Gates Foundation Apologizes Once Again for “Learning Organization” Missteps
May 24, 2016; Education Week, “EdWeek Market Brief”
Sue Desmond-Hellmann, marking two years as the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), recently posted her vision of the kind of organization its founders wished the Foundation to become: “From the beginning, Bill and Melinda wanted their foundation to be a learning organization; one that evolves and course corrects based on evidence. We want to get continually smarter.” In one of their areas of major interest and investment, education, they seem to be widely missing this mark.
Desmond-Hellman asks, “What if all children—especially the poorest—had an equal opportunity to reach their full potential?” The Gates Foundation’s answer to this important question lies in in the failures of public education; for them, it’s the root cause of our growing societal inequity.
The Gates Foundation’s leadership believes firmly “that education is a bridge to opportunity in America.” In 2009, Bill Gates wrote:
Within the United States, there is a big gap between people who get the chance to make the most of their talents and those who don’t. Melinda and I believe that providing everyone with a great education is the key to closing this gap. If your parents are poor, you need a good education in order to have the equal opportunity that our founders promoted for every citizen.
The huge resources of the BMGF have been marshaled in support of a series of initiatives that ignore other possible reasons for our societal inequity as they seek to radically change how we teach our children and provide public education. Billions of dollars later, their results are marginal.
After more than five years of foundation support, in 2009, Bill Gates reported on the failure of their investment in “small schools”: “Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any signiﬁcant way.” The foundation’s lessons learned from this experience did not result in any questioning of their core belief that the answer to building a more equitable society would be found within our public schools. They just shifted their focus to increasing the number of charter schools, creating test-based teacher evaluation systems, improving school and student data management, and setting universal standards through the common core curriculum. Each has struggled, and none appear to have been effective.
In 2014, the BMGF supported InBloom, an effort to create a national educational data management system, shut down after parents protested the collection and storage in the cloud of data on their children. Various states withdrew their support, and NPQ reported last September on the failure of one of these Gates-funded initiatives, Empowering Effective Teachers.
Desmond-Hellman has led the foundation as it has invested heavily in the effort to create a national set of learning standards, the Common Core Curriculum. Despite over $300 million in foundation funding, alliances with other large foundations, and strong support from the U.S. Department of Education, the effort has drawn bitter opposition and decreasing support. The strong push that the DoE gave states to implement the Common Core was seen as an unwanted intrusion of federal power into local schools. The use of Gates Foundation Apologizes Once Again for “Learning Organization” Missteps | Non Profit News For Nonprofit Organizations | Nonprofit Quarterly: