"There’s family money out there,” says Nowak, and “it’s new money.” William Penn “may have been fourth or fifth on the list 10 or 12 years ago. We’re now first on the list. We don’t want to be first on the list. We want five other guys our size.”
That new money generated in the service economy from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, has already funded a sea change in national philanthropy. And three major new-money foundations — Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad and the Walton Family foundations — have, like Nowak, focused their largesse on remaking American public education. Over the past decade, the big three have established themselves as the nation’s most important education funders, and they’ve become among its most powerful policy makers, too. They set an agenda: in support of charter schools and high-stakes standardized tests.
“They are imposing all of these steps to supposedly hold teachers accountable, but in the meantime the people who are coming up with the metrics and the management techniques have no public accountability whatsoever,” says Alice O’Connor, a professor at University of California Santa Barbara who studies philanthropy and public education. “And that’s really, really scary.”
So how deep does the influence of these foundations run in our public education systems? It’s almost too far to plumb. Considered alongside the network of well-funded conservative organizations that openly seek to privatize public-education, it could be overwhelming.