Archives for category: Gates Foundation

David Sirota explains in the journal “In These Times” that there is a conflict between big-time philanthropy and democracy. He describes recent conference where the tech industry wrung its collective hands about inequality without acknowledging that it is a source of frowing inequality.

“Indeed, there seems to be a trend of billionaires and tech firms making private donations to public institutions ostensibly with the goal of improving public services. Yet, many of these billionaires are absent from efforts to raise public resources for those same institutions. Zuckerberg is only one example.

“For instance, hedge funders make big donations to charter schools. Yet, the hedge fund industry lobbies against higher taxes that would generate new revenue for education.

“Meanwhile, Microsoft boasts about making donations to schools, while the company has opposed proposals to increase taxes to fund those schools.

“To understand the conflict between democracy and this kind of philanthropy, remember that private donations typically come with conditions about how the money must be allocated. In education, those conditions can be about anything from curriculum to testing standards to school structure. No matter what the conditions are, though, they effectively circumvent the democratic process and dictate policy to public institutions. While those institutions can reject a private donor’s money, they are often desperate for resources.
In this, we see a vicious cycle that undermines democratic control. Big money interests use anti-democratic campaign finance laws to fund anti-tax policies that deprive public institutions of resources. Those policies make public institutions desperate for private resources. When philanthropists offer those resources, they often make the money contingent on public officials relinquishing democratic control and acceding to ideological demands.

“Disruption theory is usually the defense of all this—the hypothesis being that billionaire cash is the only way to force public institutions to do what they supposedly need to do. But whether or not you believe that theory, Gore is correct: It isn’t democratic. In fact, it is quite the opposite.””

Somehow I missed this piece when it appeared several months ago. It is a Mercedes classic, where she shows her skill at reading tax returns and connecting the dots.

You may or may not recall that Attorney General of New York Eric Schneiderman fined the Pearson Foundation $7.7 million for engaging in activities related to its for-profit parent Pearson. In some regions, this fine would be referred to as “chump change” or “chicken feed” for a billion-dollar corporation.

Mercedes digs into this story and finds a golden goose. And the golden goose is the Common Core standards.

Chalkbeat is a news organization that covers New York City and recently expanded to Memphis. It was previously called Gotham Schools.

Daniel Katz of Seton Hall University recently complained that Chalkbeat is biased in favor of charter schools. He notes that it is funded by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation, both of which are strong supporters of charter schools.

Katz quotes a letter written by Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters and other community leaders, pointing out Chalkbeat’s unfair coverage of pro-charter and anti-charter activities. Chalkboard failed to send a reporter to cover a citywide rally organized by Community Education Councils.

Chalkboard published the letter of protest in full, with the signatories.

Haimson wrote:

“Rather than sending one of your reporters to cover this event, you only posted a short blurb clearly taken from the press release after the fact. Chalkbeat’s failure to assign a reporter to the event glaringly contrasts with your close and detailed coverage of every move made by the charter operators and their backers. Indeed, you published two different stories on the charter march across the Brooklyn Bridge, three different stories on the Albany rally for charters (though you failed to disclose that Gov. Cuomo was actually behind it) , and on March 29 you ran two stories on reactions to the budget bills, BOTH from the point of view of the charter operators.

“Even more importantly, you have failed to cover any of the substantive issues and reasons behind our anger, including how unprecedented these charter provisions are, how they apply only to NYC, how they will detract from the city’s already underfunded capital plan and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, while thousands of public school students will continue sit in trailers or in overcrowded classrooms, without art, music, science or therapy and counseling rooms, or on waiting lists for Kindergarten.” (Full disclosure: I am an unpaid member of the board of directors of Class Size Matters, but had no role in writing this letter.)

Chalkbeat responded that they wished they had attended the event in question.

This exchange reveals the serious problem that journalistic outlets face today. Can they survive without outside funding when so much information is available for free on the Internet? Can they be independent when their survival depends on funding from foundations or funders with a strong point of view?

To my knowledge, Gates does not support any organization–journalistic or think tank or advocacy–that is critical of charter schools or high-stakes testing. I would love to be proven wrong. To my knowledge, Walton does not support any organization or think tank or academic program unless it is a strong supporter of charter schools and, in many cases, vouchers. Both foundations are supporters of privatization of public education. There are good reporters at Chalkbeat, but like Katz, I worry about the publication’s capacity to be independent when funded by the billionaire boys’ club.

Jack Schneider, a historian of education at the College of the Holy Cross, writes that public schools actually outperform private and charter schools but it is a deeply kept secret.

There is a reason.

Private schools and charter schools build their brand.

They aspire to be selective.

They market themselves to create a sense of scarcity.

Parents think they are lucky if their child is accepted.

Public schools don’t have scarcity: they accept everyone.

They don’t have a brand: they are the community public school.

They don’t put up flyers, send out post cards, buy television advertising, boast that they are better than the competition.

Schneider writes:

None of this is intended as a takedown of private and charter schools. Many do good work, and they should be valued for that. Rather, the point is that public schools suffer from a divergence between public perception and measurable reality. Knowing this, we might conduct fewer conversations about an ostensible crisis in public education, driven by the troubles of a small number of schools, and, instead, concentrate on the importance of cultivating positive reputations among the vast majority of public schools that are doing just fine. Traditional public schools need not build their brands in order to ensure survival—after all, they educate 90 percent of young people. But they may need to do so in order to secure the good faith of the American public—faith that is essential to a healthy and thriving system.

 

The problem is that it is expensive to build a brand identity. Why should public schools spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to compete with the charters or with each other, when all that money should go towards paying for the arts, smaller classes, supplies, and other needed resources?

Strange to say, the column was underwritten by the Gates Foundation and Participant Media, which sponsored “Waiting for ‘Superman,'” which did so much damage–unfairly, unethically–to American public education.

Maybe the Gates Foundation would agree to spend $1 billion restoring the public reputation of public schools, which it has done so much to vilify–unfairly.

 

 

Joanne Barkan has written several important articles for Dissent magazine on the role of big foundations in shaping education policy. She spoke at the Network for Public Education conference in Austin on March 1-2 about how to criticize the role of big philanthropies in reforming our schools. She prepared this draft of her remarks:

How to Criticize “Big Philanthropy” Effectively

by Joanne Barkan

Criticizing philanthropy of any kind is tricky. To most people, a negative appraisal sounds off-base or churlish—just another instance of “No good deed goes unpunished.” Criticizing the immense private foundations that finance and shape the market-model “reform” of public education in the United States produces the same reaction. “You’re going after Bill Gates?” I’ve been asked incredulously. “Leave him alone. He’s doing great work in Africa.”

Actually, the Gates Foundation’s work in Africa has serious critics, but suppose, for the sake of argument, that the foundation does much good there. Or suppose that Bloomberg Philanthropies announces tomorrow that it will spend $1 billion over the next five years to promote gun control in the United States. Would those of us who oppose market-model ed-reform but support mosquito nets for Africa and gun control here still criticize the mega-foundations? Would we criticize them in the same way?

There are at least three approaches to criticizing the role of big philanthropy in ed-reform. Understanding how they differ makes for a more effective analysis and stronger arguments.

The first approach focuses on the failure of specific policies pushed by the foundations and the harm they do to teaching and learning. For example, an exposé of using value added modeling to measure the effectiveness of individual teachers would deal with the inherent unreliability of the calculations, the nonsensical use of faulty formulas to measure growth in learning, and the negative consequences of rating teachers with such a flawed tool.

The second approach examines how big philanthropy’s ed-reform activity undermines the democratic control of public education, an institution that is central to a functioning democracy. The questions to ask are these: Has the public’s voice in the governance of public education been strengthened or weakened? Are politicians more or less responsive? Is the press more or less free to inform them?

This approach pinpoints certain types of foundation activity: paying the salaries of high-level personnel to do ed reform work within government departments; making grants to education departments dependent on specific politicians remaining in office; promoting mayoral control and state control of school districts instead of control by elected school boards; financing scores of ed reform nonprofits to implement and advocate for the foundations’ pet policies—activity that has undermined the autonomy and creativity of the nonprofit sector in education; funding (thus influencing) the national professional associations of government officials, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, the United states Conference of Mayors, and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices; and funding media coverage of education.

The third approach examines large private foundations as peculiar and problematic institutions in a democracy. This approach considers big philanthropy in general and uses ed reform as one example of how mega-foundations undermine democratic governance  and civil society. The objections to wealthy private corporations dedicated to doing good (as they see it) have remained the same since the early twentieth-century when the first mega-foundations were created: they intervene in public life but aren’t accountable to the public; they are privately governed but publicly subsidized by being tax exempt; and in a country where money translates into political power, they reinforce the problem of plutocracy—the exercise of power derived from wealth.

Of course, all three approaches to criticizing big philanthropy can be part of the same discussion, but the distinctions help to create a more coherent point of view. They make answering the inevitable challenges easier. Here are some of those challenges and possible responses. Not everyone will agree with the responses. Consider them feasible options.

Challenge: You seem to believe that ed-reform philanthropy is some sort of nefarious conspiracy. Here we go again with conspiracy theories.

Response: By definition conspiracies are secret and illegal. The ed-reform movement isn’t a conspiracy. When people or organizations work together politically in a democracy, it’s a coalition or movement. This is true even when—as is the case with the ed-reform movement—huge amounts of money are being spent by mega-foundations and private meetings take place.

 

Challenge: You wrongly depict the ed-reform movement and the foundations involved as homogeneous with everyone marching in lockstep. The movement is actually very heterogeneous and rife with disagreements.

Response: Coalitions and movements are rarely, if ever, completely homogeneous. Yet their members agree generally on basic principles and goals. That’s how they make progress. The ed-reform movement is no different. The most significant policy difference among ed-reform foundations is on vouchers—the per-pupil funding that parents can move from a district public school to a private school, often including religious schools. Some foundations, for example, Walton, support vouchers; others, for example, Gates and Broad, do not.

Challenge: You constantly impugn the motives of the mega-foundations. Do you really think Melinda Gates or Eli Broad wants to hurt children?

Response: Of course, the philanthropists aim to do good, but they define “good.” It makes no sense to question their motives. The directors of the Walton Foundation believe that school vouchers will improve education. By supporting vouchers, they believe they are doing good. But when philanthropists enter the public policy fray, they—like everyone else—legitimately become fair game for criticism of their positions and activity. Tax-exemptions shouldn’t create sacred cows.

Challenge: Private foundations spend perhaps $1.5 or $2 billion annually on K-12 education in the United States. That’s minuscule compared to the more than $525 billion http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_205.asp that government spends every year. You exaggerate the influence that private foundations exert with their drop-in-the-bucket donations.

Response: Government spending on public education goes to basic and fixed expenses. Most states and urban school districts can’t cover their costs—they run deficits and/or cut outlays. Sociologists have shown that discretionary spending—spending beyond what covers ordinary running costs—is where policy is shaped and changed. The mega-foundations use their grants as leverage: they give money to grantees who agree to adopt the foundations’ pet policies. Resource-starved states and school districts feel compelled to say yes to millions of dollars even when many strings are attached or they consider the policies unwise.

Challenge: Private foundations don’t weaken democracy. They add another voice to the democratic debate. This increases pluralism and actually strengthens democracy.

Response: Money translates too easily into political power in the United States, and the country is becoming increasingly plutocratic. Mega-foundations exacerbate this tendency. In the realm of public education policy, they have too much influence, and this undermines democracy.

Joanne Barkan’s writing on philanthropy, private foundations, and public education reform has appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Nonprofit Quarterly, the Washington Post, Dissent magazine, and other publications. Many of her articles can be found at http://www.dissentmagazine.org/author/joannebarkan.

Across the nation, parents and educators are raising objections to the Common Core standards, and many states are reconsidering whether to abandon them as well as the federally-funded tests that accompany them. Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Roundtable vocally support them, yet the unease continues and pushback remains intense.

Why so much controversy?

The complaints are coming from all sides: from Tea Party activists who worry about a federal takeover of education and from educators, parents, and progressives who believe that the Common Core will standardize instruction and eliminate creativity in their classrooms.

But there is a more compelling reason to object to the Common Core standards.

They were written in a manner that violates the nationally and international recognized process for writing standards. The process by which they were created was so fundamentally flawed that these “standards” should have no legitimacy.

Setting national academic standards is not something done in stealth by a small group of people, funded by one source, and imposed by the lure of a federal grant in a time of austerity.

There is a recognized protocol for writing standards, and the Common Core standards failed to comply with that protocol.

In the United States, the principles of standard-setting have been clearly spelled out by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

On its website ANSI describes how standards should be developed in every field. The American National Standards Institute

“has served in its capacity as administrator and coordinator of the
United States private sector voluntary standardization system for
more than 90 years. Founded in 1918 by five engineering societies
and three government agencies, the Institute remains a private,
nonprofit membership organization supported by a diverse
constituency of private and public sector organizations.

“Throughout its history, ANSI has maintained as its
primary goal the enhancement of global competitiveness of U.S.
business and the American quality of life by promoting and
facilitating voluntary consensus standards and conformity
assessment systems and promoting their integrity. The Institute
represents the interests of its nearly 1,000 company, organization,
government agency, institutional and international members through
its office in New York City, and its headquarters in
Washington, D.C.”

ANSI’s fundamental principles of standard-setting are transparency, balance, consensus, and due process, including a right to appeal by interested parties. According to ANSI, there are currently more than 10,000 American national standards, covering a broad range of activities.

The Common Core standards were not written in conformity with the ANSI standard-setting process that is broadly recognized across every field of endeavor.

If the Common Core standards applied to ANSI for recognition, they would be rejected because the process of writing the standards was so deeply flawed and did not adhere to the “ANSI Essential Requirements.”

ANSI states that “Due process is the key to ensuring that ANSs are developed in an environment that is equitable, accessible and responsive to the requirements of various stakeholders. The open and fair ANS process ensures that all interested and affected parties have an opportunity to participate in a standard’s development. It also serves and protects the public interest since standards developers accredited by ANSI must meet the Institute’s requirements for openness, balance, consensus and other due process safeguards.”

The Common Core standards cannot be considered standards when judged by the ANSI requirements. According to ANSI, the process of setting standards must be transparent, must involve all interested parties, must not be dominated by a single interest, and must include a process for appeal and revision.

The Common Core standards were not developed in a transparent manner. The standard-setting and writing of the standards included a significant number of people from the testing industry, but did not include a significant number of experienced teachers, subject-matter experts, and other educators from the outset, nor did it engage other informed and concerned interests, such as early childhood educators and educators of children with disabilities. There was no consensus process. The standards were written in 2009 and adopted in 2010 by 45 states and the District of Columbia as a condition of eligibility to compete for $4.3 billion in Race to the Top funding. The process was dominated from start to finish by the Gates Foundation, which funded the standard-setting process. There was no process for appeal or revision, and there is still no process for appeal or revision.

The reason to oppose the Common Core is not because of their content, some of which is good, some of which is problematic, some of which needs revision (but there is no process for appeal or revision).

The reason to oppose the Common Core standards is because they violate the well-established and internationally recognized process for setting standards in a way that is transparent, that recognizes the expertise of those who must implement them, that builds on the consensus of concerned parties, and that permits appeal and revision.

The reason that there is so much controversy and pushback now is that the Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education were in a hurry and decided to ignore the nationally and internationally recognized rules for setting standards, and in doing so, sowed
suspicion and distrust. Process matters.

According to ANSI, here are the core principles for setting standards:

The U.S. standardization system is based on the following set of globally accepted principles for standards development:*Transparency Essential information regarding
standardization activities is accessible to all interested
parties.
* Openness
Participation is open to all affected interests.

* Impartiality

No one interest
dominates the process or is favored over another.

* Effectiveness and Relevance


Standards are relevant and effectively respond to regulatory and
market needs, as well as scientific and technological
developments.

* Consensus
Decisions are reached through consensus among those
affected.

* PerformanceBased
Standards are performance based (specifying essential
characteristics rather than detailed designs) where
possible.

* Coherence


The process encourages coherence to avoid overlapping and
conflicting standards.

* Due Process
Standards development accords with due process so that
all views are considered and appeals are possible.

* TechnicalAssistance

Assistance is offered to developing countries in the formulation and application
of standards.
In addition, U.S. interests strongly agree that the process should be:

* Flexible, allowing the use of different methodologies to meet the needs of different technology and product sectors;

*Timely, so that purely administrative
matters do not result in a failure to meet market expectations;
and

* Balanced among
all affected interests.

page7image15608

Lacking most of these qualities, especially due process, consensus among interested groups, and the right of appeal, the Common Core cannot be considered authoritative, nor should they be considered standards. The process of creating national academic standards should be revised to accord with the essential and necessary procedural requirements of standard-setting as described by the American National Standards Institute. National standards cannot be created ex nihilo without a transparent, open, participatory consensus process that allows for appeal and revision.

United States Standards Strategy
http://www.us-standards-strategy.org

The Gates Foundation spent nearly $200 million to pay for the writing, review, evaluation, dissemination, and promotion of the Common Core standards.

It is difficult to find a D.C.-based education organization that has not received millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation to promote the standards.

Bill Gates believes in the Common Core standards.

That is why he wrote this article to explain that they really were developed by parents, teachers, local governments, and others, not by four D.C.-based organizations that he funded.

He also wants you to know that Common Core will not mean more testing. He said so, so it must be so. It does not concern him that almost all testing will be done online by two federally-funded consortia, and the questions will be written by people who work for those organizations, not by the teachers who know the students best.

And he is not at all concerned that the standards were never field-tested, even though Microsoft would never launch a new product line without extensive field-testing.

Nor does it bother him that whenever the standards have been tested, passing rates drop by 30% or so, and most kids are told they have failed.

Nor does he comment on the unusually high failure rate of English learners, students with disabilities, and students of color. Consistency matters!

Do you agree with Bill Gates?

Will common standards produce more or less creativity?

 

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