Archives for category: Gates Foundation, Bill Gates

Walter Isaccson, author of best-selling biographies and former editor of TIME, wrote this awestruck article about Bill Gates in 1997. At the time, Bill was the richest man in the world, his marriage to Melinda was new, and he hadn’t yet decided that he was the smartest man in the world and knew everything better than those who had worked in their profession for years. This is Bill Gates before he decided to reinvent American education. It’s also a fascinating peek into the lifestyle of zthe then richest man in the world (he’s #3 now, behind Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk). And it includes a curious detail about Bill’s personal life: once a year, he spends a weekend with a woman friend, where they commune and discuss weighty things.

Several news outlets reported that Melinda Gates began to meet with divorce lawyers in 2019 because of Bill’s relationship to Jeffrey Epstein, convicted pedophile. Melinda thought he was repulsive, Bill did not. Bill said he had neither a business relationship nor a friendship with Epstein. Whatever it was, Melinda did not like it.

Just days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Bill left the Microsoft board because was in an inappropriate relationship with an employee:

Microsoft Corp. board members decided that Bill Gates needed to step down from its board in 2020 as they pursued an investigation into the billionaire’s prior romantic relationship with a female Microsoft employee that was deemed inappropriate, people familiar with the matter said.

Members of the board tasked with the matter hired a law firm to conduct an investigation in late 2019 after a Microsoft engineer alleged in a letter that she had a sexual relationship over years with Mr. Gates, the people said.

Tom Loveless is an experienced education researcher who taught sixth grade in California. He has long been skeptical of top-down solutions to classroom-level problems. In this post, he explains why Common Core failed.

The theory of standards-based reform is that if everyone has the same curriculum and the same instruction, no one will fall behind. Thirty years ago, I wrongly believed that, and I supported the idea of national standards written by those in the field. But it is perfectly obvious that students in the same school with the same teachers using the same curriculum and having the same instruction do indeed have different outcomes. Having the same standards, curriculum, and instruction does not assure equal outcomes for all students. David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core, and Bill Gates, who funded the standards, did not know that.

He writes:

More than a decade after the 2010 release of Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics, no convincing evidence exists that the standards had a significant, positive impact on student achievement. My forthcoming book next month—“Between the State and the Schoolhouse: Understanding the Failure of Common Core”—explores Common Core from the initiative’s promising beginnings to its disappointing outcomes.

While the book is specifically about Common Core, the failure of that bold initiative can only be understood in the context of standards-based reform, of which Common Core is the latest and most famous example. For three decades, standards-based reform has ruled as the policy of choice for education reformers.

The theory of standards-based reform rests on the belief that ambitious standards in academic subjects should be written first, guiding the later development of other key components of education—curriculum, instruction, assessment, and accountability. By promoting a common set of outcomes, standards-based reformers argue, the fragmentation and incoherence plaguing previous reform efforts could be avoided.

The approach is inherently top-down and regulatory, with standards developed by policy elites and content experts at the top of the system. The other components, all of which are bolted to the academic standards, grow in importance downstream and are often under the control of practitioners. The book focuses on curriculum and instruction, the what and the how of learning. They are key to the production of learning in classrooms.

Despite the theory’s intuitive appeal, standards-based reform does not work very well in reality. One key reason is that coordinating key aspects of education at the top of the system hamstrings discretion at the bottom. The illusion of a coherent, well-coordinated system is gained at the expense of teachers’ flexibility in tailoring instruction to serve their students. Classrooms are teeming with variation. An assumption of Common Core advocates is that variation in learning occurs primarily because of schools and classrooms possessing disparate, and all too often, indefensibly low standards—that if schools were brought under a common regime of high expectations, children who are falling behind would catch up or never fall behind in the first place.

Please open the link and read the rest of the article.

As readers are well aware, the federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act continued the mandated annual testing of students in grades 3-8 in reading and math (as well as one high school test) that was the heart of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002. The Secretary of Education is allowed to grant waivers to states that ask not to give the tests. Last year, as the pandemic closed most schools, Secretary Betsy DeVos offered a blanket waiver to all states. She vowed not to do it again.

During the campaign of 2020, candidate Joe Biden publicly and unequivocally pledged to abandon the tests. He seemed to understand that they were not producing useful information and were squeezing out valuable instruction and subjects that are not tested.

Education Trust, led by John King, who was Obama’s Secretary of Education in his last year in office, created a campaign to demand that the Biden administration refuse all waiver requests and demand that everyone be tested, despite the pandemic. Education Trust, and most of the organizations that signed its two letters, are heavily funded by the Gates and Walton foundations.

The decision not to allow waivers, bowing to the EdTrust campaign, was announced by Ian Rosenblum, a low-level political appointee who previously worked for Education Trust New York and was an advocate for high-stakes testing. His boss was John King, who sent the pro-testing letters. The decision was made before Secretary Cardinal was confirmed. My guess is that the decision was made by Carmel Martin, who was an influential testing advocate in the Obama administration, then worked for the neoliberal Center for American Progress. She now works in the Biden White House as a member of the Domestic Policy Council. If I am wrong, I hope she corrects me.

Laura Chapman reviews the chronology here.

Thank you for all who helped to produce this rapid response and effective use of only two of the many databases for tracking the role of money in shaping policy.

I think it may be useful to put a timeline around some these flows of money and federal policies.

MAY 2020. Guidance for ESEA section 8401(b)(3)(A) testing waivers were published in May 2020 and almost every state or comparable jurisdiction requested and received these waivers for the 2019-2020 school year, well before the full force of the pandemic required large scale changes in schools. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/05/19/2020-10740/notice-of-waivers-granted-under-section-8401-of-the-elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965.

FEBRUARY 3, 2021. The Education Trust sent a letter to Dr. Miguel Cardona. This was after his nomination but before his confirmation on March 1. This letter was signed by 18 organizations in addition to the Education Trust. Find the letter here. https://edtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Joint-Letter-to-Dr.-Miguel-Cardona-Urging-Rejection-of-Waivers-to-Annual-State-Wide-Assessment-Requirements-for-the-2020-21-School-Year-February-3-2021.pdf

The February 3 letter ends with two footnotes. The first is for McKinsey & Co.’s data about achievement before schools closed and the transition to remote learning began. This analysis includes “epidemiological scenarios” for learning loss (in months) for students who are white, black, and Hispanic. As usual, Mc Kinsey & Co. cares about the economic value of test scores “We estimate that the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses…. This translates into an estimated impact of $110 billion annual earnings across the entire current K–12 cohort.” https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-student-learning-in-the-united-states-the-hurt-could-last-a-lifetime

The second footnote refers to a Bellwether Education report justifying their use of “crisis” rhetoric about school attendance data. The report estimates that about three million school-age children had difficulty engaging in or accessing education in the spring and fall 2020. That estimate was based on data from multiple sources, including media reports.

I hope Dr. Cordona understands that McKinsey & Co and Bellwether Education are not great sources of trustworthy information about public schools. https://bellwethereducation.org/publication/missing-margins-estimating-scale-covid-19-attendance-crisis.

FEBRUARY 22. On this date Ian Rosenblum, “Delegated the Authority to Perform the Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Elementary Education” announced “guidance for state testing” with particular attention to the conditions required if waivers of any find were requested. Note that Dr, Cardona has not yet been confirmed as Secretary of Education. I have yet to discover how he was granted authority (or grabbed it) to assert national policy on testing for the 2020-2021 school year. It is worth noting that Rosenblum’s prior employer had been The Education Trust, (New York). Here is the Guidance letter.https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/stateletters/dcl-assessments-and-acct-022221.pdf

FEBRUARY 23. In no time flat, The Education Trust sent this second letter to the U.S. Department of Education, titled “Response From Civil Rights, Social Justice, Disability Rights, Immigration Policy, Business, and Education Organizations to the U.S. Department of Education’s Updated Guidance on Key ESSA Provisions in 2020–21.” This letter was signed by 30 organizations in addition to the Education Trust. This letter emphasized that local assessments were not suitable for accountability:

”We want to be clear: The Department must not, as part of its promised state-by-state “flexibility,” grant waivers to states that would allow them to substitute local assessments in place of statewide assessments or to only assess a subset of students. By design, these local assessments do not hold all students to the same standards and expectations. They do not offer appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities or English learners, as required under federal law for statewide assessments; they are not peer reviewed to ensure quality and prevent bias; and the results of these assessments will not be comparable from district to district.”

In effect, the only accountability measures that matter to The Education Trust and those who signed on to these letters are features of a factory model of education. Standardization is the ultimate criterion for data entering into decisions about federal policy. This factory model is also positioned as if the primary way to address equity and civils rights. We must “hold all students to the same standards and expectations.”

The February 23 letter also articulates a clear distain for assessments most likely to be meaningful to teachers, students, and parent caregivers; namely teacher and district developed evaluations of learning with these judgements student-specific, curriculum relevant, informed by face-to=face conversations and providing a meaningful pathway for guiding students.


Education Trust, led by former Secretary of Education John King, sent two letters to the Biden administration, urging the administration not to allow states to receive waivers from the mandated federal testing. The signers of the letters were not the same. As State Commissioner in New York, King was a fierce advocate for Common Core and standardized testing.

Leonie Haimson, leader of Class Size Matters, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, and board member of the Network for Public Education, wrote this about the pro-testing coalition assembled by King:

I asked my assistant Michael Horwitz to figure out which organizations were on the first Ed Trust letter pushing against state testing waivers, but not the letter that just came out, advocating against allowing flexibility by using local assessments instead.  National PTA, NAN (Al Sharpton’s group), LULAC, KIPP and a few others did drop off the list. 

I then asked Leonie if she could add the amounts of funding to these organizations by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation and she replied:

The largest beneficiary of their joint funding among these organizations has been KIPP at over $97M, then Ed Trust at nearly $58 million, who spearheaded both letters. Also TNTP at $54M, NACSA at $44M, Jeb Bush’s FEE at nearly $32 M and 50Can at $29M. [TNTP used to be called “The New Teachers Project,” and was created by Michelle Rhee.] Michael Horwitz did the research.

Signers on the first letter:

The following orgs were on the second letter, but not the first: many more obviously pro-charter, right-wing and more local organizations:

Leonie Haimson 
leoniehaimson@gmail.com

Follow on twitter @leoniehaimson 

Host of “Talk out of School” WBAI radio show and podcast at https://talk-out-of-school.simplecast.com/

Let’s just say it upfront. If you wanted to know more about “The State of Education,” and how to “rebuild a more equitable system,” the last person you would ask is a billionaire. Right? Specifically Bill Gates, who has spent billions over the past 20 years promoting high-stakes testing, charter schools, merit pay, value-added measurement of teachers, the Common Core, test-based accountability, and every failed reform I can think of. The media think he is the world’s leading expert on everything, but we know from experience with his crackpot theories and ideas that none of them has made education better, and all of them have demoralized teachers and harmed students and public schools. What hubris to have foisted one failed idea after another and then to convene a summit on how to fix the mess you made, probably by doing the same failed things you already sponsored.

So how can we build a “more equitable system”? Well, one way would be to have higher taxes for people in Bill Gates’ economic bracket. He lives in a state with no income tax. That’s not fair. He should pay his fair share–to his local community, to the state, and to the federal government. So should every other billionaire. I don’t mean to pick on Bill Gates–well, actually I do–since he is the only billionaire who thinks he knows how to redesign education without either knowledge or experience. And he is only the third richest person in the world right now (sorry, Bill). But if he and Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk paid more taxes, they wouldn’t be poor. They wouldn’t even be middle-class.

So here are some ideas for the conferees:

  1. Pay your taxes
  2. Demand an increase on taxes for people in your income bracket so that wealth is more equitably distributed
  3. Insist that class sizes be reduced, especially in schools that educate the neediest children
  4. Leave education to the educators.

Here is your invitation. Please, God, don’t tell me they want everyone to go virtual all the time.

 
A reminder: Our live virtual event, The State of Education: Rebuilding a More Equitable System, is this Wednesday, March 3 at 1:00 p.m. E.T. / 11:00 a.m. P.T.

While the pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities, it’s also presented a unique opportunity to dramatically overhaul the education system.

We’re excited to share with you our full program agenda for this week’s virtual event, filled with voices who will outline the innovative solutions that should be implemented to create an equitable learning environment for all students. Visit our website to learn more and register today to reserve your spot.
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Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, board member of the Network for Public Education, and expert on student privacy, pulls together some interesting threads in this post.

If Biden wants schools to reopen soon, she says, he should make sure that every teacher gets vaccinated so schools can safely reopen. Instead, he has broken his promise to get rid of the federal testing mandate and turned responsibility for the decision over to a junior staff member. She wonders who is making decisions at the Department of Education.

Why prioritize standardized tests over vaccinations for teachers?

The decision to restart testing was advanced recently by EdTrust. She shows how much money each of the signers has received from the Gates Foundation over the past decade. The total is at least $200 million.

Is the Biden administration dancing to the Gates’ tune?

Nancy Bailey explains why we should worry about who is making the decisions at the U.S. Department of Education before any of its top officials have been confirmed. She suspects it is Education Trust, which favors charter schools and high-stakes testing. EdTrust is Gates-funded, and its leader is John King, who served briefly as Secretary of Education in the last year of the Obama administration. King was Commissioner of Education in New York, where he was an enthusiastic proponent of the Common Core and high-stakes testing. His background is charter schools; he founded Roxbury Prep, a no-excuses charter school in Massachusetts with the highest suspension rate in the state.

EdTrust pushed hard to persuade Biden not to issue any testing waivers this year. The Department’s announcement was made by Ian Rosenblum, acting Assistant Secretary, who previously worked for…wait for it…EdTrust in New York, advocating for testing.

Teacher Nora De La Cour writes on her blog that it is time to restore the joy of teaching and learning by abolishing high-stakes testing. She writes that candidate Joe Biden forcefully promised to get rid of standardized testing and restore teacher autonomy, but Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona seems unwilling to commit to granting states a waiver from the mandated federal testing. He did not seek a waiver for Connecticut when he was state commissioner there, and he was noncommittal at his Senate hearings.

She writes:

While NCLB and RTT were marketed as efforts to strengthen public education for disadvantaged students, the overwhelming action of these reforms has been to redirect funding away from normal school operations in under-resourced districts, impose state takeovers and other dehumanizing restructuring plans, and replace community schools with privately run charters. The rampant school closures precipitated by NCLB and RTT have mainly impacted schools attended by the poor black and brown students who are used as mascots by those pushing these neoliberal “equity and accountability” measures. Researchers have documented links between high-stakes testing and high incarceration rates. Test scores have been used to limit opportunitiesfor students with disabilities, another group hailed as primary beneficiaries of test-based reforms.  


The obsession with standardized testing has drained K-12 public education of the vibrant, joyful things that make kids want to be in school. Districts have been forced to cut art, music, extracurriculars, and recess in order to save time and money for tests and test prep. 

The Bill Gates-funded Common Core Standards that drive the current tests have undermined teachers’ creative autonomy, stripping us of our ability to shape instruction around what motivates our students. Instead of teaching whole novels and plays, language arts teachers are pushed into teaching mainly “informational texts” (as though fiction doesn’t contain information) and decontextualized literary excerpts. My students experienced Frankenstein, for example, not as a gripping monster story that prompts questions about what it means to be human, but as a lifeless fragment on a practice test, from which they were required to extract and regurgitate specific information that corporate test-makers deem important. 

She adds, quite accurately:

Standardized tests do not measure teaching. Indeed, the premise that poor children struggle because their teachers are lazy is both racist (teachers of color are more likely to have low-income students) and illogical (why on earth would lazy people pursue positions in underfunded schools?). Contrary to claims, standardized tests don’t measure the skills needed for fulfilling jobs requiring complex problem-solving (although the curiosity- and criticality-punishing accountability system unquestionably prepares kids for drudgery under capitalism). Standardized tests cannot account for the myriad forms meaningful learning can take. The only thing these assessments reliably measure is poverty.

Despite Biden’s promise to get rid of the test-driven policies of the past 20 years, the jury is out on whether he will follow through and he is being pressured by Gates-funded groups to hold fast to the testing regime.

It’s true that some high-profile civil rights groups continue to push for standardized testing–a fact that is reported everywhere privatizers have clout. These civil rights organizations use the same “guideposts for equity” logic Cardona invoked in his statement on 2021 testing for Connecticut students. Unfortunately, many of these groups rely on funding from Gates and other pro-privatization philanthropists and corporations. This funding can mean a variety of things, but it’s reasonable to surmise that some degree of political alignment occurs. 

If standardized tests were actually about ensuring equity, they would not have triggered the closure of schools attended by low-income students of color. If the reforms that spawned these tests were actually about increasing accountability, they would not have occasioned the transfer of power over classroom learning from teachers and publicly accountable officials to hedge fund-backed charter-boosters and profit-hungry edu-businesses

Nora De La Cour has some smart observations about testing and equity, as well as the political forces compelling teachers to do what they know is not in the best interests of their students. This post is well worth a read!

Here we go again. Before either Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona or Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten have been confirmed by the Senate, key jobs in the Department of Education are being filled by staff from the Gates Foundation and DFER, both of which are champions of bad ideas and antagonists of public schools. From my experience in the U.S. Department of Education, it is customary to allow the Secretary and Deputy Secretary to choose their assistant secretaries, and the assistant secretaries choose their deputies. These appointments seem to have been made by the White House. Please note that the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development shapes policy for the Department. The administration previously announced a fervent supporter of high-stakes testing—Ian Rosenblum of Education Trust in New York—as the acting Assistant Secretary for that office.

Andrew Ujifusa reports in Education Week:

The latest round of political appointees to the U.S. Department of Education include a veteran of Capitol Hill and Beltway education groups, the former leader of Democrats for Education Reform’s District of Columbia affiliate, and two former Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation staffers.

The Biden administration appointments, announced Feb. 3, fill spots in key offices, although nominees forthe top jobs in the office for civil rights and office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. (We gave folks a heads up about two of the most recent appointments hereand here before they were officially announced.) However, a few such jobs are being filled on an acting basis.

It’s difficult to discern just one trend or policy direction based on Biden’s Education Department appointments so far; those who’ve worked for and supported teachers’ unions in the past, for example, will be working alongside union skeptics and those who’ve drawn labor’s ire in the past. The administration announced its first set of department appointees last month, and it included two former National Education Association staffers.

Here are a few notable names from the latest round of appointments:

Jessica Cardichon, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Cardichon is an education policy veteran in Washington. She comes to the Education Department from the Learning Policy Institute, a K-12 policy and research group founded and led by Linda Darling-Hammond, who led Biden’s transition team for the department. Cardichon was the group’s federal policy director. While at LPI, Cardichon contributed to reports about COVID-19 relief, how to “reimagine schooling,” and student access to certified teachers.  [I worked during the election on a committee on assessment chaired by Cardichon on behalf of Biden. I urged the committee to recommend a suspension of the federally mandated testing in spring 2021 and to propose the elimination of that part of the law. When my proposals were ignored, I resigned from the committee.]

She’s also worked as education counsel to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the Senate education committee; the Alliance for Excellent Education, a research and advocacy group, and at Teachers College, Columbia University. A long-time ally of teachers’ unions and a critic of standardized testing, Sanders has taken on a big role in the Senate during the creation of a new COVID-19 relief package. 

Ramin Taheri, chief of staff, office for civil rights. Taheri comes to the department after serving as the District of Columbia chapter director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group that promotes charter schools, K-12 education funding, test-based teacher and school accountability, and other policies. The group divides opinion in the left-leaning K-12 policy space. Some have championed the group for focusing on issues they say will better served students of color and disadvantaged learners, while other claim DFER undermines teachers’ unions and traditional public schools. News that DFER was backing certain big-city superintendents to be Biden’s education secretary provoked pushback from union supporters and others skeptical of DFER. (Cardona was not on DFER’s list of preferred choices.) Taheri has also worked at Chiefs for Change, a group of district superintendents that provokes similar, if not identical, political sentiments. 

Last year, DFER’s D.C. chapter under Taheri provoked controversy by singling out a candidate for the District of Columbia Council for wanting to cut police funding. Asked about the negative advertising, Taheri told the Washington City paper that the group wanted to inform voters about issues beyond education, and that the candidate’s position on police budgets was “deeply unpopular” with voters. (The candidate, Janeese Lewis George, who accused DFER of fearmongering, ultimately won her election.) The question of whether police should be in schools, and educators’ attitudes toward school resource officers, gained prominence after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police last year. The City Paper’s story about DFER’s mailers focused on George was published three days after Floyd’s death. Taheri later said that the group’s mailers were a mistake. 

Nick Lee, deputy assistant secretary, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development; Sara Garcia, special assistant, office of planning, evaluation, and policy development. Both Lee and Garcia come to the department from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where Lee was a senior program officer and Garcia was a program officer. 

Although Lee previously managed $10 million in annual education grants covering both K-12 and higher education, according to his LinkedIn profile, he’s now listed himself as an assistant secretary for higher education at the department as of this month. Garcia also has a background in higher education, and used to work on the Senate education committee for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is now chairwoman of the committee.

The Gates Foundation has had a long, complex, and controversial involvement in education policy. For many years, it focused its considerable grant-making power on teacher effectiveness, teacher-performance systems, and support for the Common Core State Standards; by 2015, the foundation estimated it had put $900 million in grants toward teacher policy and programs. Previously, it had focused on supporting small high schools. These efforts became more politically controversial over time. 

Supporters have applauded its focus on educators and improving instruction, while critics say its outsized influence has had a detrimental effect on policymakers. A 2018 study of one of its biggest teacher-effectiveness efforts in three districts showed no gains for students. 

In recent years, the foundation has shifted its focus to support higher education access for students of color and disadvantaged students. (Note: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides general operating support to Education Week, which retains sole editorial control over its content.) 

The full list of appointments announced Feb. 3 is here.

https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/department-education-announces-more-biden-harris-appointees

Jan Urhahn writes in Jacobin about the negative effects of the Gates Foundation’s efforts to promote a Green Revolution in Africa and to reduce hunger. Bill Gates, I presume, means well. Butt all too often his bold ideas fail, as they have in American education, because he imposes them instead of listening to those who do the work.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation promised Africa a “Green Revolution” to fight hunger and poverty. It hasn’t worked — but it has upped corporate agriculture’s profits. Local farmers are being left empty-handed, and hunger is rising.

Bill Gates created the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to improve agricultural productivity, but things have not gone well.

AGRA was established in 2006 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Deploying high-yield commercial seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides as its main weapons, the program is meant to help Africa unleash its own Green Revolution in agriculture to fight hunger and poverty. At least, that’s the promise.

Upon its foundation, AGRA set out to double the agricultural yields and incomes of thirty million smallholder households, thereby halving both hunger and poverty in twenty African countries by 2020. To achieve this, the “alliance” funds various projects and lobbies African governments to implement structural changes that would set the stage for its “Green Revolution.” Since its foundation, AGRA has received contributions of about $1 billion, mainly from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Large grants have also come from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and other countries.

From these donations, AGRA has awarded grants of more than $500 million across the continent. African governments support AGRA’s goals with public funds through so-called farm input subsidy programs (FISPs), with which farmers are expected to purchase the seeds — mostly hybrid — and synthetic fertilizers promoted by AGRA. The state subsidies for small farms provide an incentive to introduce the bundle of farming technologies AGRA counts as part of its Green Revolution. FISPs have been introduced on a significant scale in ten of AGRA’s thirteen “focus countries” including Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Rwanda, Zambia, and Tanzania.

But fourteen years after AGRA was founded, it’s safe to say that the initiative has failed to meet its goals. Rather than combat hunger and poverty, hunger has actually increased by 30 percent in the AGRA focus countries — meaning that thirty million more people are suffering from it than when AGRA started. By 2018, agricultural yields in the focus countries had increased by only 18 percent, as opposed to the 100 percent AGRA promised. In the period before AGRA, yields in these countries had grown by 17 percent. The increases in yields with and without AGRA were therefore almost identical.

AGRA’s results are devastating for small-scale farmers. Most AGRA projects primarily entail selling them expensive inputs such as hybrid seeds and synthetic fertilizers via agrochemical companies. These inputs are extremely costly and thus drastically increase farmers’ risk of falling into indebtedness. Examples from Tanzania show that small-scale farmers have not been able to repay seed and fertilizer debts directly after the harvest, even forcing some to sell their livestock.

The AGRA formula — “doubled yields equal doubled incomes” — simply does not pan out in practice. In the AGRA model, any short-term increases in yield have to be bought at great expense with seeds, fertilizer, and often pesticides — an arrangement that only boosts the incomes of seed and fertilizer companies.

Moreover, freedom of choice is restricted: in AGRA projects in Kenya, small-scale farmers are not allowed to decide for themselves which corn seed they plant and which fertilizers and pesticides they use on their fields. The managers of AGRA projects assume that participating agrochemical companies make the best decisions for the farmers. AGRA’s focus is on a few food crops such as corn or soy, causing traditional nutrient-rich foods to be neglected and even displaced.

Statistics for the thirteen AGRA focus countries show that production of cereals has fallen by 21 percent since the initiative was launched. A yield decline of 7 percent was recorded for root and tuber crops. All in all, AGRA reduces the diversity in farmers’ fields and thus also the variety of seeds being used. This development in turn makes agriculture even more vulnerable to the consequences of the climate crisis.