A Word on Bill Gates and His Interest in Public Education

In Education on July 16, 2010 at 1:36 am

There has been some serious movement in public education recently. Unfortunately, between the BP oil spill, LeBron James going to Miami and the country’s economic woes these developments have gone largely unnoticed (the exception being Arizona’s ban of high school Ethnic Studies courses). So, what’s the latest news?

Bill Gates is throwing millions of dollars into public schools.


The Pittsburgh, Pa., school district landed $40 million; Los Angeles charter schools, $60 million; and Memphis, Tenn., schools, $90 million.
The Hillsborough County district, which includes Tampa, won the biggest grant: $100 million. That has set the nation’s eighth-largest school system on a quest to reshape its 15,000-member teaching corps by rewarding student achievement instead of seniority [ST].

Plans like this always look good. But, it disturbs me why we rush to appreciate when the enormously wealthy decide to give millions to people or programs in need, particularly for respectable things like education. Articles on such things are printed in traditional news publications and magazines. The donors always look angelic, respectable. Notice the picture. Bill Gates shaking hands with Nelson Smith. He wears a none too flashy brown suit, smiling for the camera. The image invokes a humble demeanor.

Donations from billionaires are often viewed as charities but never investments which seems counterintuitive to me. After all, you don’t become a billionaire with out knowing a thing or two about investments. The press portray these folks, mostly white men, as supermen who have come to save the day with a fantastic idea and loads of cash. The cash you’re all aware of. Bill Gates has always had tons of that. But the new idea that is being pushed by private foundations, corporate businesses and persons from the private sector like our good friend Bill is to create charter schools. These charter school are public institutions that are nonunion, they are ran by management organizations and link teacher pay to classroom performance usually through high stake test scores. If you’re having trouble reading between the lines what that means is the schools are not run by the city or state, they are not accountable to the public (that means you) and they use a business model approach to teaching. Sort of like a car salesman. 

What news agencies fail to spend significant press on are things like the letter sent to the Obama Administration from the National Council of Churches denouncing the country’s public education reform plan. Their beautiful quote we reject the language of business for discussing public education comes to mind when I see Bill Gates shaking hands with a man who has “CEO” and “school” in his job title. New agencies fail to cover the outrage over the Chicago Public School reform called Renaissance 2010 created by our current Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan. The news press also fail to cover the lectures of Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education for George Bush, Sr. Ravitch originally supported the  high stakes testing and choice policies of No Child Left Behind. Today, she admits she was mistaken and has been aggressively speaking out against current school reform efforts. 

These are confusing times, times of great transition. The world of our children is being shaped by person’s of great wealth and influence while we watch the series finale of the Hills, or Spain and the Neatherlands battle it out in the World Cup. I certainly can’t blame us. Pay attention to these type of developments and you feel dizzy and dirty all at the same time. But, everything in moderation I say. Check out the links above and nibble on a little world news: the incredible restructuring of the United States public education system paid for, in part, by a guy who created a computer software company.


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