Bill Gates' Education Buying Spree - For What?

Big time philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates have spent millions of dollars to improve American public education, but how much good have they done? American public schools have flat-lined for years. Yet, the Gates Foundation just gave $7.6 million to Education Pioneers, a nonprofit that works with organizations including Chicago Public Schools, KIPP DC, Los Angeles Unified School District and the U.S. Department of Education.

The underlying question: What's it all for? Oh, we know what the foundations and nonprofits tout about improving our children's competitiveness in the global economy, and holding our teachers accountable for student achievement, but how does throwing millions in the direction of educational headhunters get the job done?

The trend of late has been to take power away from teachers and school boards and outsource it to education nonprofits that don't have a local interest in the schools they're supposed to be helping.

Recently, "Florida's legislature...cleared the way to end tenure for new teachers and tie teacher compensation and longevity to how well their students perform on standardized performance tests." This is the same state where Gov. Rick Scott has been working with Michelle Rhee of to apply the top down approach to education now sweeping the country.

What good came from the New York City experiment back in 2007 when $75 million couldn't raise students' scores over a three year period, and actually saw a decline in some middle school scores? If the changes in the effectiveness of the system were "ambivalent" at best, then that was one costly trial and error.

But what if the money could buy something intangible; not quantifiable in terms of student success rates? What if it buys the placement of hand-picked education leaders who would be part of an elitist national network of like-minded promoters? Since the inside of the classroom hasn't seen much improvement, then we should look at what's happening outside the classroom. It's all about who gets the foundation money.

According to Education Pioneers:

The grant will allow Education Pioneers to attract and develop more than 500 professionals, many of whom are specifically trained in data and analysis, to work in school districts, public charter organizations and state departments of education.

The selected individuals will use their unique skills and prior work experience on projects such as using student-level data to pinpoint areas for teacher intervention, analyzing data and researching best practices to improve curriculum and instruction, developing a strategic plan for a teacher evaluation pilot, and rigorous classroom observation protocols to provide meaningful feedback to teachers.

What policies will these 500 professionals change? How will they spin the data to fix the system? Their stated goal "to improve curriculum and instruction" gets to the essence of the problem, but they don't tell us how and in what ways. Will the texts and teaching promote individualism, entrepreneurship, and private enterprise or social activism?
Frankly, buying a group of number crunchers to determine what our children may be taught in the classroom has all the earmarks of educational engineering by philanthropic monopolies, and little connection to equipping children to better themselves in order to better society.

Ann Kane writes for Potter Williams Report