The world’s largest philanthropy has targeted education policymaking, sparking debate among education wonks and watchdogs over whether some of its activities cloak government actions and amount to lobbying.
An article written by RiShawn Biddle Common Core Foes’ Laughable Gates Foundation Conspiracy-Theorizing in Dropout Nation dismissed Ms. Pullman's research and chalked it up to a conspiracy by conservatives:
Covering the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts on the school reform front — along with the usual angst among traditionalists and even some conservative reformers about its influence on education policy — is old hat for yours truly as well as for nearly any education reporter and commentator on the scene. So the piece by otherwise-stellar Heartlander Editor Joy Pullman on the foundation’s role behind the effort by 45 states and the District of Columbia to enact Common Core reading and math standards was a bit ho-hum. Except for the fact that so many Common Core foes quoted in the piece were spinning the philanthropy’s efforts as some sort of conspiracy against the American democracy.
The Heartland article echoes much of what Susan Ohanian, Seattle Education and here on MEW have been writing about Bill Gates' educational reform for years. Regardless of party affiliation or political leanings, writers and researchers see an ominous trend of private companies setting public policy and what that means for the democratic process.
Here are some of the comments on Mr. Biddle's site:
First of all, lest people think I am a John Bircher, or a right wing conspiracy theorist, or Republican, or a policy wonk, let me state at the outset what I am: I am a mathematics teacher and a lifelong Democrat.and
I was intrigued with the following in the above article: “Meanwhile the argument advanced in the piece (insinuated by the otherwise-sensible Jay P. Greene declaration that the Gates Foundation “orchestrated” the adoption of Common Core) that the standards were enacted without any sort of democratic input fails to consider the actual process involved. This included a lengthy comment period conducted by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the outfits that represent elected state chief executives and the state school chiefs who are often elected or appointed by state boards of education. ”
I am very familiar with the public comment process. I am a co-founder of the U.S. Coalition for World Class Math, and I and others prepared a set of comments on both the draft and final versions of the standards. It is true that the NGA and CCSSO opened up the drafts for public comments to anyone who wished to submit them.
The Coalition submitted comments. Our comments on the final draft can be at our website.
Since the consortium (NGA and CCSSO) were not bound by any federal laws such as the Administrative Procedures Act, they could do with the comments as they pleased. Having worked for the federal government for many years, I happen to know that when we solicited public comments on regulations that my agency drafted, we had to read every one, and make the comments available to the public to read (on the web) and publish a document responding to the various comments. If we disagreed, we had to say why. These folks did not do that. They did not make the comments publicly available, (we asked if they would do so and they said “no”). They did write a summary document but it provided a summary of only some of the comments. They did not give reasons why they disagreed with various comments.
While it is laudable that they opened up the drafts for comments, please be aware that the process could have been a bit more transparent and “democratic”, for lack of a better word.
I can take criticism, and appreciate it especially from a friend, and I think you’re right the accusations lean against Gates. But as you see from the article, Gates refused to comment and have its say, which I would have treated fairly and printed.
I do not think anyone was or is into a conspiracy. As you’ll note from the article, folks agreed Gates was both more transparent than other nonprofits and staffed with intelligent, well-meaning people. It also clearly does some good in the world (think the polio campaign).
And I agree with Greene that Gates has a right to fund whatever it wants. I am not against big money. Bill Gates earned those billions. But when a nonprofit gets awfully close to actual policymaking outside the public eye, that is troublesome to someone with a reporting bent who is big into transparency. If nonprofits are going to make policy, or “catalyze” policy, their transparency should be the same as that required of governments. I mean public hearings, public votes, public access to documents and staffers, a responsibility to respond to criticism, and so forth. So far, nothing. We’ve got a bunch of bureaucrats, facilitated by Gates, working undercover for several years inside a big black box.
Quality of the Common Core aside (and that policy was one of several the article mentions), this sort of activity does threaten the democratic process, and I’m surprised you, who take such nuanced positions on policies and are a big vote for the little guy, do not at least partly agree. (from Joy Pullman)
As a mother who served 12 years on a public school board and now grandmother of 6 who will be starting school in the next few years, I want to say that this offer is ignoring the fact that local control is important to parents and to the children they love. What happens when parents find problems with a standard or the curriculum that will be forced upon every district to comply to those standards? (and problems will be found, believe me….but don’t worry, they’ve written disclaimers so it can’t come back on them–see below*) Those parents will be told, “sorry, we can’t do anything about this…go to the federal government”. Good luck with that one! Also, I would like to point out that the tests that are also going to be required by CCS will require schools to have certain hardware and software that many schools don’t have at this point. And surprise, surprise…these tests seem to require Microsoft computer products. Also, the Gates Foundation gave a significant amount of money to the National Chamber of Commerce (that they distributed to state CC’s) to promote Common Core standards. It’s not a conspiracy when it’s a fact. As they say, “follow the money”.
*Warranties and Disclaimer:
THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS ARE PROVIDED AS-IS AND WITH ALL FAULTS, AND NGA CENTER/CCSSO MAKE NO REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS, IMPLIED, STATUTORY OR OTHERWISE, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, WARRANTIES OF TITLE, MERCHANTIBILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, NONINFRINGEMENT, ACCURACY, OR THE PRESENCE OR ABSENCE OF ERRORS, WHETHER OR NOT DISCOVERABLE.
Limitation on Liability:and
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHALL NGA CENTER OR CCSSO, INDIVIDUALLY OR JOINTLY, BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY, CONSEQUENTIAL, OR PUNITIVE DAMAGES HOWEVER CAUSED AND ON ANY LEGAL THEORY OF LIABILITY, WHETHER FOR CONTRACT, TORT, STRICT LIABILITY, OR A COMBINATION THEREOF (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE OR OTHERWISE) ARISING IN ANY WAY OUT OF THE USE OF THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS, EVEN IF ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH RISK AND POTENTIAL DAMAGE. WITHOUT LIMITING THE FOREGOING, LICENSEE WAIVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK LEGAL REDRESS AGAINST, AND RELEASES FROM ALL LIABILITY AND COVENANTS NOT TO SUE, NGA CENTER AND CCSSO.
Bill Gates is not only a “philanthropist” in education, he also is one in health care. He has come under scrutiny not only for his educational programs, but also for his influence in vaccination, population control and food genetic modification efforts.Translation from healthcare concerns into educational concerns: Bill Gates and other education reformers have had the control of education handed to them (away from the states), and educational provisions giving control to local school boards and state agencies have been restructured toward federal/private company control. Private mega philanthropy provides large subsidies to selective parts of the educational establishment. There is no state/local presence or authority to counteract that market distortion.
Below is an interesting article from New Internationalist Magazine, asking the same questions as Joy Pullman, except these questions concern Gates’ involvement in global health programs. This magazine hardly appears as if it is conservative and the writer details how Gates’ resources and influence are shaping governmental actions. From the article:
“For critics, then, the way ‘venture philanthropy’ focuses on measurable impact may obscure the less tangible, but equally important, goals of democracy and empowerment. As the philanthropy analyst Michael Edwards has asked: ‘Would philanthrocapitalism have helped fund the civil rights movement in the US? I hope so, but it wasn’t “data driven”, it didn’t operate through competition, it couldn’t generate much revenue, and it didn’t measure its impact in terms of the numbers of people who were served each day. Yet it changed the world forever.’ ”
The article is aptly entitled “The flip side to Bill Gates’ charity billions”: http://newint.org/features/2012/04/01/bill-gates-charitable-giving-ethics/
Now substitute the word “education” for “healthcare” in the following reader’s comment and you will understand the reason the Heartland article and various other articles by others (including Susan Ohanian and Seattle Education) questioning Gates’ involvement is not laughable in the least, but should cause great concern and worry about private entities setting public policy:
“The article suggests that people are dying because capitalism provides excess rewards to a small number of individuals,
It does? Whilst I have some sympathy with that point of view I don’t see where is is stated or implied in the article.
If anything the OP is talking about the danger of handing control to private business rather than states, especially in a context of state healthcare provision having been largely dismantled as a result of structural adjustment policies. Private mega philanthropy provides large subsidies to selective parts of the healthcare establishment. With no state presence to counteract that market distortion — thus destabilizing an already volatile situation. I think that that is what the ’flip-side’ in the title is referring to.”
I can't figure out why this appears laughable and a conspiracy theory when, in fact, this is what is occurring in education.