Paul T. Hill’s Aug. 9 Commentary “Money, Momentum, and the Gates Foundation,” featured in the online TalkBack section, drew heavy reader response (more than 87 comments had been posted as this issue went to press) and produced a lively debate on funding priorities. Readers’ suggestions for how the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation might use some of Warren E. Buffett’s large infusion of new funds on education ran the gamut—from those who thought that “the money should be put directly into the hands of educators,” to those who believed it should be spent on such improvements as smaller classes, better professional development, universal pre-K, and alternative approaches to special education.
Providing new visions for technology-based learning—and ensuring the teacher training and resource base to bring them to fruition—was the most often advanced idea, with one reader proposing the foundation fund 10 experimental schools that would use adaptive technologies to provide students with year-round, 24-7 learning in modern facilities with extensive digital libraries. Another recommendation was the establishment of three independent R&D foundations, with endowments of up to $500 million, that would help develop a “structural solution to the education R&D problem.”
Others stressed solutions beyond the school, such as health programs, child care, parent education, or summer jobs. Alluding to the hierarchy of needs identified by the psychologist Abraham Maslow, one reader said: “Neither staff nor students can achieve higher-order goals until basic needs are met. It is Maslow.” A few readers endorsed the foundation’s current direction. As one headmaster put it, “The Gates Foundation support for entrepreneurial small schools was right from day one, and may prove to be the most significant top-down reform we have seen, in part because it met on the way up the only grassroots reform we have known: the school choice movement.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week as TalkBack: Gates Funding