Gates Foundation. Good Charity or Bad Charity? Part 3

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I began to write this series (see Part 1 and Part 2) because I wanted to learn more about the Gates Foundation and see for myself if the projects they were funding in the U.S. under the area of “College Ready” (i.e. K-12 education) were supporting public education. In Part 2 I shared my analysis of the 128 projects funded by the Foundation in 2014 and I identified 13 categories of funding – over $93 million spent.

The top recipients of Gates Foundation Funding for 2014:

Rank Grantee Total Granted # Grants
1 New Venture Fund $13,170,152 4
2 Council of Chief State School Officers $6,148,749 1
3 Educause $5,100,000 1
4 Tulsa Public Schools $4,421,847 1
5 Lake County Schools $4,390,766 2
6 Alliance for Excellent Education Inc. $4,287,530 2
7 National Assoc. Of Charter School Authorizers $4,000,000 3
8 Pacific Charter School Development Inc. $3,998,633 1
9 DonorsChoose.org $3,600,000 2
10 WestEd $3,457,786 1

As can be seen the New Venture Fund (NVF) was awarded 4 grants which totaled $13.2 million – over 14% of the total funding in 2014.  In 2013 the NVF received $5.2 million.  According to NVF’s website:

NVF was established in 2006 in response to demand from leading philanthropists for an efficient, cost-effective, and time-saving platform to launch and operate charitable projects. We execute a range of donor-driven public interest projects in conservation, global health, public policy, international development, education, disaster recovery, and the arts.

Note that NVF is used to “launch and operate” projects.  So my assumption is the Gates Foundation went to NVF and said, “Here’s a bunch of money and these are projects we want you to launch”.  As Anthony Cody astutely observed, “One grant that jumps out is one for just over $10 million to the New Venture Fund. The purpose? ‘to support the successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards and related assessments through comprehensive and targeted communications and advocacy in key states and the District of Columbia.’ (emphasis added [by Cody]). Communications and advocacy. Not research and development.

That communications and advocacy was in full play in 2013, too.  The NVF reported on their IRS Form 990 (page 2) that its Education Programs goals included “ADVOCACY FOR EFFECTIVE TEACHING PRACTICES”, “SUPPORT FOR THE COMMON CORE INITIATIVE”, and that their work “… PRIMARILY INCLUDES GRANTMAKING, CONVENING, AND STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS SUPPORT.”  One way they did this in 2013 was to provide $75,000 to 12 state department of education offices and $575,104 to the Council of Chief State School Officers (the organization that the head of each state department of education belongs to).   So when the Gates Foundation wants to get their agenda up and running the New Venture Fund is used to get the work done.

Speaking of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) notice that it was the second-highest funded organization, receiving over $6.1 million.  In some respects CCSSO acts like the NVF for the Gates Foundation – they were given a bunch of money to get the Foundation’s agenda up and running.  The CCSSO is the organization that is implementing the Common Core Standards.  Since we are well into implementing the Common Core Standards the CCSSO didn’t need as much money in 2014.  In 2013 the Gates foundation gave them $11 million.

The Gates Foundation awarded grants to six national professional organizations:  National Council for the Social Studies, The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Learning Forward, American Association of School Administrators, and American Architectural Foundation.  If you want to influence millions of teachers, get the leaders of their professional organizations thinking the Gates’ way.

One of the more interesting categories funded by the Gates Foundation is “Supporting Philanthropy”.  Although not a large total ($1.3 million) funding in this category seems to be used to support organizations that promote philanthropy.  The Giving Back Fund ($50,000)  “provides philanthropic consulting, management, and administrative services to individuals and corporations.  The Foundation Center “is the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide.”  Since the Gates Foundation categorized these grants under “College Ready” is it possible that their intent is to help more gazillionaires learn how to fund their own ideas on how public education should be run?

There were 11 grants in 2014 that fell into my “Other” category.  They just didn’t fit in anywhere else and seemed a bit wacky.  The Institute of Play was given $300,000 to “create learning experiences rooted in the principles of game design”.  The National Geographic Society received $10,000 for “students in low-income neighborhoods to [attend] the National Geographic Live! Speaker Series…”  Kind of off the wall from the usually focused funding the Foundation usually provides.

As you can see the Gates Foundation’s $93 million went to a lot of different organizations and multiple purposes in 2014.  Some were Good Charity.  Some were Bad Charity.  In my next post I’ll have some final thoughts about the Gates Foundation and its effects on public education.

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Gates Foundation. Good Charity or Bad Charity? Part 2

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In my previous post I recounted how, after a discussion with my wife about Bill Gates, it occurred to me that I really didn’t know where all the Gates Foundation money goes to and if all those projects are “Good Charity” or “Bad Charity”.

I then went to the Gates Foundation website which maintains a list of all the projects they have funded.  I cut and pasted information about the 128 “College Ready” projects for 2014 into a spreadsheet (a MicroSoft product) and found that the Foundation had spent $93.3 million.   I categorized each of the projects according to the blurb provided on the Foundation’s website (or if that was too vague I went to the project recepient’s website to see what their mission is).

Here are the results:

Category Amount
Professional Development $24,624,816 26.4%
Charter Schools $17,218,099 18.4%
Common Core Implementation $10,413,185 11.2%
School Redesign $10,167,209 10.9%
Strategic Plan Implementation $7,049,649 7.6%
On-line and/or Personalized Learning $6,057,826 6.5%
Conference Support $4,296,208 4.6%
College Ready $3,826,647 4.1%
Provide Classroom Materials $3,600,000 3.9%
Other $3,086,742 3.3%
Supporting Philanthropy $1,287,629 1.4%
Teacher Leadership $946,228 1.0%
Influencing Policy $764,730 0.8%
$93,338,968 Total

The categorization process is somewhat subjective.  For example, Anthony Cody just completed the same process and came out with different totals based on his interpretation of each project.  Given his knowledge of the Gates Foundation (see his excellent book The Educator and the Oligarchy) I would encourage you to read his post as he has some fascinating interpretations about the intent of some of the grants as it relates to R&D and policymaking.

Surprised that Professional Development projects were the top category (26.4% of the funding)?  I was too until I realized that if you want to change instructional practices you need to provide professional development to teachers.  In 2014 the Gates Foundation issued an RFP (Requests for Proposal) for “The iPD Challenge” and then provided over $24 million in grants to organizations to design new methodologies that met the Foundation’s criteria of what PD should look like.  According to the RFP iPD should be, “more personalized and calls for higher levels of teacher engagement and collaboration.”  When you dig deeper iPD should include personalized learning technologies, data collection to demonstrate change, and a blend of individual learning with collaborative learning.  Before I retired I was in charge of professional development for several school districts and I always struggled on how to bring theory into practice.  Perhaps the Foundation will come up with some alternatives to the current way we provide professional development to teachers.  I would say this is “Good Charity” with reservations.

Support for charter schools ($17.2 million) continues to be a big priority for the Foundation.  Combine that with the $10.1 million funding for School Redesign projects, the Foundation spent over $27 million to find ways to make public schools obsolete.  “Bad Charity” with no reservations.

No surprise that third on the list was Common Core Implementation.  The Foundation funded the incubation and birth of the Common Core.  I believe that the original concept of providing a nation-wide set of curricular expectations was good (compared to 50 different sets of standards).  However it has mutated into an uncontrollable beast.  “Bad Charity”

Although Strategic Plan Implementation was #5 on the list, it only had 2 grantees, with the bulk of the funding ($6.1 million) going to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  This group is made up of the people who are in charge of each state’s department of education.  I can remember years ago hearing the Illinois State Superintendent Chis Koch enthusing over a new concept – Common Core Standards – after he returned from the annual meeting of the CCSSO.  A good place to put your money if you want to change education.  “Bad Charity” with reservations.

Number 6 on the list was On-line and/or Personalized Learning ($6 million).  Interestingly enough, several of the grants in this category went to public school districts (the vast majority of the 128 grants went to anything but public schools).  This shows the Foundation’s believe that technology should take a more prominent role in the instruction of students.  If developed properly this area could be a benefit to teachers and students.  “Good Charity” with reservations.

Conference Support (#7) is an interesting category.  In most cases it appears the Foundation provided funds to organizations to send teachers (and sometimes students) to attend various conferences.  It didn’t appear that every conference was about a particular topic (i.e. Common Core).  “Good Charity”

I was a bit surprised to see that the category College Ready only had three recipients, of which one (Alliance for Excellent Education, Inc.) received the bulk of the funding.  College Ready is the Gates Foundation’s #1 priority for it U.S. Programs, so why not more funding in this area?  My only guess is that the Foundation already believes they know what it takes to make kids college ready and doesn’t need to invest more in that area.  I’m always suspicious of anyone who has all the answers.  “Bad Charity”

The last category I’ll touch on in this post (yes there is one more coming) is Provide Teacher Materials.  Most teachers know that DonorsChoose.org is a website they can look to for classroom materials.  The Foundation made two grants totaling $3.6 million to support DonorsChoose.org.  “Good Charity”

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So is the Gates Foundation a “Good Charity” or a “Bad Charity”?  The answer is “Yes”.  In some cases its philanthropy may actually help public education.  In others it definitely hurts public education.  What we do know is with over $42.3 billion in assets it will continue to impact education for a long time.

In my next post on this topic I’ll look at why the Foundation might spend funds to support other philanthropic organizations, what are some of the projects funded in the “Other” category, and a look at the organizations that received the most money from the Foundation in 2014.

Reflections on Cody’s Book The Educator vs. The Oligarch: The Poor Get Poorer

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Pew Research Center

In the book The Educator And The Oligarch Anthony Cody critically examines the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts to reform education and describes a series of blog posts written by Cody and high ranking officials in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which focused on five mutually agreed upon issues.   To me, the key issue was the role of education in the elimination of poverty.

According to Chris Williams, author of the Gates Foundation’s response,

When Bill and Melinda Gates started their foundation more than a decade ago, they made addressing the impact of poverty its central philanthropic mission. They looked at what kept people in poverty around the world, and focused on the challenges that were the biggest obstacles to families moving out of poverty, but were not high enough on the global agenda.  Today the foundation’s top priorities are a reflection of that approach—vaccines that save children from serious illness and death, more resilient and productive seeds that allow families to feed themselves and earn a living, access to contraception to ensure that women can decide when to have children, and a great teacher who can make a dramatic difference in the life of low income students in the United States.

Well said.  But Williams immediately backtracks, saying that that the Gates Foundation doesn’t have enough money to solve the problems of poverty here in the U.S.  They had to “make decisions about how to focus our resources…”  Their decision?  “In the U.S., we focus on giving teachers the tools they need to be most effective.”

In his book Anthony Cody rightly states that the underlying issues keeping people in poverty need to be addressed – that focusing on teacher quality alone (through the analysis of student test scores) will not be enough to move many students out of poverty.  The Foundation’s Williams dismisses the big picture and states “a good education is one of the best avenues out of poverty.”  Why doesn’t the Foundation even want to try to make a difference outside of the classroom?

The Sargent Shriver Center for Poverty Law website cites six Policy Agenda items they are working on.  They include issues such advancing fair statutes for educational and employment opportunities, integrating job training with economic development, expanding access to food and nutrition programs, quality child care, ensuring fair workplaces, and improving access to quality education and skill building opportunities.  Many of these are policy issues, not resource issues.  The Gates Foundation seems more than willing to support policy issues related to the proliferation of charter schools, the expansion of student testing, and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers – but not poverty.

In his post Williams said, “What we can’t do, however, is address all of the problems that put or keep families in poverty.”  Look back up at Williams’ overview of the Foundation’s mission.  He said, “addressing the impact of poverty [is] its central philanthropic mission” and then talked about what they are doing globally to support that mission.  It doesn’t seem that they are willing to provide the same type of supports here in the U.S.  Couldn’t they throw a few million earmarked for the Common Core implementation or teacher evaluation toward supporting policies in America that save impoverished American kids from “serious illness and death”, guarantee better nutrition for impoverished American kids, and access to contraception for impoverished American women?

Why the laser focus on “improving” American teachers?  It’s not to eliminate poverty here since the Gates Foundation won’t support the same antipoverty policies in the U.S. that they do elsewhere.  In his 2012 Annual Letter Bill Gates said, “Our work in U.S. education focuses on two related goals: making sure that all students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and that young adults who want to get a postsecondary degree have a way to do so.”  By not working to address the broader range of issues that keep kids in poverty, Gates is implicitly promoting a further widening of the wealth gap.  If successful in improving teacher quality the Foundation will get more middle- and upper-class American kids into college – and better jobs.  The heck with those poor kids.

Cody 1:Gates 82Billion… Cody Wins!

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Anthony Cody’ book The Educator And The Oligarch meticulously documents the efforts of Bill and Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation’s efforts to “reform” public education.  But more than a well-researched book, Cody documents how his criticism of the Gates Foundation led to a public dialogue (through online posts) with the foundation about the efficacy of the Foundation’s intent to change public education.

If you’re looking for evidence about the Gates’ plan to reform schools, this is an excellent resource with 350 references to articles, books, public speeches, YouTube videos, online documents, and personal communications.  Cody does an excellent job of weaving in these references with classroom-based insights about what might happen to public education if Gates is successful.

In 2012 Cody “received an email from a highly placed individual in the Gates Foundation” (p. 55).  This opened a dialogue with officials in the Gates Foundation and led to a series of five blog posts with each side giving their perspectives about public education.  Cody reprints large portions of his blog posts in the book and comments on what the Gates Foundation officials wrote.  He gives links to the Foundation’s posts, but I would have liked to read more of what they wrote – I like to hear both sides of an argument.

Toward the end of the book Cody makes some predictions about what public education might look like if Gates is successful.  I found these predictions entirely plausible and very scary.  Everybody concerned with the direction of public education should read those predictions and ask, “Is this where we want to go?”  If your answer is “No”, then use the information in the book to push back against these changes: if your answer is “Yes” or “I don’t know” then you’ll be using this book 10 years from now when researching “How did we get ourselves into this mess?”

Thank you Mr. Cody for taking the time to present to us a clear view of what Bill and Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation have said, done, and funded and where they are leading us.  Will we follow?