How Gates Foundation Helps Shape Public Education Policy

Stephanie Simon has written a major article for Politico on the growing political influence of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Simon describes the Foundation’s investment in driving policy in public education: “About $400 million is spent in the U.S.—most of that on projects intended to transform education.  Those grants go to hundreds of research and advocacy groups that often work together to amplify the foundation’s voice and extend its reach into statehouses, schoolhouses and the U.S. Department of Education.”

Jim Shelton, now a deputy secretary to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Margot Rogers, Duncan’s chief of staff during President Obama’s first term, both moved directly from the Gates Foundation into jobs at the U.S. Department of Education. “Both were granted waivers from conflict-of-interest policies to allow them to continue to work closely with the Gates Foundation  after joining the Education Department.”

What has the Gates Foundation accomplished in terms of its policy objectives?  “In K-12 education, Gates gets substantial credit—or in some quarters, blame—for the explosion in charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed.  He’s transformed the way educators are evaluated, putting much more emphasis on student test scores as a measure of effective teaching.  And he’s a driving force behind the Common Core academic standards…”  According to Simon, the Gates Foundation has awarded more than $170 million to groups developing the Common Core standards, curricula  and exams.

Other projects that are Gates priorities include the investment of $1.7 million to promote Parent Trigger laws that permits parents, by petition, to take over their public school and transform it into a charter school.  Parent Trigger laws are also a priority of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

And the Gates Foundation has invested $100 million into the data base InBloom, which was imagined to store student data from public schools across the states.  Most states have pulled out of the project due to concerns about protecting the privacy of students’ personal information.

According to Simon, while the the Gates Foundation, like other philanthropies, is precluded from lobbying, “the foundation dispenses hundreds of grants to organizations of every conceivable size and mission.  Think tanks.  Advocacy groups.  Teachers unions.  Public relations firms.  Policy journals.  Political associations. All those disparate groups, in every corner of the country, bring an enormous megaphone to the issues the Gates Foundation wants publicized.”

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