How Bill Gates Influences Education Reform

Education funding may be down in the past few years, but one private donor is starting to pour more money back into education – that one donor is Bill Gates.

Gates is cracking his piggy bank to the tune of $373 million in 2009 for education and an additional $78 million to advocacy, according to an article in the New York Times. The $78 million poured into advocacy was four times the amount the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation spent in 2005 on advocacy.

The money donated on education and advocacy do not go to the same areas. The advocacy money funds grassroots organizations that Gates and his wife support.

For example, the Gates Foundation supported a group of teachers fighting against seniority-based layoffs, which were being debated in late 2010 and early 2011. These teachers were recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, which testified before legislature, wrote briefing papers and published an opinion-edited article in the Indianapolis Star.

The group described themselves as a group of local teachers who favored school reform. But together, they persuaded lawmakers to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies with the help of Gates’ generous funding.

Gate’s support of this organization has marked a change in the way he funds education. For years, Gates simply focused his philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. But, he is now more involved and ambitious, as he and his wife focus on overhauling the nation’s education policies.

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is focusing on educators who pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on the issues of seniority systems and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

Gates is also funding Harvard-trained data specialists to collect information inside school districts and use that information to change policies.

Major philanthropists, like Gates, are shaping education reform by creating new advocacy groups or helping existing ones grow stronger. These philanthropists can basically decide which issues they favor, fund them and help form education reform to their liking.

Some experts are beginning to worry about Gates’ and other philanthropists’ power. They argue that they are squeezing independent thought too much and suggest that philanthropists need to be more transparent and open about their motives. After all, many reporters and politicians don’t know that some of these grassroots organizations are heavily funded.

However, the lagging American education system has become a concern of national interest. Journalists, teachers, grassroots organizations, private philanthropists, administrators and all the way up to major politicians and President Barack Obama are weighing in on education reform.

These individuals all have different opinions on what’s best for education. However, they are all – including Gates – donating their time, money and insights to make America’s education system as good as it can possibly be. They are all committed to making it better.