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Gates spends millions to sway public on ed reform

Ohanian Comment: Valerie Strauss has provided an invaluable service here. Read ALL the hot links.

If you ever doubted that Bill Gates runs education policy in this country--read the confidential letter sent out to candidates for the job of CEO of this new Gates enterprise. The letter includes the grant proposal, written Aug. 21, 2009. The background of the people involved in this proposal is significant:

  • Amy Wilkins, chair of the search committee, is at Education Trust. Before that, she worked at Children's Defense Fund and for the Democratic National Committee.

  • John Deasy, then-Deputy Director of Education, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where he led "program work on effective teaching"; now superintendent Los Angeles Unified School District. Put his name into a 'search' on this site for a run-down of his checkered history. In this document he is lauded as a "national leader" in a teacher pay-for-performance plan.

  • Sandra Licon is Special Assistant to Education Director, US Program, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Before that, she was a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Fellow where she worked at the Education Trust and later with Senator Edward Kennedy's staff on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Before that, she was a Program Director with Teach for America. She has an MA in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

  • See how interconnected these attack dogs are?

    These people will lead the charge on convincing the media and therefore the public that the Gates-run $350 million teacher deformation projects in Memphis, Pittsburgh, Hillsborough, and a group of Los Angeles charter schools are the way to go in bringing teachers to their knees as compliant workers in the Global Economy. Only they don't phrase it quite like that. In Gates-speak, it's known as "teacher effectiveness."

    Every time you see a media story about this supposedly local effort to improve teacher effectiveness, you should write a letter asking that they reveal that Bill Gates is using his enormous wealth to pull the puppet strings.

    Reader Comment: What do you expect? With no facts or bona fide research to back up his proposals, and a record of failure on what he has tried, he doubles down on crazy and goes straight for the propaganda method to impose his insanity on the nations children. He just proved that he is absolutely clueless with his idea of increasing class sizes (among other things), and so has to spin his wares like an insane top to gain any traction at all. We are not fooled. Do us all a favor and go fix the Windows OS so we don't have to do patches anymore.

    Reader Comment: In 2006, staffers at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) brought significant concerns to TEA's Office of Inspector General regarding a Gates consultant, "public-private partnerships," no-bid contracts, conflict-ridden subcontractors, and the evasion of state legislative policies using state discretionary grant funds. The Gates consultant obtained contracts for his ex-wife and worked to influence state policies regarding discretionary grants and contracts.

    The TEA OIG report is a MUST READ:

    http://alt.coxnewsweb.com/statesman/pdf/06/062807_OIG_Report.pdf [pdf file]

    "Bill Gates wants his agenda to be presented to these sorts of groups. The Gates Foundation Consultant described the subcontractor's work to include integrating Gates Foundation into articles, host panels, identify keynote speakers, and find organizations through which Gates agenda can be presented." (pg. 17)

    Josh Benton, Dallas Morning News reported on the influence of Gates Foundation workers in June 2007.


    By Valerie Strauss

    The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is spending at least $3.5 million to create a new organization whose aim is to win over the public and the media to its market-driven approach to school reform, according to the closely held grant proposal.

    The organization is tentatively called "Teaching First," and already has a chief executive officer: Yolie Flores, a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, who has championed such issues as public school choice and teacher effectiveness. Flores did not immediately return phone calls for comment. A Gates foundation spokesman said she would take over the job fulltime when her board term is up in June.

    The Gates proposal [pdf file]lays out a strategy to win public approval for the foundation's investment of more than $335 million in teacher effectiveness programs in four school districts that involve controversial initiatives including linking teacher pay to student standardized test scores. Critics (including me) say this "value-added" model-based test scores is unfair measure of how well a teacher is doing because there are many factors that go into how well a student does on a test.

    The plan includes campaigns to reach out to parents, teachers, students, business and civic and religious leaders, and to build "strong ties to local journalists, opinion elites, and local/state policymakers and their staffs." The plan explains how the organization will ensure "frequent placement ... in local media coverage of issues related to teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of effective teachers" in accordance with the Gates approach.

    The proposal calls for supporting local groups that promote the value-added evaluation systems, and who even get involved in unions so they can demand this approach in collective bargaining for teachers contracts.

    But in a section entitled "Risks," the proposal says that one big risk "is that Teaching First will be characterized as a tool of the Foundation." To avoid that, it says, "Teaching First will need to be very careful about the national partners it brings into the work" and should "maintain a low public profile" and "ensure publicity and credit accrue to local partners whenever possible."

    Chris Williams, a spokesman for the foundation, said the new organization is an advocacy, not a lobbying group.

    "We believe advocacy is an important part of the work that we support," he said. "Much of the work that we are funding requires that there be movement in political and public will on issues .... not just in education but in global health.... We fund advocacy organizations all the time."

    Teaching First is being built with a $3.5 million grant in 2009 from the Gates Foundation to Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to set up the group with nonprofit tax status. [It has no known direct relationship with the "StudentsFirst" organization set up by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, though the two share the same teacher assessment philosophy.]

    The grant proposal was attached to a Jan. 28, 2010, letter addressed to "Dear CEO Candidate" and asked the recipient not to share the confidential document.

    The proposal on the foundation's Web site says that Rockefeller is supposed "to mount and support public education and advocacy campaigns." It does not provide details of the grant. But the full grant proposal, a copy of which was given to me, says that once the organization is completely set up, Rockefeller will "transfer all property to the new entity."

    This is not the first time the Gates Foundation has spent millions of dollars to sway public opinion in favor of controversial education reform efforts. The foundation gave a $2 million grant in August 2010 to an organization called Advocacy & Public Policy to, as the proposal said, "execute a social action campaign that will complement Paramount's marketing campaign of Waiting for Superman." The film by Davis Guggenheim presented charter schools as if they are all successful, demonized a teachers union leader and was marketed as a documentary even though the director changed the order of some events for dramatic effect.

    Bill Gates, after abandoning his unsuccessful $2 billion effort to break up large high schools and create a network of small schools, has turned his education focus to "effective teachers," with effectiveness largely measured by how well students do on standardized tests. His foundation has plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into teacher assessment experiments in four districts. And it is also funding a project in which teachers are videotaped and the videos are sent to independent evaluators who have never visited the school and have a list of teaching skills to check off. Critics say that videotaped feedback can help a teacher but should only be done by people within a school, and should be used only for teacher development, not for evaluation.

    Williams said that the organization is only tentatively named "Teaching First" and that it still has no date for its official launch. On the Web, there is page at http://www.teachingfirst.com, but there is no information attached.

    Here is what the grant lists as "the most significant grant outcomes in the first two years of Teaching First":

    "1. Establish Teaching First as a new entity with sufficient capacity to succeed in its mission and to sign off as an independent 501(c)(3) organization within 18 months.

    "2. High credibility as a trusted source of information on issues related to teacher effectiveness and equitable access to effective teaching in each of the intensive partnership districts, and/or the enablement of local organization(s) to play the role of trusted expert in each locale.

    "3. Negotiated subgrants, contracts, or partnerships with local organizations and community leaders who are willing to speak out publicly on the agenda of improving teacher effectiveness and ensuring that poor and minority students have their share of the best teachers.

    "4. An extensive contact list of parents; teachers; students; community activists; and business, civic, and religious leaders who have expressed an interested in improving public education.

    "5. Strong ties to local journalists, opinion elites, and local/state policymakers and their staffs, and frequent placement (for Teaching First, or, ideally, local/national partners) in local media coverage of issues related to teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of effective teachers.

    "6. A lead or supporting role in at least one local campaign in each intensive partnership locale. (Campaign may be focused directly on demonstrating public support for teacher effectiveness agenda, may focus on policy or political obstacles to teacher effectiveness agenda, or may focus on a local priority that is only indirectly related to teacher effectiveness agenda, e.g. funding equity, to build a base of committed activists who can grow into strong supporters of the intensive partnership work.)

    "7. An independent voice (i.e. independent of district- or union-based stakeholders) to participate in the public debates on improving teacher effectiveness, with a particular focus on advancing the work undertaken through the intensive partnerships.

    "8. A compelling set of messages (phrases, key words, concepts, etc.) for use by Teaching First and local advocates to communicate about the need for teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of effective teachers and to advocate for policies to achieve those aims."

    — Valerie Strauss
    Washington Post Answer Sheet





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