Dear Commons Community,
The NY Times has an article on the Gates Foundation and its focus on overhauling the country’s education policies. One of its objectives is to advocate for alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. To accomplish its ends:
“ Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.
The foundation spent $373 million on education in 2009, the latest year for which its tax returns are available, and devoted $78 million to advocacy — quadruple the amount spent on advocacy in 2005. Over the next five or six years…the foundation expects to pour $3.5 billion more into education, up to 15 percent of it on advocacy. “
“We’ve learned that school-level investments aren’t enough to drive systemic changes,” said Allan C. Golston, the president of the foundation’s United States program. “The importance of advocacy has gotten clearer and clearer.”
If readers are interested in this subject, I would recommend Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, specifically Chapter Ten, entitled the Billionaires Boys Club. It details among other things how Bill Gates (through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), Eli Broad (through the Broad Foundation), and the Walton (Wal-Mart) families (through the Walton Family Fund) dictate educational policy via “philanthrophy.” Ms. Ravitch gave a speech on this topic at the NEA in 2010.
Another good piece entitled How Billionaire Donors Harm Public Education, by Valerie Strauss appeared in The Washington Post in October 2010.
In sum, the “Great American Educational-Industrial Complex” is alive, rich and getting stronger.