Education Nation Sponsors’ Roles Face Scrutiny

At the start of NBC’s Education Nation extravaganza last month host Brian Williams introduced and praised one of the funders of the event, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, writes Jane C. Timm at Gotham Gazette.

The Gates Foundation, Williams continued, is “the largest single funder of education anywhere in the world. It’s their facts that we’re going to be referring to often to help along our conversation” and for the reformers, teachers, parents and politicians who were at Education Nation, the refrain was a familiar one.

Gates has ploughed an extraordinary amount into the nation’s schools. Other foundations, like the Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, have also gotten in on the education game, but according to reformers and teachers, the Gates Foundation, with vastly more money than any of the other foundations, leads the way, writes Timm.

Over the last decade, Gates has given $175 million to $200 million to New York City’s public and charter schools, according to the foundation.

With their donations, the Gates’ have taken an unprecedented role in directing reform — setting the agenda for education policy they help underwrite, supporting the organizations that advocate for those policies and, as Williams noted, providing the facts to back it up.

“The facts are coming from someone who has a very big agenda,” said Anthony Cody, a teacher and education reformer from Oakland, Calif., whose criticisms of Education Nation were published in the Washington Post.

“In the past school administrators and teachers would instigate programs and reforms and then apply for funds from philanthropies or government on a project-by-project basis. Now, the impetus for reforms often comes from foundations, and school systems, eager for funds, adapt their programs to fit the philanthropies’ agendas.”

Chris Williams, the press secretary at the Gates Foundation, noted that philanthropies overall are evolving — not just Gates:

“The intention is to be catalytic, to help spur change where other investments haven’t been able to — to take that kind of risk,” he said.

“We have about seven decades worth of experience of building a dividing line between the … commercial sponsorship side and the reporting side of NBC News,” said Steve Capus, NBC News president, as reported by Joy Resmovits at the Huffington Post.

Referring to the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation and State Farm Capus said:

“They don’t shape the editorial content.”