Bill Gates wields a lot of power in the education arena. Being a billionaire pays, as he can easily fund or de-fund programs that support his education agenda — which, generally speaking, includes such ed reform staples as Common Core State Standards, school choice, big data and analytics, and test-based teacher evaluations.
So who are some of the organizations receiving funding from Gates and what are they focused on? We took a look at 10 listed below, a few of which might surprise you.
American Educational Research Association
The AERA was founded in 1916 and aims to push academic research on education to improve pedagogy. In 2013, the organization received $250,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gate's Foundation for "the selection and support of nine doctoral scholars who will conduct research in the area of teaching effectiveness using the Measures of Effective Teaching longitudinal database."
American Institutes for Research
AIR, a bipartisan think tank, is probably best-known in recent years as a Common Core test developer. Florida brought the organization into the limelight when it decided to drop PARCC's test. Since 2010, AIR has received 11 grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, totaling $6,963,173 — but the grants are not strictly for K-12 research.
Based in the District of Columbia, the Brookings Institution is dedicated to independent research and innovative public policy solutions. One example of its work is a May report looking into teacher evaluation biases, which found, among other things, that teachers have difficulty receiving top scores if they don't already have high-performing students and that district size unfairly impacts a teacher's "student gain" scores. Their report on the potential harm in VAM shows an ability to maintain true independence. While the Brookings Institution received funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation in 2014, it was not for K-12 research but rather the 'Global Development' sector.
The last time it received Gates funds for K-12 projects was in 2011: $494,826 to establish standards for rating teacher evaluation systems, as well as $600,000 to to "examine personalized learning, real-time student assessment, collaboration and social networking, dashboards, and K-12 innovation success stories with the goal of evaluating progress, improving implementation, and sharing best practices."
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is all about improving the science of teaching and coming up with innovative and effective strategies to develop and enhance teacher performance. In 2010, the organization received $4,837,214 from the Gates Foundation for creating a network dedicated to the support, development, and retention of new teachers.
Center for Educational Reform
School choice and charter schools are some of the Center for Educational Reform's primary focuses. In 2013, it received $250,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance high-quality charter policies. A heftier grant was awarded in 2011, providing $600,000 for Phase II of the Media Bullpen — a website dedicated to "providing context" for stories about education — and to promote charter policy advocacy in five states. According to the Media Bullpen site, the media is most reliable on online learning, general teacher issues, and other education issues, but least reliable about daily headlines, teachers, and spending. What makes something reliable or not is up to the discretion of CER, which does, of course, have an agenda.
Education Development Center, Inc.
According to Education Development Center's website, it evaluates programs to improve education, as well as a variety of other sectors like health and business. In 2013, the organization received $211,795 from the Gates Foundation to support Common Core implementation. The Gates Foundation also helped fund a suite of digital tools for middle school social studies and history called "Zoom In," which features primary source materials developed in collaboration with the American Social History Project.
Educational Testing Service
Educational Testing Service — the folks behind Advanced Placement exams, the SAT, and a slew of other assessments — was formed in 1947 as a nonprofit by the American Council on Education, the Carnegie Foundation, and the College Board. Since 2012, the organization has received $239,500 from the Gates Foundation, including a 2014 grant worth $120,000 for providing secure access to "Measures of Effective Teaching" classroom videos. While the ETS is best-known for exams, all of its most pertinent grants from the Gates Foundation deal with the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, an initiative created to help produce and implement of teacher evaluations.
Education Trust is a think tank dedicated to lowering the achievement gap. Its most recent report, Making Sure All Children Matter, came out Oct. 8 and argues that school accountability systems — giving schools letter grades — are not a strong indicator of actual school/student performance. In 2014, Education Trust received $8,000,000 in Gates funding for "general operating support." It's pretty rare for grants to be awarded in such a large sum for something so broad.
National Education Association
The National Education Association is known as one of the largest teacher unions, and according to the organization's website, it is focused on "advancing the cause of public education." While unions are typically against many of the ed causes Bill Gates has been tied to — i.e., charter schools and test-based teacher evaluations — that doesn't mean the NEA isn't a beneficiary of the billionaire's foundation. In 2013, it received $3,882,600 to "support a cohort of National Education Association Master Teachers in the development of Common Core-aligned lessons in K-5 mathematics and K-12 English Language Arts"
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is an ideologically conservative nonprofit education policy think tank. While its views may not be the same as Education Trust, the two organizations do have something in common: hefty grants for broad tasks. In 2013, Fordham received $1,000,000 from the Gates Foundation for "general operating support," along with a similar grant for $500,000 in 2011. That same year, it also received $1,002,000 to monitor how states were progressing with standards implementation and how student reading habits changed in response. According to its website, the institute's top priorities are "A Reform-Driven System, Quality Choices, and Standards-Based Reforms."