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Education Opinion

Philanthropists Lack Educational Expertise

By Walt Gardner — June 08, 2016 1 min read

It’s rare when a philanthropic organization admits that it does not have all the answers (“Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda,” Los Angeles Times, Jun. 2). So it’s to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s credit that it expressed humility for its misguided attempts to improve public schools.

Its record of failures include school size, teacher evaluation, and the Common Core. But the most significant, in my opinion, was made by Sue Desmond-Hellman, the foundation’s CEO: “Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards.”

This is precisely what teachers have been saying for years. Accountability cannot be fair if schools are not adequately supported. Critics have argued that more money has not made a significant improvement. They demand to know what will change if still more money were earmarked for schools. It’s a legitimate question. The answer is that it’s not the amount of money that matters, but how the money is spent. Further, it would help tremendously if teachers were not under constant attack. Morale matters, and right now it’s at its nadir.

Which brings us back to philanthropic organizations. They can play an important role in improving public schools. But their wealth does not make them experts on the subject. That’s why it’s important not to let them dictate what they alone believe are panaceas. If they spent more time talking to teachers, they would be in a better position to use their vast resources effectively. Piling on is counterproductive.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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