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The Best Resources For Learning About The Role Of Private Foundations In Education Policy


'The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation' photo (c) 2012, Nam-ho Park - license:

Several major foundations, including Gates and Walton, are playing an increasing large role in education policy. I thought that readers might find a short list of related resources useful, and I would appreciate additional suggestions.

Here are my choices for The Best Resources For Learning About The Role Of Private Foundations In Education Policy:

Got Dough? Public School Reform in the Age of Venture Philanthropy is an important article in Dissent magazine.

Confronting Systemic Inequity in Education: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy is the title of a major new report from the National Committee On Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).

The New York Times ran a series of guest columns titled “Can $100 Million Change Newark’s Schools?” focusing on the recent donation to Newark schools by the founder of Facebook. Richard Rothstein is part of the Times’ series, and his post is titled When Billionaires’ Goals Do Harm. That piece (and several others in the series) is worth a look.

Schools Matter has a short excerpt from a Diane Ravitch interview where she comments on the role of foundations. Chapter Ten of Diane’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, provides more extensive details.

I’ve written two pieces for The Huffington Post on this topic:

Private Foundations Have A Place (And Have To Be Kept In Their Place)

Gates Foundation Minimizing Great Tools For Helping Teachers Improve Their Craft

Rethinking Schools has a good article on the funders behind the “Waiting For Superman” movie.

How the Billionaire boys Club is running – and ruining – education is by Ken Bernstein.

Private Foundations, English Language Learners & My Continued Skepticism is another one of my posts.

Gates spends millions to sway public on ed reform is by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post

The most dangerous man in America is by Leonie Haimson.

Free-Market Think Tanks and the Marketing of Education Policy is by Kevin Welner and appeared in Dissent.

Education Reform Philanthropy Has Changed Radically Over the Past Decade is by Dana Goldstein.

Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates is the headline of a newspaper article in the New York Times.

Creating Educational Monocultures is by John Thompson.

Shortcuts, School Reform & Private Foundations

Billionaire Education Policy is from The Education Optimists.

What Happens When Teacher Voices Depend on Foundations’ Choices? is by Anthony Cody at Ed Week.

Broad Foundation’splan to expand influence in school reform is from The Washington Post.

On school reform: Broad’s misleading response to critics is by Ken Libby and Stan Karp.

I Wish Everyone Connected To A Private Foundation Would Read This Article, But I Suspect My Wish Will Go Unfulfilled

How school reform became the cause célèbre of billionaires is from The Washington Post.

What Are Foundations For? is by Bob Reich.

‘Strategic Philanthropy’ Shifts Too Much Power to Donors is by Pablo Eisenberg.

Quote Of The Day: “The problem with philanthropy”

Bill Gates: ‘It would be great if our education stuff worked but…’ is from The Washington Post.

Plutocrats at Work: How Big Philanthropy Undermines Democracy is from Dissent.

The influence of new philanthropy on democracy is from The Washington Post.

Teacher ‘Voice’ Amplified by Series of Gates Grants is from Education Week.

Gates Foundation Places Big Bet on Teacher Agenda is from Education Week.

Follow the Money: Gates Giving for Its Teacher Agenda is an infographic from Education Week.

‘Effective Teaching’ Study Seen as Influential, and Faulty is from Education Week.

Video (& Comments): Shanker Institute Conference On Foundations & Education

SXSWEdu: Gates Foundation vs. Microsoft Education: What’s the difference? is from The Hechinger Report.

How to Criticize “Big Philanthropy” Effectively is by Joanne Barkan.

A Walmart Fortune, Spreading Charter Schools is from The New York Times.

What Will It Take to Educate the Gates Foundation? is by Anthony Cody.

Aftermath: My Note to the Gates Foundation is by Rick Hess and John Thompson.

Gates’ $100M Philanthropic Venture inBloom Dies after Parents Say “No Way” is from The Non-Profit Quarterly. Here’s an excerpt:

Nonetheless, finding experienced grantmakers like Gates and Carnegie misreading the interests and desires of the parents and educators who were purportedly the intended beneficiaries is surprising, if not shocking. It’s an unfortunate reflection of the top-down approach of some foundations, issuing prescriptions for the benefit of the public even if that public doesn’t buy in. The inability of many funders to see how counterproductive and unpopular their technocratic solutions are with their intended beneficiaries is a disappointingly pervasive trend in much of big philanthropy

You might also be interested in The Best Posts On The inBloom Data Fiasco.

Mark Zuckerberg has contributed a new bunch of money to schools — this time in California — but who knows if he has learned anything from his Newark debacle (see The Best Posts & Articles For Learning About Newark’s $100 Million From Facebook ). Here are some posts/articles on his recent contribution:

Zuckerberg’s philanthropy proves school solutions aren’t easy is from The San Francisco Chronicle.

Mark Zuckerberg is giving $120 million to Bay Area schools (after his last education reform effort didn’t go so well) is from The Washington Post.

Zuckerberg, Wife Gift $120M to CA Schools is from The Associated Press.

John Thompson offers some wise advice to him.

Zuckerberg schools donation is a gift but at what price? appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.

How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution is from The Washington Post.

Philanthropic Advocacy for School Reforms is by Larry Cuban.

A Mantra for K-12 Philanthropy: First, Do No Harm is by Rick Hess and appeared in Education Week. It’s a little odd, and a bit internally inconsistent, but I’m still adding it to this list.

Koch Heads: How The Koch Brothers Are Buying Their Way Into The Minds Of Public School Students is from The Huffington Post.

Bill Gates, who thinks we should all learn math through the Khan Academy (see The Best Posts About The Khan Academy) because he likes it, now has a way in mind he wants us all to learn history. Read about it in this New York Times story, So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class …

Apparently, Gates was watching this history video about history while running on his treadmill, and now has created a course he wants high schools to teach using this methodology. It’s called The Big History Project and, after a quick perusal, I wouldn’t put it on any of my “Best” lists.

You’ll want to read the article, which provides a fair amount of space to valuable criticisms about education philanthropy, including this one:

“I just finished reading William Easterly’s ‘The Tyranny of Experts,’ ” says Scott L. Thomas, dean of the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California. “It’s about philanthropists and their effect on the poor globally. It’s this exact idea that here you have this ‘expert’ in the middle” — that is, Gates — “enabling the pursuit of this project. And frankly, in the eyes of the critics, he’s really not an expert. He just happens to be a guy that watched a DVD and thought it was a good idea and had a bunch of money to fund it.”

Here are some other interesting comments:

And here’s another excerpt from the article:


“Is Philanthropy Bad for Democracy?”

No Responsibility for Oops! Donors and School Reform is by Larry Cuban.

Pearson Foundation closing (after paying big fines for helping corporate parent) is from The Washington Post.

Additional suggestions are welcome.

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You might also want to explore the nearly 600 other “The Best…” lists I’ve compiled.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Thanks for your list. I encourage you to add the web site to your list of resources because of the way we use maps and other visualizations.

    Maps are essential because unless we distribute resources and great learning to all of the places where kids need the most help, we leave out a large segment of the population.

    Charts are like blueprints. They show that it takes a lot of different types of learning supports and resources in the life of a child to overcome poverty and help with learning. They also show that these supports need to stay available from birth to work in areas where poverty is a greater obstacle to youth development and learning. Finally, they show that the business community, colleges, volunteers and faith communities need to share ownership and responsibility.

    If other education reform sites are including ideas like this I’d like to see the list.

  2. In the winter issue of Rethinking Schools, Barbara Miner contributes an excellent, well-researched piece on the money behind Waiting for Superman:

    We also have many articles on our website about charter and voucher schools that describe their relationship to private foundations.

  3. Larry,
    Your readers may also want to follow my Schooling in the Ownership Society blog. Lots of good info on power philanthropy.

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