Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I can almost hear Bill Gates saying, "What do you mean you don't want our money?"

Vicki Phillips, who runs the Gates Foundation’s education division, said her team is “disappointed by Randi’s decision.” -- Politico
Our big investment in school reform. "hasn't led to significant improvements." --Bill Gates
I'm still learning on this one, but I have some idea what it was that prompted Randi Weingarten and the AFT leadership to turn their back on millions of dollars in Gates funding. Politico's Caitlin Emma with help from Stephanie Simon report that the break came "after rank-and-file union members expressed deep distrust of the foundation’s approach to education reform." But that rank-and-file anger has been simmering in the union for years, ever since 2009 when the so-called Innovation Fund partnership was first sealed with a $2 million kiss from Bill and Melinda. So why now?

Of course, the revolt has grown louder these days, especially in N.Y. where thousands of union members are ready to go to the barricades in Albany over Common Core testing and teacher evaluation. Not to mention the  inner-Democratic Party battle is raging between Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio over charter school expansion which could spill out into the upcoming national elections.

Gates at 2010 AFT Convention
Resentment over Gates influence within the union has spread way beyond the small group of activists who first stormed out of the AFT convention in 2010, when Bill first unveiled his model for teacher development and his so-called Value-Added Model (VAM) of evaluation based largely on student test scores. In recent months, Gates has used that funding as a lever, threatening to pull it from districts who oppose VAM.

It was also at this convention where Gates expressed his disappointment with the small schools movement and explained why he had shifted funding away from creating smaller learning communities over the past decade, focusing instead on testing and teacher evaluation.
Our work in schools began with a focus on making high schools smaller, in the hope of improving relationships to drive down dropout rates and increase student achievement. Many of the schools we worked with made strong gains, but others were disappointing. The schools that made the biggest gains in achievement did more than make structural changes; they also improved teaching.
Bill & Randi at Dec. 2010 Newsweek interview
Soon after, Gates and Weingarten gave this joint interview to Newsweek which had the aura of a puppet show with Bill's hand operating Randi's mouth.
Weingarten: What we’re seeing is that the United States, instead of moving ahead, is actually stagnating. We’re basically in the same place we’ve been, and these countries have moved forward. They’ve spent a lot of time investing in the preparation and support of teachers. Many of them teach a common curriculum, very similar to the common standards that Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have been supporting. And they create the tools and conditions that teachers need to teach, and they have mutual respect and accountability.
Since then, Gates has handed over $11 million in AFT funding. Pocket change for Bill to be sure, but more than enough to influence union policy, despite Randi's denials. She still denies the obvious, saying she doesn't believe Gates funding influenced the Innovation Fund’s direction. Hopefully the rift with Gates will create space for her to move further on Common Core and other issues, as she appears to be slowly doing, if her appearance at last week's NPE Convention is any indication.

At the 2012 AFT Convention there were already indications of rank-and-file pressure on the leadership. First there was the presence of the Chicago delegation, led by CTU President Karen Lewis. Gates was nowhere in sight and Diane Ravitch gave the keynote.

Now Diane Ravitch blogs about the break:
[Randi] understands that many members of the AFT do not trust the Gates Foundation, do not like Bill Gates’ public statements such as encouraging larger class sizes, or his unwavering commitment to measuring teacher quality by student test scores, despite the lack of evidence for its efficacy. I welcome this change and thank Randi and the AFT for severing ties with the Gates Foundation. Gates and Pearson have bought most of American education. Those who represent teachers should be free of their influence.
That's a bit of an overstatement. The AFT hasn't actually severed its ties with the Gates Foundation, which, according to Politico, funds other union projects besides the Innovation Fund.
The AFT’s executive council hasn’t formally voted to reject Gates funding for other projects, but Weingarten said she would be very cautious about taking such grants. “I don’t want to say ‘never never ever ever,’” she said, but “this is a matter of making common bond with our members and really listening to the level of distrust they have in the philanthropies and the people on high who are not listening to them.”
We're still watching of course.

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