Archives for category: Gates Foundation

Mercedes Schneider reviews what is in store for children in Néw Jersey when they take the PARCC test:

“PARCC testing in New Jersey is scheduled to begin March 2, 2015. The NJ PARCC testing “window” will not end in March, but will continue into April, May, and June, depending upon the grade level and whether the test is part of the PBA (performance-based assessment), which is given 75% of the way through a school year, or EOY (end of year), which comes 90% of the way into a school year.

“For third grade, New Jersey schools must schedule 4.75 hours for the English language arts (ELA) PBA and EOY PARCC and 5 hours for the math PBA and EOY PARCC.

“Just shy of 10 hours of schedules testing time for a third grader.

“For fourth and fifth graders it is a full 10 hours.

“For sixth through eighth graders, almost 11 hours.”

Why is it necessary to spend so much time to find out whether children can read and do math?

Some parent groups are urging opting out.

The opt out talk has grown so loud that DC-based Education Trust has sent opinion pieces to Néw Jersey papers urging parents not to opt out. Schneider points out that Education Trust is heavily funded by the Gates Foundation.

New Jersey parents: do not subject your children to 10 hours of testing. Opt out.

Anthony Cody will speak on February 4 at 5:15 pm at the University of Georgia Chapel.

Cody is an experienced educator, a fearless blogger, co-founder of the Network for Public Education, and author of the recently published “The Educator and the Oligarch,” about his public debate with the Gates Foundation.

Anthony Cody has been a persistent critic of the hubris of the Gates Foundation. Not long ago, he managed to get an agreement from the foundation to engage in a debate about the foundation’s agenda, what it is and what it should be. That debate became the basis for Cody’s recent book The Educator and the Oligarch. Cody wants the foundation to pay more attention to experienced educators, not so much to economists and theoreticians who don’t know much about the realities of classrooms today.

 

In this post, he holds out hope that the foundation might display a new humility because of the recently expressed views of its new CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellman, who taught for two years in Uganda. She was quoted saying,

 

On a very practical level, that time in Uganda was a lesson about what it takes to work successfully in a different culture. “I learned about what it really takes to work at scale in a poor country. As a western academician, as a Gates Foundation person, the first thing you should be doing is listening and learning. And have a huge sense of humility about what you don’t know,” she said.

 

I googled Dr. Desmond-Hellman, and I must say, she has an extraordinarily impressive resume. I think her appointment signals that the Gates Foundation will review and increase its investments in public health, especially in impoverished nations.

 

It is not clear where she might take the foundation’s top-down, heavy-handed education agenda, which has so far produced no results and tremendous hostility towards the foundation. Bill Gates said in 2013 that “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.” It seems that the many teachers and principals who have been fired, the wreckage caused by the foundation’s love of standardized testing and data, are simply collateral damage while Mr. Gates waits to figure out, a decade from now, whether “our education stuff” is working.

 

I am betting on Sue Desmond-Hellman. Something tells me that her life experience is broad enough and deep enough to warn her away from evidence-free experimentation with people’s lives. I may be wrong, but I will take a wait-and-see attitude and hope for the best. Sue, I’m counting on you.

A new report released by UNICEF at the World Economic Forum in Davos says that inequitable funding is an obstacle to educational equity. Rich kids in poor countries get more funding from the government than poor kids. You may know that the United States is one of the few countries where more public money is spent on affluent students than on poor students. In most other advanced nations, more money is spent on the neediest children. David Sirota wrote about the report for the International Business Times.

 

Sirota writes:

 

The trend documented by the report shows poor, developing-world countries mimicking a trend in the United States, which stands out as one of the only industrialized countries that devotes less public money to educating students from low-income families than on educating students from high-income families.

 

According to a recent analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it is one of the few economically developed nations that tends to spend more public resources to educate wealthy students than to educate low-income students. A 2011 U.S. Department of Education report found that in the United States “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding, leaving students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.”

 

Sirota points out that one of the cosponsors of the report is the Gates Foundation, which “has been criticized for using its partnerships with other organizations to promote a particular education ideology.”

 

And he adds:

 

In the United States, the foundation has specifically championed privately run charter schools, which often siphon resources from traditional public schools. The foundation has also promoted the Common Core curriculum, which has been criticized as a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to education content. Both the curriculum and the larger shift to technology focused charter schools could have commercial benefits for Microsoft, the firm founded by Bill Gates.

 

When asked whether Unicef is prescribing a similar approach to international education aid for low-income countries, meaning charter schools, Common Core-style curriculum and a focus on technology, Brown first touted “the right of individual countries to make their own decisions about how they shape their own education system according to their needs and their economic policies and economic objectives.”

 

However, he seemed to echo some of the core themes of the Gates Foundation, touting what he called “international best practices … which learn from the experience of charter schools.”

 

He said lawmakers should be looking at “how we can disseminate the best practices that exist in some countries and persuade other countries that they are worth looking at.”

 

“We are learning that the quality of teachers, which is what the Gates Foundation has emphasized matters, the quality of head teachers and leadership in schools matters, the curriculum itself is an issue that has to be debated at all times because you’ve got to learn from what works and what doesn’t work … and how you apply technology and use it most effectively,” he said.

 

Curious that the spokesman for the report said that charter schools exemplify “international best practices.” One wonders if he was thinking of “no excuses” charters, or Gulen charters, or for-profit charters.

Two Tulsa teachers risked their jobs by refusing to administer state tests to their first grade students, reports John Thompson.

Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones hereby join the blog’s honor roll as heroes if American children, defending the rights and childhood of their students.

He writes:

“These first grade teachers, Miss Karen Hendren and Mrs. Nikki Jones were featured in a front page Tulsa World and the United Opt Out web site. They wrote an open letter to parents documenting the damage being done by testing and the new value-added evaluation system being implemented by the Tulsa schools under the guidance of the Gates Foundation.

“Miss Hendren and Mrs. Jones explain how this obsession with testing “has robbed us of our ethics. They are robbing children of their educational liberties.” Our poorest kids are falling further behind because they are being robbed of reading instruction. By Hendren’s and Jones’ estimate, their students lose 288 hours or 72 days of school to testing!

“They inventory the logistics of administering five sets of first grade tests, as classes are prepared for high-stakes third grade reading tests. More importantly, they described the brutality of the process.

“Miss Hendren and Mrs. Jones recount the strengths of four students who are victims of the testing mania. One pulls his hair, two cry, one throws his chair, and the fourth, who could be categorized as gifted and talented, is dismayed that his scores are low, despite his mastery of so many subjects. Particularly interesting was the way that “adaptive” testing, which is supposed to be a more constructive, individualized assessment, inevitably results in students reaching their failure level, often prompting discouragement or, even, despair….”

Their superintendent Keith Ballard is no fan of high-stakes testing. But he has a problem: he accepted Gates money:

“Tulsa has an otherwise excellent superintendent, Keith Ballard, who has opposed state level testing abuses. He has invested in high-quality early education and full-service community schools. Ballard also deserves credit for investing in the socio-emotional. I doubt he would be perpetuating this bubble-in outrage if he had a choice. But Tulsa accepted the Gates Foundation’s grant money. So, Ballard is threatening the teachers’ jobs.”

Will Superintendent Ballard listen to his professional ethics or to the Gates Foundation?

David Callahan wrote an insightful article in “Inside Philanthropy” about something that most of us have noticed: the growing power of foundations that use their money to impose their ideas and bypass democratic institutions. In effect, mega-foundations like Gates and Walton use their vast wealth to short circuit democracy.

Callahan identifies five scary trends but they all boil down to the same principle: Unaccountable power is supplanting democracy.

He writes:

“1. The growing push to convert wealth into power through philanthropy

“Look at nearly any sector of U.S. society, and you’ll find private funders wielding growing power. Most dramatic has been the reshaping of public education by philanthropists like Gates and the Waltons, but the footprint of private money has also grown when it comes to healthcare, the environment, the economy, social policy, science, and the arts.

“Whether you agree or disagree with the specific views pushed by private funders, you’ve got to be disturbed by how a growing army of hands-on mega donors and foundations seem to get more clever every year about converting their money into societal influence. Love it or hate it, the Common Core is a great example: In effect, private funders are helping determine how tens of millions of kids will be educated for years to come. And to think that we once saw public education as America’s most democratic institution!

“Inevitably, the upshot of all this is a weaker voice for ordinary folks over the direction of American life. The veteran funder Gara LaMarche has a recent piece in Democracy that crystallizes the worries that many people have that philanthropy has become a powerful agent of civic inequality.

“2. How philanthropic dollars have become another form of political money

“Zeroing in on politics, we see philanthropic money increasingly shaping public policy and legislative outcomes. This trend isn’t new, of course, and along with Sally Covington, I wrote in the 1990s about the huge influence that conservative foundations like Bradley and Olin had over policy debates of that era by funding a network of think tanks and legal groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. Perhaps the greatest achievement of these funders was knocking off the federal welfare entitlement, after investing millions in work by Charles Murray and others.

“What’s different today is that many more funders, with much more money, are playing the policy game.”

The money quote: “And to think that we once saw public education as America’s most democratic institution!”

In city after city, state after state, wealthy funders are underwriting charter schools to replace democratically controlled public schools, school closings, mayoral control, state takeovers, and other means of removing democratic institutions. These funders have no compunction about privatizing “America’smost democratic institution.” They think they are acting in the public interest by removing the public from public education. Their wealth leads them to exercise power recklessly. They think they know everything because they are richer than almost everyone else. They are wrong. And their arrogance is dangerous.

The Gates-funded poll called “Primary Sources” shows that teachers are souring on the Common Core. The report is co-sponsored annually by Gates and publisher Scholastic.

Emmanuel Felton of the HECHINGER Report writes:

“Fewer teachers are enthusiastic about Common Core implementation and fewer think the new standards will help their students, according to a survey sponsored by education publisher Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“The percentage of teachers who are enthusiastic about Common Core – a set of academic guidelines in math and English that more than 40 states have adopted – is down from 73 percent last year to 68 this year, according to a poll of 1,600 teachers across the country. And while more teachers continue to believe that the standards will help not hurt their students – 48 percent compared to 17 percent – the percentage of teachers in the survey who think the Common Core standards will be good for most of their students is down sharply from 57 percent in last year’s poll. The percentage of teachers who think it will hurt has more than doubled from 8 percent to 17 percent. And the percentage of teachers who think the standards won’t make much of a difference remained the same at 35 percent.”

The Gates-Scholastic poll is at odds with other polls. It shows support among a large majority of teachers, which is declining. Others show opposition among a majority of teachers.

The Ednext poll shows that a majority of teachers in the nation now oppose the Common Core. The Ednext poll shows a one-year drop in support among teachers from 76% to 46%.

A recent poll in Tennessee conducted by Vanderbilt University found that 59% of teachers in the state want to abandon Common Core. “With the future of Common Core under fire in Tennessee, a new report from the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development could provide more ammunition to those who want to roll back the standards.

“The new 2014 survey, undertaken by a group led by Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development and released Wednesday, found that just 39 percent of respondents believe that teaching to the standards will improve student learning — compared with 60 percent who said the same last year.

“It also found 56 percent of the 27,000 Tennessee teachers who responded to the survey want to abandon the standards, while 13 percent would prefer to delay their implementation. Only 31 percent want to proceed. The 2013 survey did not ask questions in this area.”

Sarah Darer Littman, who writes about education issues in Connecticut, tells a shocking story here of power and money.

The Hartford, Connecticut, schools are under mayoral control; the mayor appoints 5 of 9 members of the board of education. The other four are elected by the public. But the Board is bound by its bylaws to act as a whole. The five are not supposed to hold secret meetings to make policy.

But that is exactly what happened. The mayor’s five appointees met in secret with the Gates Foundation and charter school advocates. The Gates Foundation announced a $5 million grant in December 2012.

“On June 29, 2012, staff members of the Gates Foundation came to Hartford for a meeting. According to a memo former Hartford Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto sent to the Board on October 12, 2012 — which was the first time the wider board knew of the meeting — “Participants included Board of Education Chair Matthew Poland, Mayor Segarra, Hartford Public Schools, Achievement First and Jumoke Academy senior staff members, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Connecticut Council for Education Reform, ConnCAN, and other corporate, community and philanthropic partners.”

“The grant was paid through the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, which receives 3 percent of the total ($150,000) for serving as fiscal agent. $150,000. Just think of all the Donors Choose literacy programs in Hartford that money would fund, saving teachers the indignity of having to beg donations for sets of classroom books.

“But that’s not the worst part about the Gates grant. What’s really disturbing is that by funneling a grant through another foundation, a private foundation was able to impose public policy behind closed doors, and what’s more, impose policy that required taxpayer money — all without transparency or accountability.”

“I had to file a Freedom of Information request in order to get a copy of the paperwork on the Gates grant and what I received was only the partial information, because as Connecticut taxpayers will have learned from the Jumoke/FUSE fiasco, while charter schools consistently argue they are “public” when it comes to accepting money from the state, they are quick to claim that they are private institutions when it comes to transparency and accountability.

“But what is clear from the grant paperwork is that Hartford Public Schools committed to giving more schools to Achievement First and Jumoke Academy/Fuse, a commitment made by just some members of the Board of Education in applying for the grant, which appears to be a clear abrogation of the bylaws. Further, as a result of the commitment made by those board members, financial costs would accrue to Hartford Public Schools that were not covered by the grant — for example, the technology to administer the NWEA map tests, something I wrote about back in December 2012, just after the grant was announced.

“One of the Gates Foundation grant’s four initiatives was to “Build the district’s capacity to retain quality school leaders through the transformation of low-performing schools, replicating Jumoke Academy’s successful model of a holistic education approach.”

Littman wrote to Gates to ask whether they had conducted any “due diligence” review of Jumoke Academy before imposing these conditions of replicating it. This far, the foundation has not responded to her inquiry.

As you may recall, Jumoke Academy and its parent organization FUSE are now under FBI investigation. It no longer manages any schools in Connecticut. It is also under state investigation. “Those investigations were prompted after Michael Sharpe, the charter school management group’s CEO, resigned following news reports revealing his criminal past. Sharpe also admitted to a Hartford Courant reporter that he had lied about his education credentials.”

Littman also points out that the alphabet soup of corporate reformers had been enthusiastic supporters of Jumoke. The chain was in line to get two more charter schools from the state, and $1 million from the Gates Foundation.

Littman asks:

“Aren’t these the same people who are telling us to run schools like businesses? Isn’t due diligence part of doing business?”

She concludes:

“Let’s recognize that just because someone is a wealthy business person doesn’t mean they always make the right choices. Look at Microsoft’s performance during the stacked ranking years. By accepting a gift from the Gates Foundation in this manner, Hartford admitted a Trojan horse to disrupt public education and disable democracy, submitting voters to the dictates of one wealthy man.”

Feeling down about corporate ownership of almost everything? So is David Greene. Gates, Walton, Bloomberg, Bezos, Murdoch, Koch. What don’t they own? Our votes.

David thinks back a century. Other oligarchs owned almost everything then. Of course, it didn’t occur to them to monetize the schools.

But we beat them back. We elected people to regulate the oligarchs. We can do it again.

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.””

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