Concerns about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s influence on education policy have multiplied in part because so many policy actors have amplified ideas it espouses, including on teacher-quality issues. Chief among those actors is the U.S. Department of Education.
The foundation’s charge into the teaching arena came just as President Barack Obama took office, and as the country tumbled into a severe recession that sparked Congress to appropriate an unprecedented $100 billion in one-time money for education. Mr. Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, used a small slice of that money to launch the Race to the Top competition, which focused heavily on teacher effectiveness.
The $4 billion program and federal waivers conditioned on similar principles are credited with influencing most of the states to revamp their teacher-evaluation policies, often in ways that mirror the Gates agenda.
The foundation got so involved in Race to the Top at one point that it gave grants to help states prepare their applications.
The connections. Several top officials who have served under Mr. Duncan came from the Seattle-based foundation. Jim Shelton, the No. 2 in charge at the department, is a Gates education division alumnus. One of Mr. Duncan’s early chiefs of staff, Margot Rogers, also hailed from there.
In addition, Mr. Duncan has lured many to work for him from other private-sector organizations that receive significant funding from Gates. Another former chief of staff, Joanne Weiss, was a top official at the New Schools Venture Fund, a recipient of several Gates grants worth about $80 million.
Gates Foundation officials credit the Education Department for giving its projects more oomph.
“There’s no doubt that aspects of the approach that the administration took were accelerant,” said Vicki L. Phillips, the Gates Foundation’s director of college-ready programs, which has overseen most of the teacher-quality funding.
The Gates Foundation has provided grant support to Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week. The newspaper retains sole editorial control over coverage.
Brad Jupp, a senior program adviser on teacher initiatives at the Education Department, praised the foundation’s teacher-quality focus, saying its work built a logical argument for focusing on teacher effectiveness.
But he contends that it’s an overstatement to say the administration and the foundation were partners.
“They deserve credit for influencing us, but there were many other factors that influenced us,” Mr. Jupp said. “We share common goals and share some theories of action.”
The notion that the two groups huddled together to shape those goals, he added, is “more coincidence than conspiracy.”
EDUCATION WEEK RECEIVES GATES AID
Since 2005, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded more than $7 million in grants to Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week.
That total includes a current grant of $2 million over 25 months to support the development of new content and services related to the education industry and innovation in K-12 education.
Also, the Gates Foundation provided a $2.6 million grant over 40 months, starting in 2009, to underwrite a range of efforts to support EPE’s editorial and business-development capacity.
The first grant from Gates to EPE, $2.5 million over four years, underwrote the Education Week Diplomas Count report, as well as original research on high school graduation rates, and related activities.
Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of its coverage under the Gates grants.
Besides the grant support, the Gates Foundation in 2005 provided a $100,000 contract to EPE. Under the arrangement, the EPE Research Center conducted a pilot project on the feasibility of providing research support to the foundation.
A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2013 edition of Education Week as Ed. Department, Gates Plans for Teachers Converge