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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Gates Foundation and Their Never-Ending Reach

First off, bless Melinda and Bill Gates for being willing to give away money for world health and public education in the U.S.  I applaud anyone who steps up to help.  They are likely helping many people.

However, we all know, as citizens in a city where we have more than one billionaire, that while philanthropy is a great thing, these people giveth...and they taketh.   The new mantra is "venture philanthropy" - they expect a return on their investment.  
And why not?  It's their money, right?  Okay, sure, I get that.  No one wants to throw their charitable dollars into a black hole.  But, when you are talking about people who not only have a HUGE foundation as well as owning a HUGE corporation, then you are talking about a different kind of philanthropist.  You are talking about people who are using their money and their power to bend and shape public policy.

At that point, it becomes troubling.

The New York Times ran a front page article on the Gates Foundation's educational wing this past Sunday.  (bless them as well and I'll explain why in a minute).  It is titled, "Behind Grass-Roots Advocacy, Bill Gates."  It's about the octopus/spider/centipede arms' reach of the Gates Foundation.  It's every direction, it's every kind of investment.  They have that kind of money to throw around.  Heck, they even give money to the national teachers' unions.

The article explains how Gates used to have one kind of focus for his education work (remember smaller schools).  That didn't work out and so now:

His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation’s education policies. 

In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.  

The foundation spent $373 million on education in 2009, the latest year for which its tax returns are available, and devoted $78 million to advocacy — quadruple the amount spent on advocacy in 2005. Over the next five or six years, Mr. Golston said, the foundation expects to pour $3.5 billion more into education, up to 15 percent of it on advocacy.

Why should you worry?  Because other people are.  Because Mr. Gates was not hired, elected or appointed to shape public policy. 

Given the scale and scope of the largess, some worry that the foundation’s assertive philanthropy is squelching independent thought, while others express concerns about transparency. Few policy makers, reporters or members of the public who encounter advocates like Teach Plus or pundits like Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute realize they are underwritten by the foundation. 

“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who said he received no financing from the foundation. 

Mr. Hess, a frequent blogger on education whose institute received $500,000 from the Gates foundation in 2009 “to influence the national education debates,” acknowledged that he and others sometimes felt constrained. “As researchers, we have a reasonable self-preservation instinct,” he said. “There can be an exquisite carefulness about how we’re going to say anything that could reflect badly on a foundation.” 

“Everybody’s implicated,” he added.

The Gates Foundation has been the push for the common core academic standards adopted by 45 states.

In 2009, a Gates-financed group, the New Teacher Project, issued an influential report detailing how existing evaluation systems tended to give high ratings to nearly all teachers. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cited it repeatedly and wrote rules into the federal Race to the Top grant competition encouraging states to overhaul those systems.

Very scary:

In 2009, the foundation spent $3.5 million creating an advocacy group to buttress its $290 million investment in programs to increase teacher effectiveness in four areas of the country: Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., Pittsburgh, Memphis and Los Angeles. 

A document describing plans for the group, posted on a Washington Post blog in March, said it would mobilize local advocates, “establish strong ties to local journalists” and should “go toe to toe” with union officials in explaining contracts and state laws to the public. 

But to avoid being labeled a “tool of the foundation,” the document said the group should “maintain a low public profile.” 

When a foundation - or any group - tries to hide its efforts to shape public opinion via the public media, you should worry.  If what Gates is doing is so good, he should not have to stoop to these levels.




I said bless the NY Times because so few media are willing to speak openly and honestly about the good, bad and the ugly of the Gates Foundation's education work.   You certainly don't see that kind of honest reporting in the Puget Sound area and who can blame the local media?  Gates has a long reach and is a powerful person.  You probably don't want to make him unhappy with your coverage.

But Gates is a bit of a coward that way.  He and his Foundation absolutely strong-arm off any attempts to question their motives, their work and how it is directed.   I think he's very directed in that way.

It's interesting because in a recent article in the Seattle Times, Melinda Gates was interviewed.  She said this:

"I think one of Bill's enormous gifts is that he can read a book on statistics ... and move to the human condition and say this is something perhaps the foundation could tackle," she said in a recent interview. "For me, I see the human condition on the ground, and I build up to the statistics."

It's funny because someone I know has met Gates many times and said if I ever get the chance to talk with Gates about public education that I should have stats at the ready as he loves data.  Looking at what Mrs. Gates said, it would seem he was right.   

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes - Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

23 comments:

Sahila said...

Can I have that apology now, from all those people who said I was negative, paranoid, suspicious, a conspiracy theorist, idealistic, naive, blah, blah, blah....

It would be nice to get acknowledgement for my truthspeaking, now that the NY TIMES has come out and said exactly the same thing, TWO YEARS LATER....

Anonymous said...

Sahlia - you can be my hero today along with Reel Grrls taking on Comcast.

Truth to power, indeed.

http://www.techdirt.com/blog/?tag=reel+grrls

-JC

mirmac1 said...

I'll say I'm sorry, even though I believed you from the first. You were the lone voice in the wilderness for the longest time. Thanks for opening my eyes and hopefully the eyes of many others.

Anonymous said...

Good on ya Sahila.

The scary thing is how few people were making connections a couple of years ago, when all you had to do was google the Astro-Turf groups, click on their "Who are we" banners, and see "Who Funds Us" to see the parade of the same philanthropists, over and over and over...

Pretty much every group with a moniker that sounds like they are the only ones in the world who care about kids are Gates-funded. There are a few exceptions, but about 8 out of ten are just another of Bill's Halloween masks.

Wow! Gates is like Michael Myers! No matter how many times you try, you just can't stop the monster! He just keeps getting up and coming, again, and again, and again. We could use a lot more Donald Pleasance characters in this screen-play!

No man would do that.

This isn't a man...


WSEADAWG

Jan said...

Sahila -- I never thought (and don't recall ever saying -- (I sure hope I didn't) that you were negative, paranoid, suspicious, or a conspiracy theorist. And you certainly are not naive. But I hope you are still idealistic, as we need people with high ideals and clear vision regarding what public education CAN be, when not corrupted by corporate and big foundation money.

At any rate -- many thanks for all the links, over all the past few years, that have exposed the tangled network of ed reform money and influence. The bizarre tearing down of Seattle schools made so much more sense, once it was clear what was driving it.

Jan said...

Ok -- Melissa. So now that this whole bin of worms is starting to become "daylighted," what now? What do we do? It is not illegal for Gates and others to spend money trying to influence folks. Here is what I think --
1. While there are many (and some who post comments here) who would be happy saying -- a pox on all of you and ALL your money, there are many many people (voters, taxpayers) who think that at least SOME of what Gates does is good. They will not be willing to throw out the Billy with the bathwater. So -- what DO we ask of folks? For starters, I think that school board candidates need to be asked to take a position on the degree to which they are willing to let donated money fromn Gates (AND from organizations who are grant-funded by Gates) dictate school policy. We are way further down this road than we should be already, but I want to educate candidates on the damage that is done when they work for foundations, rather than taxpayers, parents, and kids.

2. Then, we need to figure out how to start changing the way that we deal with ALL SORTS of outside influence. The snake in the room right now is Ed Reform and the related organziations (Gates, Broad, etc. -- but also the DoE) that are driving it. But it could be anyone. I would be no less happy if it was the SEIU in the room, pouring money into the District's pockets in return for an agreement to run the District as THEY thought best.

I am not even 100 percent opposed to taking money with strings attached -- but we need ALL the strings visible, we need to know EXACTLY what they are, and what they will cost, and a decision needs to be made that the tradeoff is worth it. That is not what we have now. We have a classic "disinformation" campaign (teachers are the main problem, frequent high stakes testing is the answer to getting rid of bad teachers, charters do a better job, TfA teachers (who start with 5 weeks training and generally leave after 3 years) are a better deal for schools and kids than experienced (read "old") teachers who have dedicated their lives to teaching, the private economy does a better job than public employees, schools should be run like businesses, etc. etc.) THERE IS NO EVIDENCE for ANY of the above, and there IS evidence in many cases that refutes these positions.

none1111 said...

Sahila, you can be "negative, paranoid, suspicious, a conspiracy theorist, idealistic, naive" and still be right. They're not mutually exclusive. ;-)

none1111 said...

And for the record, I will say that I've been accused of all of the above at some point as well...

Anonymous said...

Gates has gone way, way beyond marketing and messaging, and completely into manipulating public opinion in what I feel are the most dastardly ways. Like so many "centrist-Democrats," Gates is all-to-comfortable availing himself with the same tools as those used by Rove & Company.

I've been warned by good friends not to say things like that, but I see little daylight between many positions taken, lies told, insults levied, and divisions created by the Gates Foundation and its astro-turf groups, and how the Right-wing relies on the same-old, same-old divisions to win elections. Race, Abortion, Taxes, Aggression (if you don't support it, you're anti-American and don't support the troops, so wear your Made in China lapel pin and hoist your Made in China flag, or else!)

Means matter people. They matter a lot. Maligning teachers while pretending to give a damn about poor kids is beyond the pale. You care about kids Bill? How about you and your buddies paying your fair share of taxes?

The only things that I've seen trickle down in my lifetime are wages, benefits, standard of living for most people, and government services as they are cut, cut, and cut again. The working class pays more and more taxes for less and less of the pie, while Gates & Co worry about procuring workers for their future business interests.

I'm not calling Gates evil. Maybe he's just playing the game the way he believes it has to be played to accomplish anything in American politics. But like Enfield, he ought to listen better, and try, for once, putting himself into the shoes of most public school parents and look at things from our perspective.

I'm tired of my kids school and teachers being called "failures" as people pine about the old days, as if they were so great. But for Math - and that's a big BUTT - what my kids are learning today - in a public school, by union teachers - flat blows away anything I learned in school by a wide margin.

Bill & Co: Come down from your Global HQ Perspectives once in a while, look past the data, and catch a clue as to what's really going on in your public schools. Yes, YOUR public schools, as I assume you pay your property taxes too, and just as I do, want to see those dollars well-spent.

And stop the posing, the posturing, the demonizing, and the astro-turfing. How is it okay with you, and legitimate, to manipulate and deceive people in order to prove your point, or get your way? What kind of future do those means lay the foundation for?

WSEADAWG

Mr. Edelman said...

Bill Gates = Philanthropic colonialist

mirmac1 said...

Education Nation in LA asking the corporate education experts how to fix schools.

Sahila said...

thanks people.....

gavroche said...

Sahila was not alone in connecting the dots and dollars behind "ed reform" more than 2 years ago, but it's true there were only a few of us back then...

from 7/12/09 2:04 PM
gavroche said...
"Venture Philanthropy" -- or "Vulture Philanthropy"?
(more on the Broad Foundation's stated agenda)

Statements like these on the Broad Foundation web site are somewhat troubling (bold emphasis mine):

(See: http://www.broadeducation.org/investments/approach.html)

Our Approach to Investing: Venture Philanthropy

We take an untraditional approach to giving. We don’t simply write checks to charities. Instead we practice “venture philanthropy.” And we expect a return on our investment."

What is Broad buying with its "investment" in Seattle Public Schools?
7/12/09 2:04 PM


And:

The Lines of Influence in Education Reform

Posted on August 23, 2010 by seattleducation2010

And:

Ed corporatists, charter franchise heads & the “teacher quality” Inquisition are coming to town! (PLUS, Special Guest — Michelle Rhee’s fiance!)

"And coming soon — a new motto for Seattle Public Schools:

Seattle Public Schools — bought from you by THE BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION!

(in partnership with the Broad Foundation — because all these billionaires can’t be wrong!)"


In Port Townsend, the late Gerald Bracey:

April 30, 2007 05:10 PM
Broad and Gates: Deja Vu All Over Again

"To me, Broad-Gates is just the latest installment of corporate America attempting to control education...."

Also, of course, Diane Ravitch's posts and book, as well as other national bloggers who have been connecting the ed reform dots that all lead back to the Billionaire Boys' Club.

Anonymous said...

Not "venture philanthropy", rather "vulture philanthropy".

Oompah

Salander said...

In a communist coutries the State controls the schools. In a capitalist country Gates controls the schools.

KSG said...

But the problem this doesn't really speak to is that fact that education in this country is so screwed that you have to change public policy to have change.

Honestly, if you gave me a billion dollars to fix education in this country, I don't think I could in good conscience not try to change the existing public policy. Our system is broken in such a fundamental way that giving it money just makes the problem worse.

Sahila said...

KSG.... I agree it needs changing... I dont think there are many people around who think its the best education system its possible to have...

However, if I had billions of dollars to spend on this, I would go about it in a different way...

I would spend a couple of years working with the stakeholders with the most at risk - parents and teachers...

I'd ask myself what is it we want education to do for our children?

I'd go look at what works overseas

I'd go look at the most recent research in learning

I'd look at the education ideas of a whole slew of education "experts", scholars ranging from the ultra "conservative" to the ultra "liberal"...

I'd look at many different pedagogies, from the traditional to unschooling...

then we - all of us- would work to come up with a range of models people have indicated they desire for their children

and then we would implement those models...


seems to be quite a simple, straightforward, logical process to me...

Jan said...

Right on, Sahila! What wouldn't I do to buy a morning of the Gates's time for you to make this pitch!

anonymous said...

I rarely agree with you Sahila, but I like what you said above. I really like it. Right on target IMHO!

SolvayGirl said...

Well said Sahila. I think that philosophy is one of the reasons Seattle has such a high rate of private schooling. I know in our case, it had everything to do with finding a school that would be a good fit for our out-of-the box child. We looked for a teaching philosophy that would work for her, a curriculum that would help her strengths and talents blossom and lessen her weaknesses. And, we looked for a school that de-emphasized standardized testing—not our child's strong suit, and IMHO not a very valuable use of time.

If our national public school system could finally address the fact that children are individuals and what works fabulously for one could be a disaster for another we would see huge gains in education.

Keep up the fight—I wish I had the time and energy, and lived closer to your far north Seattle home. In many ways you are my hero.

WV: fureads. I just finished writing an article about reading with dogs as a means to get reluctant readers to enjoy reading.

Sahila said...

actually, if I had the money the Gates had, I'd do what I outlined for education...

But more fundamentally, I'd look at the underlying issues in our world - ONLY ONE ISSUE REALLY AND THAT IS POVERTY - and I spend some of my billions figuring out how we humans can live in harmony with the environment that gives us life, and how we all can live in what the English call: elegant sufficiency....

and that would mean a complete overhaul of social, political and economic systems, so that every decision we make asks:

Is it good for the Planet?
Is it good for People?
Does it bring Prosperity for ALL? (Prosperity is not the same as Profit)...

If we get a "no" response to any of these three questions, whatever we are thinking about doing, gets canned....

SolvayGirl said...

Ahhh...a woman of my own heart and mind.

So how and when do we start the revolution? And do you ever get down to the southend?

Sahila said...

@SolvayGirl.... I'm "active" in other arenas, besides education..... some of them are slowly becoming more public...

am happy to travel to meet if you like... email me off the list and we'll organise something...

think my email address is on my profile...