Will Diane Ravitch’s Head Explode?

Hat tip to Stephen Sawchuk at Teacher Beat for reporting on the $550,000 grant the National Education Association Foundation received for labor-management collaboration from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. NEA’s charity arm previously received $358,000 from the Gates Foundation.

“The only way for meaningful reform to take root is with teachers and their unions fully engaged as partners. We appreciate that the Gates Foundation understands that, and supports this effort,” said Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association. “It is exactly this type of collaboration that allows all of us to look our students in the eyes and assure them that they’re at the center of our reform efforts.”

Time to get out the popcorn again as we await the response of Matt Damon’s mom. And let’s not forget 2010 NEA Friend of Education Diane Ravitch, who had this to say about Gates and his “Billionaire Boys’ Club” in an opinion piece posted – where else? – on the NEA web site:

Gates, Walton, and Broad came to be called venture philanthropies, organizations that made targeted investments in education reform

[They] began with different emphases, but over time they converged in support of reform strategies that mirrored their own experience in acquiring huge fortunes, such as competition, choice, deregulation, incentives, and other market-based approaches. These were not familiar concepts in the world of education, where high value is placed on collaboration. The venture philanthropies used their funds assertively to promote their goals. Not many school districts could resist their offers. School districts seldom have much discretionary money. The money expended by a foundation—even one that spends $100 million annually—may seem small in comparison to the hundreds of millions or billions spent by public school districts. But the offer of a multimillion-dollar grant by a foundation is enough to cause most superintendents and school boards to drop everything and reorder their priorities.

And so it happened that the Gates, Walton, and Broad foundations came to exercise vast influence over American education. These foundations set the policy agenda not only for school districts, but also for states and even the U.S. Department of Education.

There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people. These foundations, no matter how worthy and high-minded, are not subject to public oversight or review, as a public agency would be. They have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state. If voters don’t like the foundations’ reform agenda, they can’t vote them out of office. The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one. If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them. The foundations justify their assertive agenda by pointing to the persistently low performance of public schools in urban districts. Having seen so little progress over recent years, they now seem determined to privatize public education to the greatest extent possible.

So, are they only Evil Corporate Puppetmasters when they give money to someone else, or is the NEA leadership a bunch of sell-outs? Let the debate begin.


One thought on “Will Diane Ravitch’s Head Explode?”

  1. I vote sell-out…but within the boundries of all union leadership. This kind of thing happens all the time with labor union contract negotiations. We give a lot, they give a little or nothing and everyone sleeps well at the end of the day. As long as the stipulations of these grants are not too outrageous, I say take the money and run. Tell the billionaire boys club what they want to hear and then do what you have to do.

    Bend but never break! Solidarity Forever!

    Local 211, UAW

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