The 800-Pound Gorilla In Education Policy?

According to the WaPo, the Gates Foundation spent more than $200 million winning political support for Common Core:

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

Common Core foe Diane Ravitch is distressed:

The idea that the richest man in America can purchase and — working closely with the U.S. Department of Education — impose new and untested academic standards on the nation’s public schools is a national scandal. A congressional investigation is warranted. The close involvement of Education Secretary Arne Duncan raises questions about whether the federal government overstepped its legal role in public education.

Freddie deBoer detects “a palpable sense of worry among a lot of education researchers and people in the education nonprofit world, around the Gates Foundation”:

They’re just so dominant in funding and, through funding, influence. That manifests itself in a fear of publicly criticizing the foundation and its policy preferences. That may be a small fear, it may represent itself subtly, but if you multiply it across the broad world of education research and policy, it can have a major impact on what gets studied, how results are reported, and what is considered realistic policy. It’s easy to make this sound like some kind of explicit corruption, but it’s not that simple or that easy to judge. It isn’t so much a matter of people saying “I want that sweet Gates cash, I better get in line on charter schools.” It’s a matter of identifying what kind of research gets funded, of worrying about funding in the future, of recognizing that plummeting state and federal research dollars can make private foundations like Gates the only game in town. It’s not sinister, on either side of the equation, but it can have pernicious effects.

Andrew J. Rotherham has a very different perspective:

1) There is money on all sides of this. Pro-and con.  The opposition did start out pretty diffuse and unorganized but that’s not the case now. I doubt there is parity between the pro-and anti-Common Core factions but this isn’t David and Goliath either.

2) In education there is very little change absent an infusion of marginal dollars and outside pressure. It’s not for nothing that we call them “Carnegie” units. That’s not a pro-Gates point or an anti-Gates point, it’s merely context about change in education. Related, Gates has spent a great deal on Common Core, but some context on all the other philanthropic dollars flowing into education would be useful, too.  The lion’s share, mostly from much smaller and localized foundations mostly buttresses the status quo. Philanthropic dollars aimed at leveraging broader changes have increased over the past decade but are still not the dominant force in overall education philanthropy.