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David Tyack and Larry Cuban’s book Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform is one of my favorite books. They chronicle how Americans have viewed public education as a means to building a better society. From one-room schoolhouses in the 1800s to the influx of immigrants in the early 1900s to the response to Sputnik in the 1950s, Americans have shaped the purpose of public education. Americans – not just one person. Not a foundation.
When did we, as a society, give up our responsibility to determine the purpose of public education? I can remember back in 1985 when the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) went hat-in-hand to the Illinois legislature (again) for a bigger budget and the response was, “If you want more money, you’re going to have to show us that you’re worth it.” State-wide student testing began shortly thereafter. The purpose of education then became, “Earn your keep by showing me how good your schools and teachers are” which was not a societal need but an economic one. Building a better society using public education doesn’t exist in the American consciousness today – and as we know, nature abhors a vacuum.
So if we are unwilling to fill the vacuum of societal purpose for public education, who will? Bill and Melinda Gates along with Warren Buffett. They said “College Ready” is American’s societal need and they have defined for public education how to meet that need:
- Create a standardized “American” curriculum
- Provide professional development to teachers to ensure they teach to that standard curriculum correctly
- Evaluate teachers to see if they are teaching the standard curriculum correctly, and if they don’t, remove them from the classroom
- Use technology to implement the standard curriculum
America didn’t set this agenda. Recognizing this, the Gates Foundation hedged their bet that American public schools might not want to accomplish their agenda so they support charter schools and alternative schools to demonstrate how it should be done. They pour money into national professional organizations and to the Council of Chief State Officers to get the Foundation’s agenda done.
“College Ready” is America’s need? Those kids in Naperville and Winnetka were born “College Ready”. What a frickin’ joke to the kids in Chicago who are just hoping to survive long enough to make it to the safety of their school tomorrow.
Why did we allow them to control the conversation about the educational needs of America? How did it come about that the Gates Foundation is telling us, the education professionals, how to do our business? The sad part is, we let them do this to us because we wouldn’t do it ourselves. We, as a profession, have been reluctant to get involved in politics, to write the newspapers about what schools need, to stand up and tell someone outside of the teacher’s lounge what our kids need. Until we, as a profession, are willing to tell everybody what America’s kids need, the billionaires and their foundations will fill the void.
Next time: Vision 2020 tries to fill the void
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|
|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|
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.