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?

The Power, Privilege, and Injustice of Authoritarian Standards & High-Stakes Testing Sham

Note: This is the first in a series of articles on the consequences of the authoritarian standards & high-stakes testing sham.

The authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing movement conjure up for me the use of power and privilege to create injustices for not only schools and teachers, but for students and their parents.  Using invalid test scores, the government has cast a net around schools that have high poverty rates resulting in many of them being labeled as failures with teachers and administrators fired, and replaced by teachers, many of whom are un-certified, and lack the teaching experience needed for these schools.

Authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing sham

And all of this is done with data that is not only invalid, but is not reliable.  As Dr. Michael Marder says, “the masses of nationwide data do point to the primary cause of school failure, but it is poverty, not teacher quality.”  So what do we do?  We create a system in which life changing decisions are made about teachers and students based on data that is not examined in the context of power, privilege, and income.  This leads to a corrupt system in which we predicate schools’ and teachers’ performance on false data, and use this data to embarrass and destroy careers of highly educated teachers, and bring havoc to families.  Why are we doing this?
Continue reading “The Power, Privilege, and Injustice of Authoritarian Standards & High-Stakes Testing Sham”

The Real Meaning of Standards: Rigor, Shock, Stacking Up, Raising the Bar!

There was an article in today’s Atlanta Journal/Constitution newspaper by Maureen Downey, a columnist who writes on education issues entitled “Georgia’s Core Values.”  The article had nothing to say about “core values”, but had a lot to say about the new national math and English/language arts “core” standards.

Surprisingly Downey writes without any criticism or questioning of the standards movement; she simply describes what the State of Georgia has decided to do (adopt the new standards in math and language), tells us that finally parents in Georgia will be able to find out how their school “stacks up” with schools in New York or California, that finally, because of the core national standards, there will be a battery of national tests that we can rely on to to really compare schools, that states that embrace the new standards are in a better position to garner some of the Race to the Top Funds, and that indeed, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank thinks the whole shebang of standards is a great idea!

Downey’s article is in stark contrast to my post yesterday in which I call into question the way in which standards are being developed, and by whom.  Here, in part, is one issue to consider:

As you explore the nature of the standards movement as it is happening in the United States, it appears as if non-profits, and professional organizations are at the heart of the development of these standards.  The Federal government’s role in all of this is rather interesting.  Rather than funding universities, which must be accountable, the organizations that are developing the standards receive funding from non-governmental businesses, organizations, and private philanthropic groups.  The groups doing the development, and the funding sources are accountable in this process to no one.

If Downey were to follow the money, she would discover that there is actually a core group of foundations and businesses that are providing the money for institutes (like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute) and non-profits (like Achieve, Inc.—a group largely responsible for writing the new standards.  If you go to any of these organizations, and click on the link that lists the organization’s financial contributors, you will probably not be surprised to learn that many of same contributors form the financial foundation for the entire standards movement.

For example, the Fordham Institute is funded by these groups:  The Achelis and Bodman Foundations, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, The Broad Foundation, The Brookhill Foundation, The Louis Calder Foundation, The Challenge Foundation, Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, The Joyce Foundation, The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, The Koret Foundation, The Kovner Foundation, Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, The Robertson Foundation, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust, The William E. Simon Foundation, The Spencer Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation.

Achieve, Inc., is funded by these groups:  The Battelle Foundation • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation • The Boeing Company • Brookhill Foundation • Carnegie Corp. of New York • The GE Foundation • IBM Corp. • Intel Foundation • JP Morgan Chase Foundation • Lumina • Nationwide • Noyce Foundation • The Prudential Foundation • State Farm Insurance Companies • Washington Mutual Foundation • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Note the overlap.

Diane Ravitch (in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System) refers to some of these organizations as the Billionaire Boys’ Club (she especially recognizes the Walton Family Foundation, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Eli and Edy the Broad Foundation, each founded by billionaire men).  Since the late 1980s (Sam Walton created his foundation in 1987), these three organizations have been behind a host of reform initiatives including school choice, charter schools, for profit schools, funding of advocacy groups (such as Achieve), performance-based teacher pay programs (Gates is investing millions), competition, deregulation, “tight” management, and “investments” in education.  As Ravitch points out, there is very little challenge to the ideas promoted by these men and their foundations.

Downey’s article, and much of the literature on standards is punctuated with language that is based on metaphors implicit in competition and sports.  For example, Downey says: “now comes the hard part, getting students up to speed on the greater rigor embedded in the standards so they can pass the national tests…”  Webster defines rigor as meaning “harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgement; the quality of being unyielding or inflexible; and act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty.  Closely connected with that fact that the new standards will be more rigorous than those in the past, is the notion that the new standards are “raising the bar” that students will have to achieve through the new national tests.  Downey puts it this way:  “It’s not a sure bet that the Core Standards will improve American academic performance because the hard part is ensuring that the curriculum, teachers and tests embrace the raised bar.”

We are on roll right now with respect to the adoption of The Common Core Standards.  Everyone is being asked to “get involved and become a Common Core supporter.”  Nearly all of the states are on board (only Texas and Alaska are holdouts).  The research that is being done on the standards is being conducted by the advocacy groups that have a huge stake in the development and implementation of the Common Standards.  For example, both the Fordham Institute and Achieve have written reports (that rate the Core Standards A+) that state boards of education use to argue the case to adopt the standards.

And here is an amazing aspect of all of this.  None of these groups are accountable to anyone (other than their own board of directors).  Yet, these advocacy groups insist that schools, administrators and teachers should be held accountable.  And indeed, many of these groups is advocating that teacher pay be based on the achievement of students on the tests that these advocacy groups develop.  It is truly amazing.

And finally, when you examine these organizations, or the teams that write the frameworks and standards, you rarely find the name of a teacher as a member.

We have a serious problem here, and to use the language of sports, we need to step up!

Billions and Billions, and I am not talking about stars!

I am talking about dollars, and how billionaires are influencing (science) education policy from the K-12 level to the U.S. Department of Education, and this is being done in an environment where the billionaires are demanding accountability from the recipients of its money, but do so without having to be held to any standards or accountability themselves.

In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch explores how testing and choice are undermining education.  As Ravitch points out, there are many philanthropic organizations such as the Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller, which have used a Request for Proposal (RFP) strategy in which they reviewed proposals, and then funded proposals that met various project goals.

In her book she identifies three new and very different foundations that decided what they wanted to accomplish, how they wanted to accomplish it, and who would be the recipients of their money—billions of dollars.  The three foundations she identified are The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, and The Broad Foundation.  If you go to their websites, you will see a vast array of “investments” that each of these foundations has and is making in education policy and practice.  So, what is the problem here?

For these foundations, their investments in education should produce measurable results.  As Ravitch points out, these organizations might have begun their education work with various goals in mind, but she suggests that they have most recently supported educational reform strategies that mirror their own experience in acquiring large fortunes.  These include competition, choice, deregulation, incentives, and other market-based approaches.

The foundations have huge sums of money available to implement reform based on these strategies, and it is very difficult of school districts to turn their backs on such generosity.  These foundations exert enormous influence on public education, and indeed, can shape public policy toward education.  Ravitch puts it this way:

They have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state.  If voters don’t like the foundations’ reform agenda, they can’t vote them out of office.  The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one.  If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them.  They are the bastions of unaccountable power.

The billions and billions of dollars that these foundations have decided to invest in education have not been reviewed or assessed by academics.  Ravitch points out that not one book has been published which questions their strategies, and there appears to be few if any published papers or articles written by university faculty, perhaps because of fear alienating the foundations resulting in not having their projects funded.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education received 100 billion dollars as part of Economic and Recovery Act to invest in K-12 education.  Four and half billion dollars have been allocated to The Race to the Top Fund in which states compete for the money.  Two states have received nearly 500 million of this money; other states will submit their proposals by June 1 for the second round of funding.  Unfortunately the Race to the Top Fund guidelines that the states must follow have been heavily influenced by the Billionaire Foundation of Gates, Walton and Broad.  Indeed, Bill Gates is an advisor to the Secretary of Education.

There is a fundamental problem here.  I will explore this more in the days ahead.  For now, I am going to watch a 60 minute segment on earthquakes.

If It Isn’t Working, Fix It!: The Case of Science in Urban Schools

Another article in the New York Times by Ellen V. Futter, “Failing Science” pointed to the utter disastrous situation of science teaching in America’s urban school districts. (You may not be able to “read” this article unless you have an account with the NYTimes). The Futter article is a response to the announced results of science in urban schools for fourth and eighth graders by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. (If you follow this link, you will be able to access all of the results of the NAEP’s Urban Science Test). As I have acknowledged on this blog, the results are not very good. Fetter cites the statistic that 43 percent of eighth graders do not have the skills to understand basic science principles. If you go to the NAEP website of test results, you will see that the authors struggle with the results. Some times its difficult to see how the kids are really doing. For example, on the Executive Summary page it says: “The percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above Basic ranged from 35 to 60 percent in the districts, compared to 66 percent for the nation. The percentage of students performing at or above Proficient ranged from 6 to 26 percent in the districts, compared to 27 percent for the nation.” What they mean is 40 to 65 percent of the kids in urban are not able to do science at the “basic” level in fourth grade compared to 34 percent for the nation. Are we in trouble when 1/3 to 2/3 of your class can not answer basic science questions on a standardized test? You’ll have to be the judge of that.

But something needs to be done to bring to students some of the wonder, excitement and joy of knowing something well. The culture of science as seen in museums and zoos, in science education learning centers such as the Boston Museum of Science, or the Exploratorium in San Francisco some how needs to reach into the schools, especially our urban schools. There are simply too many students who could be challenged to do well, if given the chance, and could prosper in science learning environments. Atlanta just built a multi-million dollar aquarium (Georgia Aquarium). More than 3 million people visited the museum in its first year, and just after a year, millions of dollars of improvements will be made to the museum. Many museums around the country have school programs, as the Georgia Aquarium does, but simply bringing kids to a museum for a field trip is not going to impact the culture of the school, where the problem really lies. The culture of school learning needs to change.

Most science is taught using text books that allow teachers who are not prepared to teach science to involve kids in memorizing facts, rather than engaging in hands on science activities. The classroom culture does not reflect the natural world, nor does it foster an exploratory or discovery oriented way of looking at learning. I know these are generalizations, but they are based on research by Horizons Research, Inc. that looked at the activities that teachers use in science classrooms. According to results on a year 2000 report, about 9 percent of classes work on extended science investigations, or help kids design their own experiments, and event less are involved in reporting any of their findings to the class. Instead learning is extremely “school-like” with predictable activities such as reading from the text, following instructions in a “lab” activity, working in groups. The culture of the museum or the natural world, or how people in science work is not really present in school. Kids rarely debate science ideas. They rarely do lab activities or science projects in which answers are unknown. Students rarely contribute to important science-related social issues such as working on projects where they monitor air pollution, or look at the quality of the water in their local streams, or what the geology is under their school!

There are however examples out there that contribute to changing the culture of school. The Gates Foundation, which I’ve written about, is working with some urban schools to reduce the SCHOOL size, enabling teachers to create more personal learning environments, and more opportunities for students to worth on relevant (to the students) projects, engage in debates about various topics, not only in science, but other areas of life.

There are other examples of how to change the culture of school. Learning Styles work by Rita Dunn and associates have shown that focusing on the variety of ways that people learn can have a powerful impact on changing the culture of the school. Work by Carol Tomlinson and others on Differentiated Instruction is a powerful way of working with classrooms that are diverse. I’ve been a long-time supporter of the 4MAT system, developed by Bernice McCarthy. 4MAT is a powerful tool for organizing instruction around diverse ways that students learn.

These are pedagogical approaches to changing the culture of schools. However, cities like Atlanta need to start with changing the culture of how businesses, institutions of higher education, science centers and museums view their relationship to public schooling, and their responsibilities for improving the quality of education in their own community. This is where we must start to fix the problem.