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Familiar Lesson of Science Give: Government Looks to Philanthropy to Get Stuff Done

Ohanian Note: Here are just a few reasons why I'm very apprehensive about the Feds calling on philanthropists to fund science projects. When the Feds bolster GatesBroadWalton handouts with RttT rules and CCSS tests and unions hold out their hands and grovel for a seat at the money table, kids suffer.

  • Chicago, IL -- Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan, The Broad Foundation Founder Eli Broad, New Schools Venture Fund President Kim Smith and New Leaders for New Schools CEO Jon Schnur announced a $1.4 million investment to help make Chicago the flagship program of a national effort to recruit and train outstanding new urban school principals.-- Press Release, April 30, 2002

  • WASHINGTON -- The American Federation of Teachers welcomes the unprecedented support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for efforts to improve teaching and learning through grants totaling $290 million to school systems in Hillsborough County, Fla.; Pittsburgh; Memphis; and a group of charter schools in Los Angeles.

    "These Gates Intensive Partnership grants will show that when dedicated adults engage in true collaboration, the real winners are the students, AFT President Randi Weingarten said.--Press Release AFT Congratulates Recipients of Gates Foundation Grants, November 2011

  • Whatever nuances differentiate the motivations of the Big Three [Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Eli and Edythe Broad, Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation], their market-based goals for overhauling public education coincide: choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don't rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher.-- Joanne Barkin, Got dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools, Dissent, Winter 2011

  • Philanthropy New York is bringing together for the first time ever in one forum:

    * U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
    * New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr.
    *New York City Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott
    *Beth Fertig (Moderator), Education Correspondent, WNYC-- Press Release,June 4, 2012

  • Bill and Melinda fund ideas, not ideologies. . . . I am so convinced that the Gates Foundation is sincere. . . .I read them [Common Core State Standards]. And then, I liked them. --Lily's Blackboard [president NEA], Why Arne Duncan needs to listen to Bill and Melinda, June 12, 2014

  • One of the interesting things about [Microsoft billionaire and education reformer] Bill Gates -- and I've gotten the opportunity to interview him several times -- is that he really has learned a lot from his experience and his own views have evolved on some of these questions. But because . . . his foundation prioritizes using student test scores to rate teachers, that was picked up by the Obama administration and spread nationally.

    So while Gates might be adding nuance toward thinking how he's doing his grant-making, it's difficult for all of the states and the federal government who have embraced these policies to make a similar change.--Dana Goldstein, in Arne Duncan's 'staggering statement': Why ed reformers are having second thoughts, Elias Isquith, Salon, Sept. 24, 2014

  • Aren't 'philanthropreneurs' just 'plunderpreneurs' with good PR? --Evgeny Morozov, Twitter, April 2, 2015

  • In 2010, five [Supreme Court] judges created the notion of corporate personhood -- giving companies unfettered right to dominate elections. After all, Exxon is just a citizen like you and me. And in 2014, those five judges gave corporations a soul, a further expansion of business entity as a citizen. Well, they tried to. As the saying goes, a corporation will never truly be a citizen until you can execute one in Texas.--Timothy Eagen, The Conscience of a Corporation, New York Times, April 3, 2015

  • by L.S. Hall

    Not along ago, if a president wanted to solve a problem, he invited top congressional leaders to the White House. These days, he seems just as likely to call in top philanthropists and foundation chiefs.

    For one thing, these folks have spare cash--in contrast to an increasingly strapped federal government, in which non-defense discretionary spending is now on a downward glide path to levels not seen since World War II, as measured by GDP. That shrinking pot of money includes everything from environmental protection to education to space exploration.

    It also includes scientific and medical research. But these are grim days for science funding as budgets are kept flat or cut across most areas of non-mandatory spending. And if Tea Party types in Congress aren't moved by urgent warnings that the U.S. is falling behind in science, what's a president to do?

    Call in big private funders, that's what.

    The recent White House Science Fair showcased the work of bright young students whose work excelled at STEM competitions and science fairs across the country. The event also gave President Obama the opportunity to announce new commitments from the private and nonprofit sectors to support scientists in the early stages of their careers, as well as encourage more young people--especially from historically underrepresented groups--to pursue STEM studies and careers.

    Most notably, the president's announcements included a new philanthropic initiative that unites three leading funders of scientific research to provide new support to scientists who are in the early stages of their careers.

    As competition for grants has intensified and budgets have grown tighter, it has become increasingly difficult for new scientists in the early stages of their research careers to establish and develop programs of research. In the last 20 years, the U.S. has seen a decline in National Institutes of Health research award success rates, as well as an increase in the average age of first-time R01 grantees.

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Simons Foundation are the three funders under this new Faculty Scholars Program. The three funders will put a combined $148 million into the program for its first five years.

    We've seen this movie before. Just last year, President Obama mobilized leading foundations to support "My Brother's Keeper," an initiative to help close the opportunity gap for young men and boys of color. Here, too, the White House has looked to private funders to help solve a major national problem that a strapped and divided government was fumbling.

    Of course, some version of this same script plays out all the time at the local level, where public institutions like parks and schools increasingly rely on philanthropy. These gifts often come with strings attached, and underscore a broader shift of power away from the public sector and toward private wealth. That's not great for democracy.

    As for the new science initiative, the program will award up to 70 grants every two and a half years to early-career scientists whose work shows promise. Individual grants will range in size from $100,000 to $400,000. In addition, the awardee's institution will receive an amount equal to 20 percent of the yearly grant for administrative costs.

    To be eligible for a grant under this new initiative, candidates must have a Ph.D., M.D., or equivalent; be in a tenured or tenure-track position of assistant professor or higher at an eligible U.S. institution of higher education; have four to ten years of post-training professional experience; and be principal or co-principal investigator on at least one active, nationally competitive grant with a term of two or more years between April 2013 and July 2015 (see this link to the HHMI website for the application eligibility section).

    Scientific research funding programs are firmly in the wheelhouse of scientific funders such as HHMI and Simons. Gates has not operated STEM-specific funding programs, but it funds many STEM-related initiatives through its education and global health programs. Besides, the Gates Foundation's size alone makes it a significant player in any funding area it chooses to enter.

    With this program, HHMI, Simons, and Gates are emphasizing a need in the STEM funding arena that we write about often--a solid base of research funding for scientists in the early stages of their careers--and have applied their considerable resources to the problem. At least somebody has some extra resources these days.

    — L. S. Hall with Ohanian documetation
    Inside Philanthropy





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