People, Politics & Business

Scoundrels, Educrats, Rogues and Champions

Is Bill Gates the New U.S. Education Secretary?

SMW, December 1, 2009 6:38 PM


How a powerful, data-centric philanthropist is controlling the U.S. education agenda behind the scenes.   Should we be concerned or grateful?   With a burgeoning global Microsoft Education business division, questions of conflict of interest loom.

We've avoided this story because, well, it's about Bill Gates.  And, well, it's about philanthropy.  Shall we throw ourselves under the bus now or later?

But, we had to do it because there seemed to be that familiar creeping sense involving influence that didn't quite sit right, until one story finally landed in Edweek,
and it was time to share:

"Not content with shaping education directly through schools, the biggest player in the school reform movement has an eye on moving education policy.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent around $200 million a year on grants to elementary and secondary education.
Now the foundation is taking unprecedented steps to spend millions to influence the way the federal government distributes $5 billion in grants to overhaul public schools.
The federal dollars are unprecedented, too.
President Barack Obama persuaded Congress to give him the money as part of the economic stimulus so he could try new ideas to fix an education system that many agree is failing too many students.
Obama and the Gates Foundation share some goals that not everyone embraces: paying teachers based on student test scores, among other measures of achievement; charter schools that operate independently of local school boards; and a set of common academic standards adopted by every state.
Some argue that a private foundation like Gates shouldn't partner with the government.
"When you team up with the government, you compromise your ability to be critical of the government, and sometimes you compromise your ability to do controversial and maybe unpopular things with your money," said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, (TDR note: post is "Will One of You Please Get out of Bed"), an education think tank.
The Institute is among the many that have received money from the Gates Foundation.
Another concern is that as a private foundation, Gates doesn't have to disclose the details of its spending like the government does."

The Daily Riff has been watching and exploring how goals of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Microsoft may intersect.  (Bill Gates is Chairman of Microsoft and is advisor on key development projects).  No great surprise here since philanthropists often contribute in arenas where they have great affinity.  However, where it becomes increasingly problematic is when this charity becomes synonymous with government policy
influence, and without full disclosure or transparency as to possible financial gain and profit.

After all, Bill Gates speaks volumes about accountability and transparency for teachers, schools, administrators, parents and students.  He is a huge proponent for data and measurement, cloaked in the accountability veil. 

However, to our knowledge, there has been no press that has directly connected the dots from the philanthropy of Bill & Melinda Gates to the Microsoft Education Division , here, and various press here and here.   While data management is an important measurement tool in education, it must be used judiciously and in tandem with other appropriate initiatives and assessments.

It should also be noted that The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has supported and greatly contributed to other non-data-centric innovations in the education arena.  The Daily Riff will continue to report and explore the role of philanthropy in education. 

Sign hanging in Einstein's Princeton office,  "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts".

Part II.   To Be Continued.
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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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