When I read Sam Dillon’s article in the Sunday Times, I felt affirmed. (Behind Grass-Roots Advocacy, Bill Gates by Sam Dillon May 21, NYT.) For two years I have been underscoring the growing influence on education policy in general, but specifically his foundation’s deep influence on the Obama/Duncan agenda. This is a must read.
Dillon does an excellent job exposing just how wide a net of influence Gates has cast — particularly since the implosion of his “small schools” initiative. Dillon quotes Gates Foundation president, Alan Golstan, saying that the importance of advocacy has gotten clearer and clearer. So clear has it become that the foundation spent $78 million of the $373 million spent on education in 2009 on advocacy. In politics, this is often referred to as “putting a little money on the street.” Few have the access to the kinds of resources that the Gates have and this is troubling.
The foundation has been very effective in influencing policy by funding research, then supporting groups that promote its positions, even the media outlets that influence education policy, most significantly “Editorial Projects in Education” which owns Education Week and Teacher Magazine. Rick Hess, Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research influential blogger for Education Week was underwritten with a $500,000 grant from Gates “to influence the national education debates.”.Ironically, Hess edited and published a book of essays in 2005 about the growing influence of foundations. (See With the Best of Intentions: How Philanthropy Is Reshaping K-12 Education.)
In 2009, according to Dillon’s examination of the tax document filed by Gates, which “runs to 263 pages and includes about 360 education grants”, to the tune of $373 million. This level of strategic investment with the express intent of influencing public policy in public education is historic. Let’s hope that Sam Dillon’s excellent article is the beginning of much closer scrutiny of the influence of billionaires, who are accountable to no one, on the institution which in the words of Thomas Jefferson is “the anvil upon which democracy is forged.”
“Teach Plus changes Web site to reflect reality” by Valerie Strauss The Answer Sheet Washington Post May 23, 2011