Big Philanthropy, Small Change (and the same mistakes made again and again)

Have You Heard revisits Bill Gates’ efforts to *rethink* American high schools. Writer Michael Hobbes spent two weeks embedded at his former high school, Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School, chronicling the school’s transformation into small learning communities in this feature story. Inspired by what he saw at Hale High, and the role of teachers in re-imagining the school, Hobbes delved deep into what happened when Gates et al tried to scale up the small schools reforms. His story, recounted in episode #25, is a scathing indictment of big money reformers who think school improvement is simple work, requiring only the right *fix* and deep pockets. Did I mention that Hobbes wrote a great story? I recommend making this episode of Have You Heard a multimedia experience… Full transcript is available here.

Foundations Unfiltered

Megan Tompkins-Stange spent five years conducting confidential interviews with insiders at some of the foundations most involved in education reform. What they told her will surprise you. Or not… 

EduShyster: You spent five years interviewing insiders at some of the foundations most involved in education reform, and your new book Policy Patrons allows readers to *listen in* on conversations that are, let’s just say, enlightening. I want to give readers a taste by jumping right into a Gates Foundation official’s take on the chummy relationship between the foundation and the Obama administration—or as one Obama staffer describes it in a telling slip of the tongue, the Gates administration. 

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Megan Tompkins-Stange: I think this is one of the more interesting quotes in the book, because it’s quite self-reflective. On the one hand, the source is acknowledging that the close coupling between Gates and the Department of Education under Arne Duncan was great because it pushed their agenda forward. But on the other hand, they’re acknowledging that it’s somewhat problematic in terms of democratic legitimacy. It was my sense that most of the people I talked to hadn’t engaged—at an organizational level—with the larger question of *What’s our role in a liberal democracy?* or *Is this the right thing for us to do as a foundation?* They were so focused on the work—they talked about *We’re changing things; we’re moving the policy, look at all these things we’ve accomplished.* The democracy part of it was not really a part of the equation in terms of their day-to-day discussions. It was more about, *How do we get the elites who can really move this policy on board?* But it seems like that is changing now in a few contexts. Continue reading →

Silence of the Teachers

Why one young educator rejects Educators 4 Excellence’s corporate agenda and you should too.

By Sean Lords
Teacher-led organization? The voices of classroom teachers? On the surface, Educators 4 Excellence sounds like what education policy needs—the voices of experienced classroom teachers who have inspired students to live fulfilling lives. Nevertheless, a screen full of buzzwords only serves to obscure a tired truth—Educators 4 Excellence has little interest in the experience of dedicated classroom teachers. Instead, they are actively recruiting young educators to affirm the rhetoric that supports top-down educational reform. They certainly have no interest in my voice. Continue reading →

The Philanthro-Baron Has No Clothes

How mega-foundations are undermining our public schools and eating away at our democracy

Philanthro-barons like Bill Gates have more power and influence than ever before.

Reader: it is well established that the richest Americans have billions of ideas for how to improve our failed and failing public schools. In fact, by the time you finish reading this sentence, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Mark Zuckerberg and the Walton family will have generated one new school improvement idea each, not to mention a substantial amount of interest on their substantial fortunes. But not everyone is convinced that the growing influence of these “philanthro-barons” over our schools and our democracy is such a great development. In a new article entitled “Plutocrats at Work” writer Joanne Barkan paints a disturbing picture of mega-philanthropy gone wild. EduShyster recently interviewed Barkan to find out why she’s so concerned about the new breed of philanthro-baron. Continue reading →

The Cla$$room of the Future

Thanks to school closings, the cla$$room of the future is already here

A Teach for the Universe corps member bringing excellence from another planet.

Today we’re headed to a magical place where excellence is the order of the day, expectations are always set to 11 (one point higher than their highest setting) and the Harlem Shake is but a distant, embarrassing memory. Where is this dream destination, you ask? In the future. Make that the cla$$room of the future to be precise. But what will this super cool place look like and is there any limit to the number of students it can contain? Also, is it true that Teach for the Universe corps members will travel here from other planets to share their excellence? Continue reading →