MEDIA WATCH: IS THE NEW YORK TIMES FINALLY GETTING IT? Gates funding and behind-the-scenes manipulation of 'reform' voices finally exposed on Page One of The New York Times

"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." —Sam Dillon, The New York Times, front page, May 22, 2011

One of the biggest investments Bill Gates has made to promote corporate school reform has been in the American Federation of Teachers leadership. The situation had gone so far that four months before the premier of the teacher bashing and union-busting movie "Waiting for Superman" (the promotion of which Gates funded, including buses in Chicago to take people to free screenings), Gates was feted by AFT President Randi Weingarten at the AFT national convention in Seattle. While Weingarten was praising Gates (and suppressing delegates who protested the Gates speech, above), Gates's people were preparing "Waiting for Superman," in which Weingarten and the teacher unions play the villains. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.What Good News: Sam Dillon at the New York Times has discovered that “local teachers who favor school reform” are actually operatives for a national organization, Teach Plus, financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. What Bad News: For years, a number of us have been screaming about Gates buying up education policy — but nobody would listen.

But let’s celebrate what has happened. This story revealing Gates funding everything from the development (and evaluation) of Common Core Standards to the promotion of the public school-bashing “Waiting for ‘Superman’” film was front-page news in the paper of record. And until this happened, the Gates' Foundation’s wealth has put it beyond criticism — except by those of us marginalized as the lunatic fringe. I offer a few notes to flesh out Dillon’s account.

For starters, take a look at the way the Gates Foundation is commonly portrayed: Paul Hill’s “A Foundation Goes to School,” in Education Next, Winter 2006

Although the Hoover Institution publishes Education Next , the business office is at Program on Education Policy and Governance, Harvard Kennedy School. Paul Peterson, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, is the editor-in-chief. Professor Peterson is also a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. [Frederick Hess is one of the people who should be credited with helping begin the recent wave of attacks on teacher collective bargaining rights, as readers can see by visiting the 2006 issue of Education Next and reading Hess's article claiming that the lack of teacher strikes in the past 20 years has been because school boards have been afraid of teacher unions. The URL for the Ed Next 'Strikephobia' article is]

Chester Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has spent his entire career attacking urban public schools and teacher unions as part of his "research" form the time he was a professor at Venderbilt University to the present. During the early 1990s, Finn served the Chicago School Finance Authority as its expert consultant on the progress of Chicago's "school reform," emphasizing the massive privatization of public schools and the other conservative programs that characterized the era. At the time Finn was the consultant to the SFA, it was chaired by Chicago millionaire Martin Koldyke, who went on to found the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), which is not the Obama administration's chosen expert group on how to do so-called school "turnarounds."Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution is senior editor. Finn also lists himself as “public servant.” The Next mission statement takes the high road, professing that the publication “partakes of no program, campaign, or ideology. It goes where the evidence points.” That said, in February 2010 the Gates Foundation gave Next $224,030 to support their Charter Initiative.

On June 7, 2007, Bill Gates, at the time, the world’s richest man, received an honorary doctorate from Harvard.

Few Degrees of Separation

Gates operates in a small world of kissing kin. Everybody is inter-connected. Dillon doesn’t mention that Monique Burns Thompson, President of Teach Plus, is a co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools. Before that, she was assistant brand manager at Quaker Oats. Heather Peske, National Director of Programs, was formerly Director of Teacher Quality at Education Trust. She launched her career in education as a Teach for America corps member.

There are plenty of Ivy League graduates on their Board of Advisors, which means:

1) They have the connections to make things happen;

2) They have both of Barack Obama's ears. Obama can't seem to say no to Ivy League pundits. Teach Plus Advisory Committee Members

• Margaret Boasberg, The Bridgespan Group [worked extensively on strategies to increase the philanthropy of high net worth individuals] • Stacey Childress, Harvard Business School

• Rachel Curtis, Human Capital Strategies for Urban Schools [paid $2,000 a day for services on human capital for Chicago Public Schools when Arne Duncan was in charge]

• Ben Fenton, New Leaders for New Schools [cofounder and chief strategy and knowledge officer; formerly at McKinsey & Co] • Ethan Gray, The Mind Trust [After college, worked as a research assistant at Education Sector in Washington, DC; at Mind Trust he's in charge of "spreading entrepreneurship nationwide"]

• Ellen Guiney, Boston Plan for Excellence [Executive Director of BPE, which now focuses its efforts on "the use of formative assessments to help teachers tailor instruction to individual students, and increased data analysis to inform instructional decisions and professional development" • Amanda Hillman, Teach for America • Joanna Jacobson, Strategic Grant Partners • Jason Kamras, District of Columbia Public Schools [2005 National Teacher of the Year, now director of human capital strategy for teachers in D.C. Public Schools, which includes enthusiastic support of "pay for performance"; former Teach for America corps member] • Sandra Licon, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [Program Officer, Education Advocacy; office located in Washington D. C. • John Luczak, Joyce Foundation [conservative foundation gives "innovation grants" to charter schools; previously worked at US Department of Education] • Julie Mikuta, New Schools Venture Fund [partner focusing on the firm's human capital investment strategy as well as management assistance for a variety of portfolio ventures. She serves on the board of directors of Bellwether Education Partners, Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF), KIPP DC, New Teacher Center (NTC), Pacific Charter School Development, and Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC); led trainings for school board and superintendent-teams of large urban districts at the Center for Reform of School Systems, through an initiative supported by The Broad Foundation; Vice President of Alumni Affairs for Teach For America] • Talia Milgrom-Elcott, Carnegie Corporation [previously Project Director of System Transformation at the New York City Department of Education, working as part of Chancellor Joel Klein's team] • Lynn Olson, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [one of participants in SMART OPTIONS: INVESTING THE RECOVERY FUNDS FOR STUDENT SUCCESS; former senior editor of Education Week and project editor of their Quality Counts report] • Elizabeth Pauley, The Boston Foundation [former Teach for America corps member] • Ari Rozman, The New Teacher Project • Cara Delzer Stadlin, New Schools Venture Fund • Mary Wells, Connect the Dots --reported at on Aug. 9, 2010

NOTE: In “Michelle Rhee is 'Not Done Fighting' against public school teachers and unions,” Adam Heenan reported for Substance, Dec. 16, 2010, on one Teach Plus data-collecting strategy as they hosted a by-invitation-only discussion with educational entrepreneur Michelle Rhee.

The unnamed Washington Post blogger referred to by Dillon is, of course, Valerie Strauss. She revealed some of Gates Foundation shady funding in “Gates spends millions to sway public on ed reform.” She included hot links to important documents in this operation. You won’t want to miss the Confidential Letter.

Don’t you wonder why journalists are so reluctant to acknowledge the good work of other journalists? Why does Valerie Strauss remain unnamed?

In June 2006, Joshua Benton of the Dallas Morning News reported that within the Texas Education Agency, contracts often were not competitively bid but depended on whom one knew at the Gates Foundation.

Diane Ravitch was on target in a July 30, 2006 Los Angeles Times piece: “In light of the size of the foundation's endowment, Bill Gates is now the nation's superintendent of schools. He can support whatever he wants, based on any theory or philosophy that appeals to him. This was positioned as an opinion piece and there was no follow-up from the education press.

Nor was there any media mention of my heavily documented piece in Extra!, September 2010, “‘Race to the Top’ and the Bill Gates Connection: Who gets to speak about what schools need?

Wanting to see which "independent experts" reporters called upon to explain Race to the Top and the Common Core standards, I examined over 700 articles published between mid-May 2009 and mid-July 2010. I eliminated cites from state ed officials, union officials and politicos. This left me with 152 outside experts quoted in 414 articles. Of the 23 experts quoted five times or more, 15 have connections with institutions receiving Gates funding and 13 with strong charter advocacy institutions. Who doesn't gets cited, raised very troubling questions. [See Appendix for whom Sam Dillon quoted in this time frame.]

Dillon’s mention that National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CSSEO) received “millions of dollars” is rather like identifying half a dozen root canals as “a dental procedure.” Since January 2008, Gates has shelled out more than $35 million to the Council of Chief School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the two primary organizations charged with drafting and promoting common standards. Daniel Goldman’s “Bill Gates' School Crusade” (Bloomberg Businessweek, 7/15/10) was one of two articles I found revealing that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “bankrolled the development of the common curriculum standards.” Golden observed that our U. S. Department of Education and the Gates Foundation “move in apparent lockstep” on an agenda which is “an intellectual cousin of the Bush administration’s 2002 No Child Left Behind law.” As I said on my website, this kind of detail separates the real reporter from those who crib from press releases and call it a day.

In the Lowell Sun (7/18/10), Matt Murphy provided dollar amounts of Gates funding received by the Council of Chief School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practice, Achieve, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, provoking Sam Smith of the Progressive Review to offer this headline (7/23/10): “Is the Gates Foundation Involved in Bribery?”

Sam Smith seemed to be the only one who noticed.


Please Note: We — you and I — are paying for Gates’ pet projects. Kenneth Saltman points out something few people seem to realize: For every ten dollars given by the Gates Foundation, four dollars is lost from the public wealth in taxes. The philanthropist’s dollars would otherwise go to the public in the form of taxes. So a big chunk of all that money Gates is spending to get teachers on script, destroy tenure, and standardize curriculum is actually OUR money; Bill Gates is using our tax dollars to mold America. And part of the plan is to de-professionalize teachers. Saltman calls on readers "to stop applying business metaphors and logic to educational thinking derived from discredited market fundamentalism." Such terms as choice, monopoly, turnaround, efficiency need to be dropped in favor of public language and assumptions. Taxpayers are subsidizing (as tax-free) an organization bent on undermining their best interests. [See Kenneth Saltman's The Gift of Education: Public Education and Venture Philanthropy and Philip Kovacs' edited collection, The Gates Foundation and the Future of U. S. "Public" Schools.

You can see for yourself where your money goes: The New York Times has put excerpts from the Bill and Melinda Gates 2009 Tax 990 Form online along with Dillon’s article:

Why only excerpts? The form runs 263 pages and includes about 360 education grants. If you want more details, watch for Ken Libby’s work. His expertise on foundation largess is acknowledged in Dillon’s article.

Dillon calls Gates’ work “assertive philanthropy,” surely a euphemism of our time. Usage: the Obama-Duncan era: The U. S. Department of Education holds hands with assertive philanthropists.

Dillon says another Gates pet project, the Education Equality Project, is “less well known.” It did turn out to be pretty much small potatoes, but not because the usual suspects didn’t try. Dillon doesn’t point out that this outfit was founded by Reverend Al Sharpton and then-New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. In his June 12, 2008 story on this new group, “Democrats Offer Plans to Revamp Schools Law,” Dillon called “the principles” involved “prominent educators and lawmakers.”

• Andres A. Alonso, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO

• Cory A. Booker, Newark, NJ Mayor

• Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children's Zone President and CEO

• Kevin P. Chavous, attorney, author, and national school reform leader

• Arne Duncan, Chicago Public Schools CEO • Howard Fuller, Former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent, Education Professor and Director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University • Peter Groff, Colorado Senate President

Kati Haycock (above), President of Ed Trust, has been a main purveyor of the claim that the main problem for America's school children is the so-called "achievement gap" and ensuring that all of the racial, social and economic inequities of 21st Century American capitalism are ignored as the focus of corporate school reform is aimed at teachers and public schools. Haycock's group has long been financed by Gates and other vulture philanthropists. • Kati Haycock, The Education Trust President

• Joel I. Klein, New York City Schools Chancellor, Education Equality Project Co-chairman • Marc Lampkin, Strong American Schools – ED in ’08 Executive Director • James Mtume, KISS FM Radio “Open Line” Host • Michelle Rhee, Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor • The Honorable Roy Romer, Strong American Schools – ED in ’08 Chairman • Andrew Rotherham, Education Sector Co-founder and Co-director • Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network President, Education Equality Project Co-chairman

• Joe Williams, Democrats for Education Reform Executive Director • J.C. Watts, Jr., Strong American Schools – ED in ’08 National Spokesman


Education Trust,

another Gates favorite, needs no introduction. They received $1.5 million and change in 2007 and another million in 2010.

The National PTA received $1 millon grant to mobilize parents for the Common Core Standards in four states. Dec. 2, 2009

The May 18, 2011 Education Week(which gets its own Gates funding, as in $2,534,757 in 2005, another $100,000 in 2005, and $1,997,280 in 2009.) ran a ¾ page ad from ASCD. It was presented in the form of an opinion piece by Executive Director Gene R. Carter offering strong support of the Common Core. The ad doesn’t mention that The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded $3 million to ASCD “to support that group's efforts to help education leaders and educators themselves understand the standards and implement them.” –The Journal, April 5, 2011 Stand for Children Leadership Center

Date: December 2009 Purpose: to support the grassroots organization, policy development, and coalition work of Stand for Children Leadership Center focused on advancing common policy priorities in early learning and college ready Gates lists support of the Common Core as “college-ready education.”

Amount: $971,280 This was reported as a three-year grant, but the next year, Stand For Children was back with a $3,476,300 grant “to support education reforms, training, technical assistance, and tools designed to increase teacher effectiveness.”

Substance has had plenty of coverage on this outfit’s union-busting activities. Here are a few:

Jonah Edelman, identified as “intense leader of reform group Stand for Children, was the subject of an April 2011 New York Times puff piece which does not mention any Gates funding:


April 2011 Purpose: to invest in projects related to the Common Core and to assist in carrying out a Standards Rollout Amount: $1,000,000 Term: 1 year and 3 months Topic: College-Ready Education July 2010 Purpose: to continue the American Federation Of Teachers Innovation Fund’s efforts to support local affiliates that engage in research-based, union-developed teacher quality initiatives and to work with a consortium of local and state affiliates—the Teacher Excellence Collaborative—to create and implement a comprehensive development and evaluation system based upon the American Federation Of Teachers framework Amount: $3,421,725 Term: 2 years and 1 month Topic: College-Ready Education June 2009 Purpose: to support the work of a teacher evaluation task force, which is made up of progressive local and state leaders who will develop a comprehensive framework for teacher evaluation that focuses on research-based instructional practices and how to incorporate student-achievement results, to support the work of the task force, the publication and widespread dissemination of the final report, and a national conference dedicated to the framework, with some technical assistance to interested districts Amount: $250,000 Term: 1 year and 2 months Topic: College-Ready Education A link to the 2008 AFT report “Sizing up the State Standards” is posted on the Gates website.


The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education

Date: March 2010

Purpose: to support an in-person meeting of the Planning Committee of the NEA Foundation Institute for Local Innovation in Teaching and Learning

Amount: $38,420

Term: 2 months

Topic: College-Ready Education

The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education

Date: October 2009

Purpose: to support training for local NEA affiliates to take on a leadership role in improving teaching practice and student achievement in their districts

Amount: $358,915

Term: 11 months

Topic: College-Ready Education JUST A COINCIDENCE

In Nov. 2009, the Hillsborough County Public Schools received $100 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to radically change teacher practices. This Gates plan also involves Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Denver, District of Columbia, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Prince George’s County, Rochester, and Seattle. They operate under the aegis of the Gates-funded Aspen Urban Superintendents Network, which has been made possible by generous grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation. In 2009, Gates alone gave the Aspen Institute $3,878,680. Purpose: to continue support for Human Capital Framework, Senior Congressional Staff Network, and the Urban Superintendents Network to address common issues of teacher effectiveness, standards, and assessments AFT President Randi Weingarten offers the AFT congratulations for the Hillsborough, Memphis, Pittsburgh seduction on the Gates website: “These Gates Intensive Partnership grants will show that when dedicated adults engage in true collaboration, the real winners are the students.”>


For those of you gasping for breath, I suggest subscribing to, where such information comes regularly but in smaller doses.

Joanne Barkin’s brilliant summary of the Gates-Broad chicanery, published in Dissent Magazine, January 2011 offers a substantial and damning read.

Barkin sees fit to put on her short identifier that she is a graduate of Chicago public schools.

Christopher H. Tienken's Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision Making, from AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, Vol. 7, No. 4 Winter 2011, offers a readable, coherent look at the Common Core--even with good lines as well as good research:

Size matters because size brings complexity. Finland, the country that usually ranks in the top five on international tests has 5.5 million people. In the U.S. we call that Wisconsin.

I offer a suggested topic for Mr. Dillon’s next front page expose: We produce more researchers and scientists and qualified engineers than our economy can employ, have even more in the pipeline, and we are one of the most economically competitive nations on the globe.

It’s staggering to realize that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had an endowment of $33 billion as of June 2010, with an additional $30 billion from Warren Buffett, spread out over multiple years in annual contributions. This makes a lot of people lose hope. Some of us don’t even operate on a shoestring but on Social Security deposits. But when we don’t keep shouting, when we don’t insist on government of the people, by the people and for the people, we let thugs like Bill Gates triumph. Writing in Undernews, “Is the Gates Foundation Involved in Bribery?” longtime political commentator Sam Smith noted:

If an individual were to influence governmental decisions with this sort of money, it would be clearly a criminal offense. Why should it be any different for a foundation? Gates has opened the door to a manifestly corrupt approach to government where a handful of well funded groups and individuals override the democratic legislative process by the prospect of funding or the threat of losing it. If you can't go to jail now for doing this, there should be laws that make it clear that you do from here on out.


Here’s who Dillon quotes as experts on the issue of Race to the Top and/or Common Core Standards—and how he identifies them. As you read the identifiers, remember these appeared in articles meant to inform the public about education policy.

Michael Cohen:

• president of Achieve, a Washington-based organization that is coordinating the effort (Sam Dillon, “New Push Seeks to End Need for Pre-College Remedial Classes,” New York Times, May 28, 2009)

• Education Department official in the Clinton administration who is president of Achieve. (Sam Dillon, “Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools,” New York Times, March 11, 2010)

Timothy Daly

• president, New Teacher Project, which advocates for improved educator evaluation systems (Sam Dillon, “Education Grant Effort Faces Late Opposition,” New York Times, Jan 19, 2010)

• president, New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group (Sam Dillon, “States Create Flood of Bills To Overhaul Education,” New York Times, June 2, 2010)

• president, New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that has pressed for changes in the way teachers are evaluated (Sam Dillon, “New Tension In Obama's Tie To Teachers,” New York Times, July 5, 2010)

Chester Finn

• former assistant secretary of education who has been an advocate for national standards for nearly two decades (Sam Dillon, “Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools,” New York Times, March 10, 2010)

• president of an education research group in Washington (Sam Dillon and Tamar Lewin, “Education Chief Vies to Expand U.S. Role as Partner on Local Schools,” The New York Times, May 3, 2010)

• a Republican, writer of influential education blog, Flypaper (Sam Dillon, “New Tension In Obama's Tie To Teachers,” New York Times, July 5, 2010)

Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute is widely quoted on his supposed "studies" of American public education, but rarely admits that most of those studies are slanted by his funding from the Gates Foundation and other groups that promote attacks on teacher unions and the privatization of urban public schools.Frederick M. Hess

• education director at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research policy group (Sam Dillon, “States Rush to Prepare For School Grant Contest,” New York Times, Nov. 11, 2009)

• a director at the American Enterprise Institute (Sam Dillon, “In School Aid Race, Many States Are Left Behind,” New York Times, April 5, 2010)

Jack Jennings

• former Democratic Congressional staff member who is president of the Center on Education Policy, a research group (Sam Dillon, “Array of Hurdles Awaits New Education Agenda, The New York Times, March 16, 2010)

Education Policy

• a research group (Sam Dillon, "Array of Hurdles Awaits New Education Agenda," The New York Times, March 16, 2010)

Carl Kaestle

• education historian at Brown University (Sam Dillon and Tamar Lewin, "Education Chief Vies to Expand U.S. Role as Partner on Local Schools," The New York Times, May 3, 2010)

Michael W. Kirst

• Stanford University professor emeritus who has studied the proliferation of remedial courses on American campuses (Sam Dillon, "New Push Seeks to End Need for Pre-College Remedial Classes," New York Times, May 28, 2009

Richard D. Kahlenberg

• senior fellow at the Century Foundation (Sam Dillon, "New Tension In Obama's Tie To Teachers," New York Times, July 5, 2010)

Leah Lechleiter-Luke

• Spanish teacher from Mauston, Wis., who is that state's 2010 teacher of the year (Sam Dillon, "States Receive a Reading List: New Standards for Education," New York Times, June 2, 2010)

The New Teacher Project

• a nonprofit group (Sam Dillon, "Dangling $4.3 Billion, Dangling $4.3 Billion, Obama Pushes States to Shift on Education," New York Times, Aug. 17, 2009)

Paul Pastorek

• state superintendent of education . (Sam Dillon, "Education Grant Effort Faces Late Opposition," Jan 19, 2010)

Rick Perry

• Governor of Texas (Sam Dillon,"Education Grant Effort Faces Late Opposition," Jan 19, 2010)

Mike Petrilli

• A vice president at Thomas B. Fordham Institute who served in George W. Bush's Education Department (Sam Dillon, "Array of Hurdles Awaits New Education Agenda," The New York Times, March 16, 2010)

Susan Pimentel

• consultant in New Hampshire who helped write the English standards. (Sam Dillon, "Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools," New York Times, March 10, 2010)

Diane Ravitch

• Education historian (Sam Dillon, "Dangling $4.3 Billion, Dangling $4.3 Billion, Obama Pushes States to Shift on Education," New York Times, Aug. 17, 2009)

• education historian (Sam Dillon, "Education Standards Likely to See Toughening," New York Times, April 15, 2010)

John Schnur

• education adviser to the Obama campaign who helped design Race to the Top. (Sam Dillon, "States Create Flood of Bills To Overhaul Education," New York Times, June 1, 2010)

Van Shoales

• executive director of Education Reform Now, a national advocacy group (Sam Dillon, "In School Aid Race, Many States Are Left Behind," New York Times, April 5, 2010)

Jim Stergios

• executive director, Pioneer Institute, a Boston nonprofit group that helped Massachusetts revise its state benchmarks in the 1990s. (Sam Dillon, "Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools," New York Times, March 10, 2010)

Kate Walsh

• president of the nonprofit National Council on Teacher Quality who has advised several states on Race to the Top strategy (Sam Dillon, "States Rush to Prepare For School Grant Contest," New York Times, Nov. 11, 2009)

Grover "Russ" Whitehurst

• director of the Department of Education's research division under President George W. Bush, now at the Brookings Institution. (Sam Dillon, "Education Grant Effort Faces Late Opposition," Jan 19, 2010)

• senior fellow at Brooking Institution (Sam Dillon, "Array of Hurdles Awaits New Education Agenda," The New York Times, March 16, 2010)

Gene Wilhoit

• executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonpartisan association of state superintendents of education (Sam Dillon, "States Rush to Prepare For School Grant Contest," New York Times, Nov. 11, 2009)

• executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. (Sam Dillon, "Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools," New York Times, March 10, 2010)

Joe Williams

• Executive Director, Democrats for Education Reform (Sam Dillon, "Dangling $4.3 Billion, Dangling $4.3 Billion, Obama Pushes States to Shift on Education," New York Times, Aug. 17, 2009)

• executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group often critical of the teachers' unions (Sam Dillon, "After Criticism, the Administration Is Praised for Final Rules on Education Grants," New York Times, Nov. 12, 2009)

A Question

Now ask yourself this: Who's missing? For starters, noted researcher (and former New York Times education columnist) Richard Rothstein was not quoted in any of the 700 articles I studied.

Item: Let's do the numbers: Department of Education's Race to the Top Program Offers Only a Muddled Path to the Finish Line by William Peterson and Richard Rothstein, EPI Report, April 20, 2010, documents that the Race to the Top picks winners arbitrarily.

Item: A blueprint that needs more work by Richard Rothstein

EPI Policy Memo #162, March 27, 2010

That’s just for starters. Rothstein, the author of very influential work, is an acknowledged expert, and he's prolific — books, reports, papers — all relevant to the topics at hand. Yet reporters ignore him.

Likewise, David Berliner wasn't cited once in during the time period studied. So the question remains open: Why would the press shut out an expert, the co-author of the acclaimed Manufactured Crisis and Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing

Corrupts America's Schools and Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success --while calling up Joe Williams and his cohort Charles Barone of the Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee (PAC) tied to hedge fund interests, for 40 citations?

I name only two of the missing. Think of all the other experts who are missing from every press account of education policy. My "expert" tally showed Education Week sometimes quoting people from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute three times in one issue.

Duncan created a firestorm among bloggers when he told Sam Dillon and Tamar Lewin of the New York Times (5/4/10) that his policies encounter no opposition: "Zero. There's just an outpouring of support for the common-sense changes and the unprecedented investments we're making." This outrageous claim was left to stand unquestioned in the newspaper that still claims "All the news fit to print" on its masthead. No comments were accepted online.

Progressive Texas journalist Molly Ivins once warned (in her George W. Bush biography Shrub), "People who have read only one book can be quite dangerous."

The fictional character Joubert (center) in the dramatic opening scene of the Robert Redford film "Three Days of the Condor." Joubert's associates are murdering all of the research associates of Redford's character in this scene, after gaining access to their New York brownstone wearing disguises such as that of a U.S. Postal worker. Later in the movie, Joubert decides not to murder the Redford character, too, but warms him of his future.Consider the danger of allowing one foundation to dominate our education policy. I worry about the press's very deliberate avoidance of this issue, and I fear I might have found the answer in the movie Three Days of the Condor, where Joubert, the contract assassin, sums things up: "I don't interest myself in 'why.' I think more often in terms of 'when,' sometimes 'where'; always 'how much.'... The fact is what I do is not a bad occupation. Someone is always willing to pay."

--by Susan Ohanian, who was invited to write a commentary for the New York Times-- and then dis-invited because she would not withdraw her one-word criticism of Times columnist Thomas Friedman. The editor insisted that Friedman has nothing to do with education policy. SAM DILLON'S MAY 21, 2011 NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE BELOW HERE

May 21, 2011. Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates, By SAM DILLON

INDIANAPOLIS — A handful of outspoken teachers helped persuade state lawmakers this spring to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies. They testified before the legislature, wrote briefing papers and published an op-ed article in The Indianapolis Star.

They described themselves simply as local teachers who favored school reform — one sympathetic state representative, Mary Ann Sullivan, said, “They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.” They were, but they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For years, Bill Gates focused his education philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation’s education policies. To that end, the foundation is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

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.

“We’ve learned that school-level investments aren’t enough to drive systemic changes,” said Allan C. Golston, the president of the foundation’s United States program. “The importance of advocacy has gotten clearer and clearer.”

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.

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.

Indeed, the foundation’s 2009 tax filing runs to 263 pages and includes about 360 education grants. There are the more traditional and publicly celebrated programmatic initiatives, like financing charter school operators and early-college high schools. Then there are the less well-known advocacy grants to civil rights groups like the Education Equality Project and Education Trust that try to influence policy, to research institutes that study the policies’ effectiveness, and to Education Week and public radio and television stations that cover education policies.

The foundation paid a New York philanthropic advisory firm $3.5 million “to mount and support public education and advocacy campaigns.” It also paid a string of universities to support pieces of the Gates agenda. Harvard, for instance, got $3.5 million to place “strategic data fellows” who could act as “entrepreneurial change agents” in school districts in Boston, Los Angeles and elsewhere. The foundation has given to the two national teachers’ unions — as well to groups whose mission seems to be to criticize them.

“It’s easier to name which groups Gates doesn’t support than to list all of those they do, because it’s just so overwhelming,” noted Ken Libby, a graduate student who has pored over the foundation’s tax filings as part of his academic work.

An early example of the increased emphasis on advocacy came in 2008, when Mr. Gates teamed with Eli Broad for a campaign aimed at focusing the presidential candidates on issues like teacher quality and education standards. The Gates Foundation spent $16 million on the effort.

Mr. Gates later acknowledged that it achieved little, but in the years since, the foundation has helped leverage sweeping changes. Its latest annual report, for instance, highlights its role — often overlooked — in the development and promotion of the common core academic standards that some 45 states have adopted in recent months.

The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which developed the standards, and Achieve Inc., a nonprofit organization coordinating the writing of tests aligned with the standards, have each received millions of dollars.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, another nonprofit organization, was paid $551,000 in 2009 “to grow support for the common core standards initiative,” according to the tax filings. The Fordham Institute got $959,000 to “review common core materials and develop supportive materials.” Scores of newspapers quoted Fordham’s president, Chester E. Finn Jr., praising the standards after their March 2010 release; most, including The New York Times, did not note the Gates connection.

“What Gates got for their money was an honest review,” said Mr. Finn, a longtime advocate of national standards. “All I could say to Gates before the common core came out was that we were hoping the new standards would be good.”

The Center on Education Policy, which calls itself “a national independent advocate,” was awarded $1 million over two years to track which states adopted the standards. Its president, Jack Jennings, said he had nonetheless publicly criticized the Gates stand on other issues, including charter schools and teacher evaluations. “I feel free to speak out when I think something is wrongheaded,” he said.

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. Then a string of Gates-backed nonprofit groups worked to promote legislation across the country: at least 20 states, including New York, are now designing new evaluation systems.

While the foundation has given money to both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, totaling about $6.3 million over the last three years, some of its newer initiatives appear aimed at challenging the dominance that unions have exercised during policy debates. Last year, Mr. Gates spent $2 million on a “social action” campaign focused on the film “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” which demonized Randi Weingarten, the president of the federation.

In 2010, the foundation gave $500,000, to the Foundation for Educational Excellence, founded by Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida.

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.”

Ms. Weingarten complained to the foundation that the document appeared to be antiunion, and Mr. Golston said the foundation had shifted the group’s mission to support union-management engagement.

“Unlike some foundations that would rather just scapegoat teachers and their unions, Gates understands that teaching is a profession, that you have to invest in and support teachers,” Ms. Weingarten said. “That doesn’t mean we agree with everything they do.”

Two other Gates-financed groups, Educators for Excellence and Teach Plus, have helped amplify the voices of newer teachers as an alternative to the official views of the unions. Last summer, members of several such groups had a meeting at the foundation’s offices in Washington.

Two Bronx teachers, Sydney Morris and Evan Stone, founded Educators for Excellence in March 2010, to argue against seniority-based layoffs. But it was a $160,000 donation from Mr. Gates months later, Ms. Morris said, that allowed them to sign up 2,500 teachers.

Teach Plus was founded in 2007 in Boston by Celine Coggins, a former teacher with a Ph.D. from Stanford, to give young educators incentives to make the classroom a career.

With relatively small grants from other foundations, Ms. Coggins began working with teachers in Chicago and Indianapolis in 2008. The next year, she received Gates foundation awards totaling $4 million, for expenditure over three years, which allowed her to expand to Los Angeles and Memphis, build a Web site and move into new offices at the Boston headquarters.

In Chicago, union activists have accused Teach Plus of being an “Astroturf” grass-roots organization. In Indiana, some lawmakers accused the group of being “part of a conspiracy by Gates and hedge fund managers” to undermine the unions’ influence, according to Ms. Sullivan, a Democrat who voted to end seniority-based layoffs, as Teach Plus wanted. “I don’t believe in conspiracy theories.”


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