, is spending more to influence education policy, writes Joy Pullman in Heartlander Magazine. The foundation funds “myriad seemingly grassroots” advocacy groups. That’s causing concerns, she writes.

“Philanthropists, unlike teachers unions, they don’t have an obvious constituency,” said Sarah Reckhow, a Michigan State political science professor. “Teachers unions represent teachers. Who does the Gates Foundation represent?”

Gates has spent $173 million to develop Common Core State Standards and to persuade 46 states to adopt them, writes Pullman. At an Indiana legislative hearing, 26 of the 32 people who testified against a bill to withdraw Indiana from the Core are members of organizations the Gates Foundation funds.”

“The Gates Foundation completely orchestrated the Common Core,” said Jay Greene, who runs the University of Arkansas’ department of education reform. Still, Greene thinks the foundation is following education reform trends already adopted by the “D.C. elite,” not setting them. Gates and the U.S. Department of Education are together “push[ing] down into states and localities the consensus they have already arrived at,” he said.

The Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education,” Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, told the Puget Sound Business Journal in 2009 after four Gates employees moved to the U.S. Department of Education.

Kevin Welner, who directs the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder, worries that Gates has too much influence.

“I’d like others—particularly [in] the communities that are impacted by the most high-profile school policies—to have at least an equal voice to those from the outside,” he wrote in an email to School Reform News.

Nearly everyone Pullman interviewed “agreed Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation’s employees are, as Greene put it, ‘good people trying to do good things.’ But that does not quell their concerns.” (She must not have talked to Diane Ravitch.)

There are people who think Bill Gates is trying to get even richer by giving billions of dollars away. I think that’s crazy. But I do worry about the foundation’s enormous clout in education debates.

Conspiracy theories about nefarious philanthropists are “laughable,” writes RiShawn Biddle. There’s nothing stealthy about the Gates Foundation’s role in advocating for the Common Core, he adds. Bill and Melinda Gates are “doing nothing more than what any of us would do if we had the cash: Using their dollars and influence to  engage in efforts to improve the world in which they live.”

The American Federation of Teachers gave $6 million to advocacy groups and charities in 2011-12, reports the Education Intelligence Agency. The largest donation was $1.2 million to Californians Working Together, which backed a state ballot measure that raised taxes to fund schools.

Most of the donations were ho-hum, but I was a bit surprised to see $10,000 went to the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center and another $9,155 to the Center for Citizenship Education in Mongolia. I like Rabin. I favor good citizenship in Mongolia. But is this why teachers pay union dues?

About Joanne