Atlanta Public Schools’ Equity Audit Finds Differences! by Ed Johnson

Guest Letter by Mr. Ed Johnson, Advocate for Education, Atlanta, GA

Creative Commons "I Come In Peace" by JDevaun is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Creative Commons “I Come In Peace” by JDevaun is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Ed Johnson wrote a letter in response to the Atlanta Public Schools Equity Audit which was prepared by researchers at Georgia State University to look at differences in the characteristics across schools in the APS district.  As you will see in Ed Johnson’s letter, he uses a form of thinking that looks at the APS as a whole, and not as separate schools, and applies the work of W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, and Peter Bernard to investigate equity in the context of systems thinking.

This is an important letter written by a person who for years has explored how to improve education in the Atlanta Public Schools.  It is hoped that the new Atlanta Public Schools superintendent will seek his advice, and in so doing challenge the “turn around” and “urban” mentality that dominates educational reform.

June 26, 2014

Well, of course, Atlanta Public Schools’ equity audit would find differences. Differences always exist. No two of anything are exactly the same. So the discerning question always is, what do differences mean?

In its upfront Executive Summary, the APS Equity Audit Report proclaims:

Equity audits are a relatively new tool for school systems and there are large variations in their thresholds for determining whether or not characteristics are substantially different across schools. Simple percentage difference cutoffs or using standard error calculations to generate confidence intervals of means both avoid complex questions of whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful. This report finds substantial variations across schools on numerous characteristics, but leaves questions of whether and how to address these differences to the broad group of stakeholders concerned with educational outcomes for the students of APS.

On the one hand, the APS Equity Audit Report responsibly cautions against using “[s]imple percentage difference cutoffs or using standard error calculations to generate confidence intervals of means both [of which] avoid complex questions of whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful,” and that is fortunate. Such figures are usually presented in business-style financial reports that often prompt reacting to and holding people “accountable” for past performance while typically providing no rational basis for predicting performance and learning into the future.

Equity from the Standpoint of Random Variation v Non-Random Variation

On the other hand, without question, although it “finds substantial variations across schools on numerous characteristics,” the APS Equity Audit Report clearly forgoes addressing “whether or not differences across schools are practically meaningful,” and that is unfortunate.

It other words, the APS Equity Audit Report does not address the very important question of what do differences mean. Do differences with respect to a particular characteristic mean something or mean nothing? To answer the question requires detecting and distinguishing differences that arise from random variation and differences that arise from non-random variation.

Random Variation Means…

Detection of differences that arise from random variation would indicate differences that mean nothing, that are not “practically meaningful.” Such differences would be due to common, ever-present systemic causes, any or all of which may be known, knowable, and unknowable.

Non-Random Variation Means…

On the other hand, detection of differences that arise from non-random variation would indicate differences that mean something, that are “practically meaningful.” In this latter case, for better or worse, such differences would be due to special causes powerful enough to dominate and stand apart from all differences due to common causes. Special causes may occur continually, irregularly, or temporarily and are generally known or knowable.

So, there are differences due to common causes that may be referred to simply as “common cause variation.” And there are differences due to special causes that may be referred to simply as “special cause variation.” Hence, there exist two kinds of variation.

Signals and Noise in the Data

Now, considering any characteristic’s data in the APS Equity Audit Report, can something be done with those data to detect and distinguish the two kinds of variation the data may contain? Asked differently, is there a way to filter the data to separate “signals” the data may contain from the “noise” the data do contain?

To do so is important so as to:

  1. avoid responding to a signal as if it were noise and
  2. avoid responding to noise as if it were a signal

To fail at either 1) or 2) is to drive up costs and generate excessive waste, unnecessarily.

Is there a Way to Detect Signals from Noise?

Indeed there is a way to detect and distinguish common cause variation and special cause variation. And it is a way even some elementary school children have learned to use in the process of continually improving their own learning. The way is to make a “process behavior chart” from the data. (The process behavior chart is much like an EKG (electrocardiogram) made to tell a story about the behavior of a patient’s heart.)

Now, from actually having made a process behavior chart for a fair number of characteristics the APS Equity Audit Report covers, none revealed any special cause variation, save a few where Forest Hill Academy was detected to represent a special cause matter, which is to be expected of APS’ alternative school.

The Inexperienced Teacher Category

For example, the process behavior chart in Figure 1 below takes a district-level look at the characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years),” in the category “Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students” (APS Equity Audit Report, pages 179-183). The APS Equity Audit Report explains this characteristic means the proportion of students’ time spent with a teacher that has less than three years experience, and that the proportion can be expressed as a percent by multiplying by 100, which the process behavior chart in Figure 1 does.

Figure 1: District-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years) ©Ed Johnson


The process behavior chart in Figure 1 detects only differences due to common causes, or common cause variation, or noise. All the variation ranges around the center-line average of 26 percent (26.26%) and between the lower control limit, at zero percent (0.00%), and the upper control limit, at 55 percent (54.55%). No variation exceeds the upper control limit. This means academically disadvantaged students that have a teacher with less than three years experience is a systemic matter among all APS elementary schools and not a matter for any individual schools. It would be top administration’s mistake, and abdication of their leadership responsibility, to single out Centennial Place, or Hutchinson, or M. Agnes Jones so as to hold any people there “accountable” as a special matter.

Again, Figure 1 is district-level, with all APS elementary schools taken as a system. But what about APS Region-level, with each Region taken as a system? What might process behavior charts say about how the North, East, South, and West regions of APS compare on the example characteristic being considered here?

Consider Figure 2, below. The figure comprises four process behavior charts, one for the East Region, North Region, South Region, and West Region of APS. Figure 2 makes it easy to compare the APS Regions holistically and rather straightforwardly and much at a glance. Like the district-level process behavior chart in Figure 1, each Region-level process behavior chart in Figure 2 detects no evidence of special cause variation; all differences are due to common cause variation, to noise. No differences are “practically meaningful.”

It is also quite easy to see in Figure 2 that common cause variation appears the least “spread out” around the North Region center-line average compared to the spread of variation around the other Regions’ center-line averages. Even so, if extended to the right, the North Region lower and upper control limits would cover all West Region schools as well as all South Region schools. And if extended to the left, North Region lower and upper control limits would cover all East Region schools, save Centennial Place. Thus Figure 2, like Figure 1, says differences among all APS elementary schools with respect to the example characteristic are systemic, and equitable.

Moreover, it is also quite easy to see from Figure 2 that each APS Region’s center-line average compares favorably to the district-level center-line average in Figure 1. In Figure 1, the district-level center-line average is 26.26%; in Figure 2, the four Regions’ center-lines average to 26.37%. The difference is a mere 0.11%, or roughly one-tenth of one percent.

The observations made from Figure 2 support and now extend the observation made from Figure 1. Now it can be said that academically disadvantaged students that have a teacher with less than three years experience is a systemic matter for all APS elementary schools, and is not a matter for any individual school or APS Region.

Figure 2: Region-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years)
Figure 2: Region-level Teacher Experience by Academically Disadvantaged Students, Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years) ©Ed Johnson

Implication for Administrators, Especially Those at the Top

In addition, and much like already concluded, it would be APS top administration’s mistake, and abdication of their leadership responsibility, to single out any school or Region so as to hold any people there “accountable” as a special matter. Leadership from the top, from both the school board and the superintendency, is required. Only they can be held “accountable” in any rational way. And no manner of “accountability” pushed down from the top can substitute for the requisite leadership needed to foster collaboration with and among affected stakeholders, as a system.

Now, let’s be clear on this point: Both Figure 1 and Figure 2 present process behavior charts that evidence only equity; neither evidences inequity.

Where is the Inequity?

So, if inequity exists, then where does it exist?

Well, actually, knowing where the inequity exists comes through the story the process behavior charts in Figures 1 and 2 tell. The charts tell the story that the teacher characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years)” has been optimized among APS elementary schools only about that singular teacher characteristic. It is a story with telltale signs of strictly systematic analytical thinking operating to the exclusion of systemic synthetical thinking. It is a story with telltale signs of believing that the whole is the sum of its parts, and that the whole can do its best only if each part does it individual best, that each part “executes with fidelity.” It is a story where teachers that have less than three years experience have been assigned quite equitably throughout APS elementary schools and to academically disadvantaged students.

And that is the rub, the genesis of the inequity, though it may seem counterintuitive.

Standardized test results have for more than a decade shown APS to be, in effect, “two systems in one,” White-Black, with Black greatly lagging. More recently, standardized test results have begun to show APS’ devolution into becoming “three systems in one,” White-Hispanic-Black, with Black still lagging.

Therefore, the inequity comes not from placing less experienced and unremarkable teachers with especially “Black” students in the APS West Region and South Region. Again, the process behavior charts in Figure 1 and Figure 2 say equity exists among all APS elementary schools with respect to the teacher characteristic “Inexperienced Teacher (Less than 3 years).” Rather, the inequity comes from “Black” students being without greatly experienced and remarkable teachers! For example, five-weeks trained personnel by Teach for America placed with “White” students would constitute equity. However, five-weeks trained personnel by Teach for America placed with “Black” students would constitute inequity. Why? Simply because none can possibly be a greatly experienced and remarkable teacher.

Why the Inequity?

Now, why might this inequity exist? What might be its root?

Consider that the Atlanta Board of Education Policy Manual offers understanding. Specifically, Policy Number BBBC, titled “Board Member Development Opportunities,” states, in part:

The Atlanta Board of Education places a high priority on the importance of a planned and continuing program of professional development of its members. … The board considers participation in the following activities consistent with the professional development of its members: Conferences, workshops, conventions, and training and information sessions held by the state and national school boards associations and other conferences sponsored by local, state, and national educational organizations. … The list shall include, but need not be limited to, the following organizations:

  • National School Boards Association
  • Georgia School Boards Association
  • Council of Great City Schools
  • National Alliance of Black School Educators

This policy has inequity built-in. How? First, it restricts “professional development” (PD), which goes policy-wise undefined, to school board procedural matters vis-à-vis the school board associations listed. Then it more narrowly restricts PD to thinking and treating APS as an “urban” school district in need of “urban school reform” or “transformation” vis-à-vis Council of Great City Schools and similar other organizations. Then more narrowly still, the policy restricts PD to a “racialist ideology” (Fredrick Douglass) vis-à-vis National Alliance of Black School Educators.

Regressive Policy

The policy is regressive, and acts much like a funnel to direct APS into associations with persons and organizations committed to disrupting public education as a common good or who have not the wisdom to understand and value public education as a common good. The aim is the transformation of public education in especially “urban” school districts into a profit-making, free-market commodity all the while opportunistically and unashamedly co-opting Civil Rights struggles. This inequity built into school board policy and steeped in urbanism effectively keeps APS stuck in stasis and incapable of learning to continually improve, unlike the global community that is continually learning to improve.

A consequence of such inequity rooted in Atlanta Board of Education policy is the thinking that “it takes a black educator to educate a black child” made a prominent operational aspect of APS culture, and with it APS never going beyond urbanism’s boundary to seek greatly experienced and remarkable teachers to place with especially “Black” students! The inequity is such a deep, self-imposed operational aspect of APS culture that it goes virtually unspoken and unchallenged among stakeholders until it becomes convenient to use to insinuate, excoriate, or defend against allegations of maltreatment or oppression, or to conduct an equity audit.

Fortunately or unfortunately – take your pick – wisdom teaches that the problem is in here, with us, not out there, with them. But then, wisdom comes from learning, not from achievement and certainly not from merely performing.

So, isn’t it time for Atlanta Public Schools to leapfrog City of Atlanta’s modern day “Atlanta Compromise” and turn to embracing humanness more so than “race?” Isn’t it clear by now that especially “Black” children’s quality of education depend on doing so?

Kind regards,

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
O: (404) 691-9656 | C: (404) 505-8176 |

“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”
Diogenes of Sinope (c. 412 – c. 323 BCE)

Georgia Teachers Continue to Impress: 2014 CRCT Results in Context

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In this post I am going to show why I think Georgia teachers continue to impress, especially when we look at the 2014 CRCT results in the context of the past decade.

In the wake of the Vergara v California tentative decision in which the plaintiffs claimed that lurking in many California classrooms were “grossly ineffective teachers.,” you have to wonder what is their evidence.  They had NO facts to support this contention.  The data they did present was in the form of opinions, and discredited VAM data in which good and bad teachers are identified using student test scores.

For more than 30 years, I worked with thousands of teachers, not only here in Georgia, but in many other states, and countries.  When I first read the Vergera v California decision, and saw the phrase “grossly ineffective teachers,” I had to admit that I must have lived in another universe.  There may be ineffective teachers in our classrooms, but the court case only reinforced my view that the teaching profession is under assault, and that the assault is being led by what Diane Ravitch calls, The Billionaire’s Boys Club.  In the Vergara case, the club member was David Welch, founder of Students Matter, an organization set up just for the Vergara case.  Welsh was able to use millions of dollars to hire a legal team of who’s who in constitutional law, which was the basis for the Vergara case.

Around the country, state departments of education are releasing the results of standardized tests, many of which are mandated through the No Child Left Behind Law.

In Georgia, we give the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) to students in grades 1 – 8 in reading, language arts, math, science, and social studies.  At the high school level End of Course Tests (EOCT) are given in math, science, social studies, and English language arts.

On June 13, the Georgia Department of Education released the 2014 CRCT scores for the state, along with scores from last year for comparison (school and district results will be released later this month).

Figure 1 shows the 8th grade CRCT test results for the past seven years in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies.  The line graph clearly shows that scores in all tested subjects have trended up.  Since 2008 (actually, we can go back to 2000, the year the CRCT’s were used) the scores have gone up.  Three linear trend lines are included in the chart for reading, math and science, and all of them show growth, not stagnation, or depreciation.

There are 8 graphs in the chart.  The blue, red, green, purple, & light blue shows the CRCT scores for the five tested subjects that are identified on the right side of the chart.  The other three graphs are straight lines, each trending up, that shows the linear trend for reading (at the top), then science and finally math.  If, like the judge in Vergara Lawsuit claims, that there is a causal link between student scores and teacher ability, then we might conclude that teachers in Georgia are doing a good job “and have caused student scores to go up.”****

Figure 1. CRCT 8th Grade  Scores with Linear Projections for Tested Subjects

Figure 1. CRCT 8th Grade Scores with Linear Projections for Tested Subjects

***However,  I don’t believe that there is a causal link between student test scores and teacher ability.  If there is, it’s very small.  There are simply too many other variables that affect student’s ability to do well on standardized tests.  Very credible research shows that at best, only 30% of student’s academic success is attributable to schools, and that teachers are only a small part of the effect of school.  As noted elsewhere, the most significant factor affecting a student’s academic success is socioeconomic status (See, Berliner and Glass, 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education.)


Look at Figure 2.  In this chart, we’ve used a control chart using average scores calculated from 8th CRCT scores in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies.  We might think of this as a student’s “CRCT Average” (aka Grade Point Average).   Based on the data for the past seven years, we have calculated the upper and lower control limits for the CRCT Average, and we see a controlled increase in scores over the years.   There are no radical changes from one year to the next, and indeed, over the seven-year period, student scores fall within predicted limits.

We can say, based on this data, that Georgia teachers have done nothing but help students improve their scores on the CRCT standardized tests.  Perhaps we could add that as students work with Georgia teachers, scores go up.

Figure 2. Trend of Average Score on 8th Grade CRCT's in Tested Subjects
Figure 2. Trend of Average Score on 8th Grade CRCT’s in Tested Subjects


When we look at the average scores for Georgia on the 8th grade battery of CRCT tests in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies, we notice that the variation is within the limits we would expect, but more importantly, the variation in scores has decreased over time.

This is important.  Public school education in Georgia, based on these data show a system that is stable, not unstable, nor failing.

Figure 3. Variation of CRCT Scores
Figure 3. Variation of CRCT Scores

Improving education is clearly a goal of teachers.  By and large teachers are dedicated professionals who are interested in helping their students learn, and learn to love the subjects they teach.

Teaching is an art, not a business that some think can be regulated by an accountability system that provides little flexibility for teachers to carry out their work with students.  The so-called reform of education is based on an industrial culture that sees teaching as a mechanical system that can be measured, weighed and evaluated using spreadsheets.  This nonsense.


This is a serious problem, in Georgia and around the country.  Bureaucrats (many of them former teachers) at the Georgia Department of Education have become convinced that teachers and schools can be monitored and evaluated with big data that is pouring into their computers at an ever increasing rate.

This is not what teaching and learning are about.

As long as this blog exists, it will be based on the art of teaching and the wisdom of practice.

It appears to me that the wisdom of practice is alive and well in Georgia.  What do you think?


Top 20 Organizations Receiving Common Core Grants from the Gates Foundation

It’s begun.  The School Board of Cobb County, Georgia, where I live, just voted (5-1-1) to purchase math books (print and digital) aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  McGraw-Hill books will be purchased for K-8, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for high school.  The cost for these CCSS math books: $7 million.  This translates into about $64 per student for the 109,760 students in the district.  The estimated cost of supplying all students in Georgia with new math books would be about $102 million.

American education is poised to embody a one-size fits all model of curriculum.  We know that Arne Duncan claims that the Common Core Standards is not a curriculum.  The curriculum is what is taught in classrooms, and because most states have agreed to a single set of math and English/Language Arts standards, the curriculum in classrooms will be immensely affected by the CCSS.  Coupled with standardized tests that are being rolled out this year by two U.S. Department of Education funded groups, teachers will have little say in what the real curriculum will be because the same standardized test scores will be used to check their teaching effectiveness, and decide their employment.

In this post, I am going to report on those organizations that were funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to make the Common Core State Standards a reality.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made at least 164 grants to at least 125 organizations to support CCSS development and implementation.  I should also point out that the U.S. Department of Education is just as responsible for these standards, as Gates and the groups mentioned in this post.  You see when the Duncan department of education rolled out the Race to the Top, it insisted that states would stand a better chance of being funded is they signed on to the Common Core State Standards, and mandated the use of student test scores as a measure of teacher performance.

Figure 1. Top 20 Winners of Common Core Grants from the Gates Foundation. Data Source: The Gates Foundation
Figure 1. Top 20 Winners of Common Core Grants from the Gates Foundation. Data Source: The Gates Foundation

Then, to put the last nail on the coffin, the Gates Foundation provided consulting and writing help to states submitting proposals to the Race to the Top fund, especially during the second round of funding.  Georgia was a winner.  It got about $400 million, and it received help from the Gates Foundation.

These events made it possible for Achieve Inc., the developer of the CCSS to manage the development of the standards, and to work with many organizations, especially with the financial support of the Gates Foundation, to get the ball rolling.

The Top 20

The top 20 recipients give a window into the way the Gates Foundation is influencing K-12 education in American schools.  The movement to set up one set of learning objectives for all students is the essence of the Common Core.  These organizations are a Who’s Who of the corporate reform effort in which “big money” is being used to change the public landscape of education, into a market-place.

In America’s “race to common standards,” Figure 1 shows the top 20 organizations that have collaborated with the Gates Foundation to make sure that every child in the U.S. learns the same stuff in math, reading, and language arts.  The Common Core State Standards provide a common set of performances from which tests, texts, and online programming will be developed by private firms to be sold to public schools.

Top 20 Winners of Gates Common Core Grants

Here is the listing of the top 20 award winners in the Gates Foundation common core competition.  The links take you inside the Gates Foundation directly to one of the funded grants of these organizations.  You will find a link to the organization at that webpage.  As you read through and explore the top 20, note the emphasis on charter schools and teacher assessment in the context of the common core.

  • Council of Chief State School Officers  $83,556,782. Co-developers of the Common Core at a meeting in Chicago in 2009.  They and the NGS charged Achieve with the task of writing common standards in math and English/language arts.
  • New Visions for Public Schools, Inc  $70,454,721  New Visions received funds to support the Common Core/Career and College initiative effort designed to improve student achievement and teacher effectiveness through key strategies. New Visions is a major charter school developer in New York, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Seattle.
  • New Venture Fund  $67,579,460.  Their recent grant (more than $10 million) was to support successful implementation of the common core
  • Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc. $52,686,431. One of their grants from the Gates Foundation was to partner with other foundations to support a project fund supporting state-led efforts aligning higher education placement requirements with college readiness assessments developed through the Common Core assessment consortia.
  • Achieve Inc $36,708,822.  An organization founded by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers in 1996.  In 2008 it begins work on “college- and career ready standards in partnership with NGA, and CCSS, and with funding from the Gates Foundation.
  • Charter Fund Inc dba Charter School Growth Fund $33,012,000. Gates’ funding is used to support high-performing charter school management organizations that are implementing effecting teaching systems and the Common Core State Standards in collaboration with districts.
  • Colorado Legacy Foundation $22,803,487.  Much of the funding to this group is used to carry out and sustain teacher evaluation systems.
  • Kentucky Department of Education  $12,954,380  Grants offer support to the Kentucky Department of Education related to implementation of the Common Core State Standards & teacher development and evaluation systems.
  • Council Of The Great City Schools $11,962,004. This urban school organization has received Gates Foundation grants to help member school districts to align implementation of the Common Core State Standards with their reform efforts in teacher effectiveness and prepare for new PARCC and SBAC online assessments
  • James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy Foundation, Inc. $11,450,814. The grants are used to support states in their continued implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  At the Hunt Website, is this phrase: “The Hunt Institute is a strategic catalyst for transforming public education and securing our country’s future.” The question is, whose future?
  • American Federation Of Teachers Educational Foundation $11,343,925. To support teacher development and Common Core State Standards
  • Khan Academy Inc. $10,544,028. The Gates Foundation grew the company into a massive supplier of videos to develop the remaining K-12 math exercises to make sure full coverage of the Common Core math standards and form a small team to carry out a blended learning model.
  • Louisiana Department of Education $9,562,308. Grant funds are used to give organizational support to the Louisiana Department of Education related to implementation of the Common Core State Standards & teacher development and evaluation systems.
  • Scholastic Inc. 6,738,498. Funds are used to support teachers’ implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics.
  • Thomas Fordham Foundation. $6,711,462.  Grants are used for general operating support, to track state progress towards implementation of standards.
  • Student Achievement Partners Inc $6,533,350. Grants are used to support teachers nationwide in understanding and implementing the Common Core State Standards.
  • The Aspen Institute Inc $5,189,948.  The Aspen Institute has received more than $50 million from the Gates Foundation with about 10% being devoted to k-12 education.
  • The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education $4,584,177. Grants support the attendance of Master Teachers at the NEA’s Empowered Educators conference and give an opportunity for these educators to share their learnings and leadership experiences related to the Common Core.
  • BetterLesson, Inc. $3,527,240.  Funding to support the development of courses, aligned to the Common Core State Standards, for the purposes of helping teacher’s transition to common core and increasing their students’ ability to master the content.
  • MetaMetrics, Inc. 3,468,005. Grants fund the further development an interactive, online tools that focus on literacy in the Common Core State Standards
Figure 2. Pie Chart of Gates Funding of the Common Core, 2009 - 2014
Figure 2. Pie Chart of Gates Funding of the Common Core, 2009 – 2014

In this report, 126 organizations received funding from the Gates Foundation to support various aspects of the common core.  However, a good deal of the funding went directly to charter management companies, and organizations that support the development of charter schools.  There is also funding to use student assessments (of the common core) to evaluate teacher performance.  Organizations received on average more than $4.4 million.

Figure 2 is a Pie Chart summary of the funding noting emphasizing the top five Common Core organizations.

What do you think about the Common Core?

How the Gates Foundation Used $3.38 Billion in College-Ready Education Grants to Change Education Policy

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Did you know that since 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (technically founded in 2000) have made over 4,000 grants in the US Program, one of the major categories of funding for the Gates.  The 4,000 grants were distributed among 16 categories such as College-Ready Education, Community Grants, Postsecondary Success, Global Policy & Advocacy, etc.

Through its foundation, the Gates have “invested” more than $3.3 billion in what they call “College-Ready Education” projects, just one of the areas of funding in its US Program.  Keep in mind that the Gates foundation has also invested billions in Global Health and Global Development.  Many of these projects have helped eradicate diseases, and improve food production in other countries.  See comments for an update on Gates’ work in these two areas.

But in this post, I want to look at the Gates Foundation investments in education.  On their website, you can go here to find a database of these investments.   For the research reported in this post, You can get access to an Excel spreadsheet that I prepared that includes all data for these grants here.  I hope you will find this spreadsheet useful.

1853 Investments

There were 1853 grants made as of June 5, 2014 with the average of these grants being $1,827,093. The grants ranged from $100 million to the Hillsborough Public Schools to $600 to the Aspire Public Schools.  Total investments made by the Gates Foundation in College-Ready Education projects was $3,385,603,559.

The chart in Figure 1 shows the number of College-Ready Education grants that have been made since 1999 that are shaping the vision of education based on the three focus areas that the Foundation uses to define this area of grant making.  In 1999 there were only 4 grants made by the Foundation, but from 2000 forward, the Foundation made more than 100 grants each year.  As seen in the chart, the greatest number of and largest amount of grants was made in 2003, 2009, and 2011.  In 2009, 434 grants were made totaling $440 million.

Figure 1. Fifteen Years of Funding by the Gates Foundation. Source of data:
Figure 1. Fifteen Years of Funding by the Gates Foundation. Source of data:

Philanthropy, as Matt Kelly reported, is not just an activity of the well-to-do in the United States.  Large numbers of people have given away small amounts of money for specific causes.  But as Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, William J. Broad suggests, “Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science.” He suggests that there are “profound changes going on in the way science is paid for and practiced in the U.S” (Broad, W.J. “Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science,” New York Times, 15, Mar. 2014: Web. 9 Jun. 2014.)

One of the billionaires that Broad highlights in his New York Times article is Bill Gates.  Philanthropists, including Mr. Gates, have turned the research complex upside down, according to Mr. Broad.  With the budget cuts in Washington (except for the U.S. Department of Education), very wealthy Americans have begun a range of investments in space, medicine, health, and oceanographic research.

Broad’s article did not include any examples of research in the social sciences, especially education.  Yet, billions of dollars are privately pouring into K-12 education, to support the personal philosophies and beliefs of the donors.  The Gates Foundation leads the way.

Fixing Education

To some educational philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, there is something very wrong with American education, and it needs to be fixed.

Gates public speeches tell a glaring story of a person who believes he has the answers to the problems of K-12 education.  Most of claims about education are based on personal opinions, not on peer-reviewed research.  He does not consult leading educational researchers, and indeed, if he did, he would be rebuffed on nearly all of his claims.

For example, he says that paying teachers based on years of experience and advanced degrees has no impact on learning.  He has no evidence to support this.  Yet, he keeps saying this, and pretty soon people believe him.  For example, I talked to a former student of mine who is a professor in North Carolina.  He explained to me that starting in April, teachers will no longer be paid at the master’s or doctoral levels.

Another of Gates claims is that class size makes no difference in the student learning.  He bases this on hearsay when he spouts that the best teachers actually want to take on more students.  Yet a meta-analysis of 100 studies in the 1980s by Gene Glass and others showed that smaller class size does affect student learning.  (See Berliner, D.C. & Glass, G. V & Associates, 50 Myths & Lies that threaten America’s Public Schools, Teachers College Press, 2014).

Nearly every claim that Gates makes about education needs to be questioned.

It seems to me that he sees education the way he sees disease.  Clearly the Gates Foundation has contributed immensely to eradicating disease and improving health around the world.  In the Gates conception of education, however, K-12 public education can be fixed by developing the means to improve standards, weed out the bad teachers, and insert an accountability system that makes educators responsible for student learning.

To fix education, the Gates Foundation has created a U.S. K-12 education program to make sure that students are able to succeed in college.  They call it the College-Ready Education program, and as I’ve stated before, it’s a very large investment, indeed, greater than $3.38 billion.

College-Ready Education

According to the Foundation there are three areas of focus in the College-Ready Education program: teaching, learning and innovation.  Each area highlights funding opportunities as follows:

Teaching: The MET Project

The major focus here has been on the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project.  According to the Foundation, the MET is designed to give feedback to teachers by investigating “what great teaching looks like, and the types of measures that can offer a fair assessment of teaching for helping every teacher be their best.

Learning: The Common Core State Standards

Figure 1. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Timeline of Grantmaking. Source of data: gates
Figure 2. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Timeline of Grantmaking. Source of data: gates

The major focus here is on the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  Funding includes working with organizations to carry out the standards into American schools.  It also means working with organizations to produce and design instructional materials tied to the CCSS.  The Foundation’s focus on learning also means measuring and gauging students’ understanding of the content in the CCSS.

Bill Gates got involved in the Common Core State Standards while they were in the “idea phase.”  As reported in a Washington Post article on June 7, 2014, Gates was approached by Gene Wilhoit, director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core (and now President of the College Board) who convinced Gates to support the development of a set of common standards that would be used in every school in the nation.  See Mercedes Schneider’s critique of this article, and why there was a three-month delay in publishing the article.  Who’s in collusion here?

Power and influence resulted in the adoption of Common Core State Standards by 45 states, but more importantly by collaboration with the Duncan run U.S. Department of Education.  Duncan required the adoption of the Common Core by states applying for the $4.5 billion Race to the Top Fund, as well as using student test scores to evaluate teachers.  All of this was done with the influence and money of the Gates Foundation.

Lindsey Layton, author of the Washington Post article put it this way:

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

One 2009 study, conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute with a $959,116 Gates grant, described the proposed standards as being “very, very strong” and “clearly superior” to many existing state standards.

Gates money went to state and local groups, as well, to help influence policymakers and civic leaders. And the idea found a major booster in President Obama, whose new administration was populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates. The administration designed a special contest using economic stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards (Layton, L. “How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution,” Washington Post  7 June 2014. Web 9 June 2014).

If you look at Figure 1 again, note that in the 2009, the number of grants and investments made by Gates more than tripled from 135 in 2008, to 434 in 2009.

Innovation: Technology and Online Learning

This focus area addresses online learning, and use of social networks, websites, and a variety of tools and technologies to produce a “new generation of courseware that adapts sophisticated ways to students’ learning needs.  Included here is game-based learning.  There is the drive here to use digital tools to individualize instruction, and to enable students to progress through (Common Core State Standards?) topics.

It seems to me that the Gates’ investments have reinforced Pasi Sahlberg’s GERM (Global Education Reform Model) theory of education reform.  Dr. Sahlberg likens educational reform to a virus which is infecting schools, especially in the Northern Alliance of countries, e.g. Australia, Europe and North America.  Unfortunately, (according to Dr. Sahlberg) so-called educational reform is simply enhancing the symptoms or characteristics of GERM.  Here is what philanthropists, such as Gates, are investing in:


  • Focus on Basics–basic knowledge and skills in reading, math, and science
  • Prescription–setting clear, centrally prescribed performance standards for all schools, all students
  • Standardized testing–collecting data through standardized testing on students’ achievement in reading, math & science.
  • Test-based accountability–school performance is tied to promotion, rewards and punishments
  • Bureaucratic control–data collected results in evaluations and inspections, less flexibility

There is much more to this story, and I’ll be publishing more graphs and charts that you can use to further understand how Gates invests in GERM. What do you think? Do you think that this kind of philanthropy is beneficial to American education?

Are the Deep Pockets of Gates, Walton, and Broad Contrary to the Ideals of Education in a Democracy?

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Creative Commons Deep Pockets by paul-henri is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Creative Commons Deep Pockets by paul-henri is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

According to the Foundation Center, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation are ranked 1, 13, and 38 respectively on the top 100 U.S. foundations by total giving.  The total assets of these three foundations as of April 2014 was $37 billion for the Gates Foundation, $1.9 billion for the Walton Foundation, and $1.6 billion for the Broad Foundation.

The total grant making in 2012 for these organizations was:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation        $3.18 billion

The Walton Family Foundation                   $423 million

The Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation           $153 million

If you count up the number of people who call the shots in these three foundations, here’s the math:

(Gates x 2) + (Walton x 6) + (Broad x 2) = 10 people

These three foundations are identified as the “Big Three Foundations” by Mercedes K. Schneider in her new book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (Public Library).  Dr. Schneider explores in-depth how Gates, Walton and Broad grant billions of dollars to organizations that meet their personal views of what education should be in America.

Diane Ravitch assigns the “big three” to the Billionaire Boys Club.  No matter how you look at it, these organizations’ money and political influence rudder American education reform toward the privatization of public education, and Common Core State Standards-High-Stakes Assessments accountability.

To be sure, there are many other Foundations that give grants to a variety of organizations whose goals merge with the Big Three, but it is the Big Three that dominate the agenda of education reform today.

Education for the People, by the People

In this blog post, I wonder if the deep pockets of just 10 people can be consistent with the ideals of public education.  Most of you know that Diane Ravitch published her recent book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Public Library).  On one of the end pages of her book she included a 1785 quote by President John Adams that I believe exposes the crux of the problem caused by the influx of money and influence from people such as the Gates, Waltons and Broads.  Adams is quoted as saying this:

The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expense of it.  There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.

Adams would be shocked by the “charitable” behavior these 10 people.

The funded organizations that are identified on the Big Three websites are pawn’s or infantry sent into schools with lots of money, political influence, and carefully laid plans  to carry out the aims of the Big Three.  Although there are differences and some overlap among those who receive their marching orders from the Big Three, it becomes obvious what the end game is when you learn who is funded.  Let’s take a look at the Big Three.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

In an earlier post (Why Bill Gates Defends the Common Core), I reported that more than 1800 “college-ready” projects have been funded by the Gates Foundation over the past five years.  Some organizations have been awarded multiple grants, and in some cases, these amounts exceeded $60 million.  In the world of Charter Schools, Gates has awarded more than $279 million.  In teacher education, Gates has given millions to Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, yet very little in funding to improve teacher education in American universities.  In the research I’ve done analyzing the Gates Awarded Grants, it can be estimated that more than $2.3 billion has been allocated to the “college-ready” category.

If you look at the names of organizations that receive Gates awards, you soon discover how education is being shaped: charter schools, temp teacher training, common standards, venture capitalism, and market-based reforms.  Figure 1 identifies some of the organizations that have received grants, as well as the amount they garnered over the past five years.

Figure 1.  Gates Funding for Corporate Reform 2010-2013.  Source of data:
Figure 1. Gates Funding for Corporate Reform 2010-2013. Source of data:

Here the grant focal points for the Gates Foundation.

Charter Schools

When I searched the Awarded Grants site at the Gates Foundation for “charter schools” it returned 134 hits.  For example in 2014, the Pacific Charter School Development, Inc. received an award totaling $3,998,633.  They joined a long list of recipients whose total amount came to $279,428,324 (see Figure 1).  Gates gives more to support charters than does Walton and Broad combined.

Common Core

Without question, the Gates Foundation leads all organizations in the U.S. to develop and implant a common set of standards in public schools.  Achieve, Inc., the organization that wrote the Common Core State Standards in Math and Language Arts, and the Next Generation Science Standards received more than $36 million from Gates. But this is only a tip of the common core iceberg. To find out the extent of the funding for the common core is not as straightforward as you might think.

Table 1. Program Categories Funded by the Gates Foundation.  Source: The Gates Foundation Website.
Table 1. Program Categories Funded by the Gates Foundation. Source: The Gates Foundation Website.

Achieve is part of a network of organizations that have spearheaded the drive to set up a common core of subjects in American schools that share the same set of performances for all students.   As you can see in Table 1, the Gates Foundation funds projects in five program areas.  You will find common core projects in the US Program, Global Policy & Advocacy and other program areas.  For example, the New Schools Venture Fund has received more than $60 million from the Gates Foundation.  As a venture capitalist organization, “their investors are betting hundreds of millions on the digital revolution in the classroom. (NewSchools Venture Fund website, extracted, May 29, 2014).”

One of the grants NewSchools received from Gates was for more than $10 million “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” (Gates Foundation Website, extracted May 29, 2014).

Implementing common core standards is a cornerstone of the Gates Foundation efforts to change American education.

Teacher Training

Teacher training is supported by the Gates Foundation through its grants to Teach for America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP).  Based on my experience and research with alternative certification programs, these programs are at simply alternative ways to get people into classrooms, even while lacking profession teaching qualifications.

Is there is a similar plan to train élite college students in six weeks in medicine for the Doctor for America (DFA) program who will be hired for two years as paid doctors in local hospitals and clinics where they will practice medicine, even though they are uncertified? Medical and teaching projects, like these, set up a pipeline of inexperienced and uncertified college graduates to teach in American school, and bolster the over stretched medical profession.  Students in these programs need to commit two years, and then move up or out of the system.

TNTP is a step-child of TFA having been founded by Michelle Rhee, who was a TFA “graduate.”  TFA has net assets of $419,098,314 for fiscal year 2012.  It receives 76% of its money from grants and gifts, and 22.3% from government grants.

In a separate investigation of TFA’s and TNTP’s role in the Race to the Top (RT3), I looked at Georgia’s RT3 Program and discovered that these organizations were receiving $15.6 million and $9.1 million to supply uncertified teachers in the greater Atlanta area, where there is no shortage of certified teachers.

The language used to describe this effort is tied up in the notion of increasing the pipeline of effective educators.

From the RT3 budget is this statement:

Increase the pipeline of effective teachers through partnership with Teach for America in Atlanta Public Schools, Clayton County, DeKalb County and Gwinnett with the first class of new TFA recruits beginning in the school year 2011-2012.  Funding included in section E project 24: $15,6000,000).

A separate line in the budget points to the same kind of arrangement with The New Teacher Project, which will provide new teachers in Savannah, Augusta, and Southwest Georgia, for $7,568,395 million.

Although these two organization provide a small share of teachers to American public schools, that the Gates Foundation and the Race to Top programs support them is troubling.  There is already legislation that supports redefining a certified teacher that includes teachers that have received minimal education, and no classroom experience.  In areas where experienced teachers are clearly more successful, Gates and even the U.S. Department of Education (ED) ignores the research on teacher effectiveness.

What about the Medical program? DFA doesn’t exist, does it? But I wonder if such a program would be accepted by the medical profession and the local community?

Teacher Evaluation

The Gates Foundation in its funded Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) theorized that it was going to be easy to identify effective teaching, especially with the use of video tapes and student test scores.  As John Thompson pointed out on Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue website over on Education Week,

The MET is a $45 million component of the “teacher quality” movement which studies test scores, teacher observations, and student survey data to isolate the elements of effective teaching. That’s great. But the MET’s assumptions about the outcomes they anticipated have been the basis for Arne Duncan’s test-driven policies — which require test scores to be a “significant part” of teacher evaluations in order for states to receive waivers for NCLB. Then, as evidence was gathered, preliminary reports noted problems with using test score growth for evaluations. The MET has continued to affirm the need for value-added (VAM) as a necessary component of their unified system of using improved instruction to drive reform, even as it reported disappointing findings.

Even though researchers have shown (using Gates Foundation data from the MET Study) that there are very low correlations between teachers instruction with state standards and state and alternative assessments, policy makers ignore such data and believe that teachers should be evaluated using student test scores.  This study reported there is no evidence of relationships curriculum alignment and composite measures of teacher effectiveness.  And they reported that lack of relationship between Danielson’s Framework of Teaching (used to measure teacher classroom behavior), Tripod (student surveys) to VAM scores.

One of the groups that Gates funds is the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).  Since 2009, NCTQ has received more than $11 million in grants.  The name of this organization is an oxymoron, yet with millions in funding from Gates, NCTQ publishes biased reports on teacher effectiveness and teacher education.  In an earlier post I showed that NCTQ reporting is nothing short of junk science, yet here we have the billionaire funding such nonsense.

And then the Colorado Legacy Foundation has received more than $20 million to carry out the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) & pursue teacher evaluation systems using student test score growth.

The Walton Family Foundation

The Walton Family Foundation made grants totaling $423 million in 2013.  According to the Walton Family Foundation website, its purpose in funding is to “infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents, especially in low-income communities.”

The Walton Family Foundation funds school projects that shape public policy, lead to the creation of “quality schools,” and improve existing schools. The California Charter Schools Association and the Alliance for School Choice were the top two recipients of grants from Walton in 2013.  Coming in third and fourth was The New Teacher Project and Teach for America.

The focus of funding of the Walton Foundation is school choice and parental choice (parent trigger) as policies supporting charter schools.


Figure 2. Walton Funding for Corporate Reform 2009 - 2013. Data Source:
Figure 2. Walton Funding for Corporate Reform 2009 – 2013. Data Source:


The Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation

The Broad funding was $153 million in 2013.  The Broad Foundation, just like Gates and Walton accuses public schools of being in distress.  They all use the same statistics to claim that American students are not able to compete for jobs in a global market, and that corporations can’t find the “workers” who possess the skills  needed to fill their positions.  The Broad Foundation highlights the value of competition by the giving of various “Broad Prizes.”  The Broad Prize, and Broad Prize for Public Charters is an annual competitions among applicants.

The Broad Foundation also supports its Broad Residency in Urban Education and the Broad Superintendents Academy.

Each of these strategies is very much like the model used by Teach for America and The New Teacher Project.  These are part-time training programs that train college graduates in five weeks to be full-time teachers.

The Broad programs trains people to be principals and superintendents, who according to many writers, tend to be confrontative with teachers and their unions, and have no problem in closing schools, and then turning around and opening schools managed by charter companies.

The Broad Foundation funds in more than fifty organizations in four larger categories as listed below.  I’ve also included two funded projects or organizations representative of each grouping.

The corporate reform funded by Gates, Walton and Broad is a cobweb of organizations that has snared public schools by means of an accountability system that uses student achievement scores as the bottom line.  The web also includes organizations whose goal is to shape policy by writing and rewriting state laws that benefit vouchers, choice, charters, and teacher evaluation.

In the next post, we enhance the web by examining the machinations of the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

If education in the United States is to be for the people, by the people, these three organizations are the antithesis of public education in a democratic society.  What do you think?