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Andrea Gabor: School Reformers are Going Local, But….

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Andrea Gabor, author of Education After the Culture Wars, believes that the latest Gates grant for “networks” is evidence that corporate reformers have decided to “go local” instead of funding big national plans like the Common Core.

“For two decades, the prevailing wisdom among education philanthropists and policymakers has been that the U.S. school system needs the guiding hand of centralized standard-setting to discipline ineffective teachers and bureaucrats. Much of that direction was guided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions since 2000 to influence both schools and education policy.

“But as schools open this year, top-down national initiatives based on standardized testing and curricular uniformity are in retreat.

“Last fall, the Gates Foundation ended its support for a $575 million, six-year teacher-effectiveness project; the initiative had failed to meet the foundation’s goals to “dramatically improve student outcomes,” according to a recent study commissioned by the foundation.

“Two dozen states started backing away from the Gates-backed Common Core State Standards not long after they were first embraced in 2010 (though many of these states retained “key elements” of the standards, according to a 2017 report by an education organization the foundation helps fund.) Earlier, the foundation acknowledged that “many of the small schools” that it invested in — the foundation’s first major education initiative — “did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way.”

“Now, the foundation seems to be stepping back from sweeping national initiatives in its bid to remake education. In the coming years, its K-12 philanthropy will concentrate on supporting what it calls “locally driven solutions” that originate among networks of 20 to 40 schools, according to Allan Golston, who leads the foundation’s U.S. operations, because they have “the power to improve outcomes for black, Latino, and low-income students and drive social and economic mobility.”

She believes this represents a significant shift from the top down mandates of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and similar efforts cheered on by Gates and other titans.

I am not so sure.

The Gates grant of $92 Million for “networks” is chump change. It’s amorphous.

Besides, Gates is still funding Common Core, despite its failure to fulfill any of the bold promises made on its behalf eight years ago.

Worse, as Gabor notes, Gates and Arnold and other malefactors of great wealth are funding another “go local” project called City Fund, which draws together the leaders of privatization to plant charter schools in many cities. “Going local” in this case means trying to fly below the radar to push privatization in many places, whether the local people want it or not. Eli Broad has “gone local” by buying control of the Los Angeles school board (that is, until the swing vote was convicted and removed from the board. But he won’t give up.) Betsy DeVos went local by buying the state of Michigan. Jeb Bush engineered the hostile takeover of education policy in Florida. DFER long ago went local by bundling campaign contributions for state and local candidates who support charter schools and high-stakes testing.

Going local may be more insidious than pushing a noxious national agenda, which, in the Trump era, brings resistance to a boil.

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