School & District Management Opinion

Chat Wrap-Up: Educational Policy Influence

January 17, 2007 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

On Dec. 20, 2006, Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust, Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and Christopher B. Swanson, the director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, answered readers’ questions concerning the center’s recent report “Influence: A Study of the Factors Shaping Education Policy,” released in December. Below are excerpts from the discussion:

Read the full transcript of this chat.

Read more chat transcripts.

Question: Why is it that Bill Gates is considered so influential? Isn’t the money he gives what is making the impact? Or is he dictating what is to be done with it, and, by so doing, influencing education based on his own agenda, whatever that may be?

Swanson: There were a couple findings from the study that I think were both obvious (at least in hindsight) and surprising. One of those was Bill Gates’ first-place finish as the most influential person in education policy during the last 10 years. Further, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ranked third in the influential-organizations category. My sense is that a lot of people make a strong connection between Mr. Gates and the foundation.

On the one hand, it’s not surprising that Mr. Gates would come out on top. He’s the richest person in the world, the foundation is the world’s most well-endowed philanthropy, and he has invested over a billion dollars in education reform to date. So, just in terms of the sheer size of the investments he is able to make in education, one would expect Mr. Gates and the foundation to be viewed as highly influential.

On the other hand, just think back 10 years. What kind of profile did Bill Gates have in education circles then? Not a very prominent one, at least nothing compared to the present. The speed of Mr. Gates’ and his foundation’s rise is particularly striking. In addition, I think the foundation’s domestic work in education is also characterized by a high level of focus. With billions and billions of dollars to spend, a foundation might very well decide to cover all its bases. Instead, the Gates Foundation has invested heavily in a relatively small number of areas, with high school reform at the top of the list.

We can chalk up Mr. Gates’ ranking to a combination of the extraordinary resources at his disposal and his strategy of investing in a few high-leverage areas.

Question: I didn’t see any schools of education on the influential-organizations list. In light of Arthur E. Levine’s recent comments on the state of teacher education in the United States, should we be concerned?

Finn: Darn right! Not only are most of them mediocre (per Mr. Levine), they also lack influence. (Though I suppose that’s better than being simultaneously mediocre and influential.) In most places, however, they continue to enjoy a near-monopoly on the preparation of public school educators. That’s what, in my view, we should be most concerned about. If there was ever a place for trust-busting in education, it’s here!

Question: What of those quiet influences who conduct research, write letters to the government, or ask provocative questions that travel down the pike to someone who is in a position to eventually effect change? Aren’t the most influential among us sometimes those who are the least well-known? Isn’t it true that the smallest of us can often have the greatest impact?

Haycock: You are exactly right. Lists like those in the report at best identify one kind of leader, but they miss individuals who exert huge influence in their particular domains—a classroom, a school, a neighborhood. We need leadership of all sorts; the problems we face as a nation are too tough to be seen as just certain people’s responsibility. As we like to say at the Education Trust, “There is no small role in big change.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2007 edition of Education Week as Chat Wrap-Up: Educational Policy Influence


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Privacy & Security Webinar
Navigating Modern Data Protection & Privacy in Education
Explore the modern landscape of data loss prevention in education and learn actionable strategies to protect sensitive data.
Content provided by  Symantec & Carahsoft

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Principals' Unions Are on the Rise. What Are Their Demands?
Across the country, principals are organizing for better working conditions.
8 min read
Illustration of hands shaking with smaller professional people standing on top, with hands in the air, celebrating.
School & District Management How Principals Are Outsourcing Their Busywork to AI
Principals are chipping away at their administrative to-do lists with a little help from AI.
6 min read
Education technology and AI Artificial Intelligence concept, Women use laptops, Learn lessons and online webinars successfully in modern digital learning,  Courses to develop new skills
School & District Management Opinion How to Let Your Values Guide You as a School Leader
Has your “why” become fuzzy? Here are four steps to keep principals motivated and moving forward.
Damia C. Thomas
4 min read
Silhouette of a figure inside of which is reflected public school life, Self-reflection of career in education
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management ‘Be Vocal Without Being Vicious’: Superintendents on Fighting for More Funding
Two superintendents talk about stepping into the political realm to call for more public school funding.
5 min read
Photo of dollar bills frozen in ice.
iStock / Getty Images Plus