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Fixing America's schools: $60 million campaign could be lost in the din

Ohanian Comment: Kudos to this editorial writer for not once calling Gates and Broad philanthropists or elevating them to sainthood for shelling out money. The billionaires are labeled as they are: a software magnate and a developer.

And rich men.

I love this line: Rich men with charitable foundations are entitled to spend their money on whatever causes they choose.

Some of us would add a few other descriptors, but I applaud the writer's skepticism, mild as it is. Most of the other media are so awed by the money they can't stop panting.

That said, I disagree with the writer. I'm glad that (so far) the goals of Ed in '08 are hazy.


Surely the $60 million to be spent on education reform by two rich men's foundations will accomplish more than just keep Roy Romer off the streets.

But that amount of money should obviously accomplish more than keeping such an energetic man occupied with a cause.

Colorado's former governor has been named chairman of Strong American Schools, aka "Ed in '08." Funded by foundations set up by software magnate Bill Gates and developer Eli Broad, the program is designed to . . . well, there's the rub. In some respects, Ed in '08 is maddeningly, vague.

To be sure, as Romer told the Rocky, the campaign favors developing a "consensus" for education standards in the 50 states, "having an effective teacher in every classroom" and providing students with "adequate time to learn." The Ed in '08 Web site expands on these themes and endorses paying teachers more, particularly through some sort of merit system, while offering more avenues for advancement. It also suggests the school day and year be lengthened, and not just to provide "more of the same."

We wonder, however, if these goals aren't still too hazy and general to accomplish very much.

Ed in '08 is careful to say it's not urging a nationalized curriculum dictated by Washington. Thank goodness. But short of that, how will "consensus" be reached on education standards regarding what "all students" should know "in subjects like math and English" - particularly when the campaign isn't prepared to say what standards it favors?

Earlier this year, for example, Colorado lawmakers turned down a bill that would have stiffened graduation requirements to include four years of math. We supported rejecting that proposal for reasons outlined on this page. Would Strong American Schools disagree? Just saying "it is essential that all American students learn the skills that prepare them for life" and warning that some states are "inflating how much their children are really learning" is only marginally helpful.

On the other hand, there's no denying that $60 million can help elevate the prominence of the general issues of standards, teacher compensation and time spent in school. Much of the money will go into multimedia campaigns in states that will determine the presidential winner. As the Ed in '08 Web site puts it, "We will use the full range of modern campaign tactics to increase the attention paid to education, including targeted field and grassroots efforts in primary states, a cutting-edge E-campaign, micro-targeting and a national paid advertising strategy."

Rich men with charitable foundations are entitled to spend their money on whatever causes they choose. As the Grim Reaper closes in, they tend to look to their legacies and spend more on what are considered worthy causes. Both Gates and Broad already have a record of investing heavily on education. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent an amazing $1.8 billion on grants, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation $250 million.

But why not take a more specific stand, or perhaps focus on a single reform goal to minimize the risk that the message will be lost in the political din?

The various media outlets who will be the recipients of the advertising largesse will be grateful for Ed in '08, but will the public care, or even know what to make of the campaign? Polls show that Americans already are concerned about the quality of education and whether our children will be able to compete internationally in the coming decades. Do they really need more consciousness- raising.

At least the 18-month effort will keep Romer busy. After all, he's only 78 and fresh from running the nation's second largest school district, in Los Angeles. The Strong American Schools campaign will help him to ward off the bends by coming up too swiftly to full retirement.

— Editorial
Rocky Mountain News


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