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: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database
Figure 1. Gates Funding for Corporate Reform 2010-2013. Source of data: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database

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: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/
Figure 2. Walton Funding for Corporate Reform 2009 – 2013. Data Source: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/

 

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?

Common Corporate Science Standards?

My choice of a title for this blog post is not a play on words, but describes the current effort to write the next generation of science standards.  The next generation of science standards is being developed by Achieve, Inc., a corporate and foundation support-type organization that was established in 1996 by governors and corporate leaders, not educators, to support standards-based reform.  According to the Achieve website, governors and corporate leaders:

formed Achieve as an independent, bipartisan, non-profit education reform organization. To this day, Achieve remains the only education reform organization led by a Board of Directors of governors and business leaders.

Where are the educators?

On their website they write that (Education Week) ranked Achieve in 2006 as one of the most influential organizations in education. Over the past years, Achieve has influenced the standards in nearly every state through it’s development of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics, and English language arts. In some cases the Common Core Standards were imposed on states that applied for Race-to-the-Top funds, a reform program of the U.S. department of Education, that has not yet proven to work.

Problems with the Common Standards

There are a number of problems associated with the Common Core Standards movement. Achieve is an external, corporate driven organization without the accountability to which teachers, administrators and schools are held.  Achieve lacks the oversight that schools and universities are held to through professional and peer reviewed panels that have the authority to make recommendations for change, and in extreme cases, revoke accreditation. Achieve is responsible only to it’s donors, and board.  Many of the donor corporations and foundations are involved in educational reform that over laps with the goals of Achieve. On the surface there appears to be many conflicts of interest in this mix, and one wonders about the transparency of the system leading back to involvement of true educators.

Achieve also has stated that a single set of standards in each content discipline can work for students regardless of where they live. This makes little sense given the diversity of the United States, and the increasing rate of poverty in the country.  What is the connection between the standards being developed and students from poor families?

Standards are opinions of a subset of professors, mostly from the academic disciplines, often appearing on boards and planning and writing teams for the first time. And in some cases participants of the teams ought to be replaced with fresh faces. Are there concepts in science, for example, that every human being must know? Probably.  A set of standards for every student? We really do not have a way to determine what every student should know, and we have to wonder why we are so obsessed with this.   Why, in a nation of 50 states, and 15,000 school districts, do we insist of a single set of standards, all of which are discipline based.

Rationale for Corporate Reform

Achieve is operating on the assumption that American education is lagging the rest of the world, and it needs to be fixed. There is little evidence to make this claim. Reformers nearly always claim that the nation is at risk, and if reforms of their own designs are not put forward, students will not be able to compete with their peers, especially at the global level.  Again, the evidence to support this is not there.

What we have going on now is the corporate reform of public education with a very small group of foundational and corporate leaders leveraging the buy out of public education. Instead of professional teachers, and professional organizations leading reform, they are on the periphery of this reform. The reform is characterized as top down, with charter schools and school choice becoming the rallying cry of this reform effort.

The development of the new generation of science standards is underway at Achieve, and although 20 states, NSTA and AAAS are involved, one of the basic tenants of science is not driving the development—and that is the peer review process.  Furthermore, the research that Achieve reports on its website that it has completed is not research conducted through the peer review process.  To what extent can we accept their “research” findings?

Peer Review

It would have been in the best interests of public education if a more scholarly framework that included peer review would have guided the development of science education standards.

From the beginning there should have been a Request For Proposals (RFP) from an organization such as the National Science Foundation (NSF).   Proposals could have been accepted from any university, research and development organization, or organizations such as Achieve.   As it was, Achieve had already been selected prior to the National Research Council’s project to develop a Framework for Science Education.  The Carnegie Foundation funded this, and is providing additional funds for Achieve to carryout the writing of the science standards.

If an RFP had been announced, the process would have entered the research and development community, and it would have given more groups of researchers and developers an opportunity to participate in the creation of the new generation of science standards.  The organization that would receive funding would be accountable to the funding organization, and to the peer review process.  Furthermore, the recipient of the funds would also engage in science education research, which would be published in peer review journals.

In a democratic society, we must raise questions when one organization has a monopoly on an industry, including educational reform.  Education in the United States is best represented by diverse goals, by learning/education that is rooted in the lived experiences of students, and the by the local control of schooling.  It is not represented very well by the central command and control system that appears to rest with Achieve, Inc.

We have a problem here, and it will take reform to change this.