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Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat reported that the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are joining forces to fund a “breakthrough” in American education, despite the consistent failures they have experienced.
Are they slow learners or persistent?
The Advanced Education Research & Development Fund, announced Wednesday, is already funded to the eye-popping tune of $200 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Walton Family Foundation. (Gates and Walton are also supporters of Chalkbeat.)
AERDF (pronounced AIR-dif) says its focus will be on what it calls “inclusive R&D,” or bringing together people with different expertise, including educators, to design and test practical ideas like improving assessments and making math classes more effective. Still, the ideas will have “moonshot ambitions,” said the group’s CEO Stacey Childress.
“One of our mottos for our program teams and the projects they fund is ‘heads in clouds and boots on the ground,’” she said.
It’s an unusually well-funded start for a new education organization, especially as big education funders have seen their influence wane in recent years after some of their ideas showed uneven results and prompted backlash. AERDF suggests these funders still have significant ambitions for improving education in the U.S., even if those efforts are less splashy — or controversial — than they once were.
The organization emerged from work that began in 2018, when CZI and Gates teamed up to invest in R&D. That resulted in a project known as EF+Math, which funds efforts to embed lessons in executive functioning — a set of cognitive skills related to self control and memory — into math classes.
“These executive functioning skills allow you to focus on what’s important, ignore distractions, let you think flexibly to solve problems and keep track of ideas,” said Melina Uncapher, the program’s director. “Perhaps not surprisingly, they’re strongly related to math skills.”
That effort, now part of AERDF, will start work in three school districts — Newark, New Jersey; Vista Unified in California; and Middletown, Ohio — this fall, said spokesperson Ed Wyatt.
You could write a book about their any failures. In fact, I already have written two. One is called Reign of Error and the other is Slaying Goliath.
What the billionaires refuse to recognize is that the root cause of poor academic performance is poverty. One experiment they might try is to raise the standard of living for targeted communities. Or they could fund hundreds of community schools with wraparound services for children and families.
Instead they prefer to search for the magic bullet that will overcome the obstacles in the lives of children who live in poverty. It appears that they learned nothing from their previous adventure into “education reform.”
A suggestion for the funders: Read Richard Rothstein’s Class and Schools.