Education’s Ruling “Plutocracy” of Billionaires


Quickly emerging as one of the nation’s most important education writers, Walt Gardner cautions that America should be concerned that billionaires are investing so much in education policy. Referencing the recent donation of NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg and others to save the state’s Regent Exam, Gardner writes:

I’m glad that the Regents exam was reinstated, but I’m concerned that it took the efforts of billionaires to do so.  Whenever money is handed out to schools, it comes with strings attached.  These aren’t always obvious.  But it is naive to believe that a tacit quid pro quo is not established. It’s more than mere coincidence that over the past decade during which time some $4.4 billion annually was poured into school reform by the Big Three foundations (Gates, Broad, and Walton), the tools of the boardroom were adopted.

This kind of giving buys influence. The Broad Foundation has already received a nice return on its investment by virtue of two training programs it underwrites.  The Broad Superintendents Academy induces top executives in their respective fields to attend a course of six extended weekend sessions by paying all tuition and travel costs.  Once they complete the course, the foundation helps place them in superintendent positions.  The Broad Residency helps place professional managers with master’s degrees and several years of work experience into managerial jobs in school districts, charter schools, and federal and state departments.

The trouble with this intrusion is that public schools are not supposed to be a plutocracy.   When schools rely on private sources, the strategy unavoidably creates a conflict of interests.

Gardner’s onto something. Describing the billionaire takeover of education policy as  a “plutocracy” frames the socio-economic dynamic into a way which exposes the moral quandary – perhaps even in a way that gives pause to even the most robust proponents of  privatization.

A post I made yesterday  spoke directly to Gardner’s assertion that “when schools rely on private sources, the strategy unavoidably creates a conflict of interests.”  A United States Department of Education official lectured that we shouldn’t concern ourselves when technology-based curriculum doesn’t generate good test scores. Its more important, you see, that the children were becoming more familiar with top-dollar technology products. The DOE official, Karen Cator, is a former executive with Apple Computers.

Cator is one of countless  corporate types who have gone from lobbyist to education bureaucrat at both the federal and state level. The Broad Foundation along with Teach for American is working toward assuring this shift in the DNA of policy makers and shakers continues.

Astonishing bits of candor like that from Cator reveal the motivations of Gates, Broad, the Walton family and other  philanthropic hedge funders to not be so pure afterall. They’re telling us that instead of “throwing money at the problem” to give it to them instead.

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About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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