July 16, 2012 11:43 PM   Subscribe

The Gates Foundation's Leveraged Philanthropy: Corporate Profit Versus Humanity
Part I on the Gates Foundation's international aid projects and II on Gates' domestic education projects.

...For example, the Pearson Education Foundation is a philanthropy which is under investigation for its work as an intermediary on behalf of its parent corporation, global giant Pearson Education, whose 2010 US sales totaled £2.6 billion (British pounds).

In April 2011, the Gates Foundation announced a partnership with the Pearson Foundation to produce resources for its Common Core State Standards project, and Pearson simultaneously announced it was developing a complete digital curriculum to support the proposed standards. The alliance was described in this NY Times story, Foundations Join to Offer Online Courses for Schools.

Microsoft also unveiled its own $15 million research and development effort for "Next Generation" products, aligned to the new standards. Possible return on that investment is staggering, and almost every feature of the Gates Foundation's program will create a dramatically favorable business climate for the data industry.

The conservative Heartland Institute puts the cost of implementing the Common Core program at $30 billion dollars, whereas the conservative Fordham Institute, heavily funded by the Gates Foundation, argues for a range of lower possible costs. States face a confusing legal mandate to fund a voluntary national program they don't remember volunteering for. This might not be a public service.

We have to confront the likelihood that the Pearson Foundation is actually representing the profit-seeking interests of the Pearson Corporation.

Is the Gates Foundation, to an unknowable extent, locking down control of a government-mandated multi-billion dollar marketing opportunity for Microsoft and other allies?
posted by latkes (18 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
A Conversation With Bill Gates About the Future of Higher Education in the Chronicle of Higher Education a couple weeks ago was linked to previously.

There's so much money on the table that it might actually warp other Gates Foundation objectives, such as curing malaria.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:01 AM on July 17, 2012

There is no reason to develop a closed source or for-profit curriculum in this day and age. Curricula are about tweaking, debate, tuning, etc. People who actually understand education need to paw through every detail of the development history.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:46 AM on July 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

Better education doesn't come from a cookie cutter approach. It comes from approaching each student as an individual. Yes, there are things that all students should be exposed to, but figuring out how to best do that works on a classroom by classroom, student by student basis. For profit systems tend to the "one size fits all" approach and that is almost always a bad idea for education.

To whit, some kids can pass physics through listening to lectures, some kids need Venus Flytrap to explain the atom, and some kids just needs some time alone with the Large Hadron Collider (or the Interweb).
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:01 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

(Yeah, but about the links - read these earlier. Is it really charity when the charitable work you're doing is actually aimed at making you money?)
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:02 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's that criticism that a man with a high school diploma is restructuring education because he happens to have 50 billion dollars. It's like telling people how to cook because you happen to be really fat.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:07 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

This does look bad. For me, the 2011 Dissent article Got dough? How billionaires rule our schools was an eye-opener for me on the influence of a number of foundations—not just Gates and Pearson—on education reform in the US.

And Diane Ravitch, who among other things is puzzled by the Gates Foundation, has some interesting things to say on the matter. She doesn't think Gates is motivated by greed so much as out of his depth in a very complex policy field.
posted by col_pogo at 1:16 AM on July 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

The Awl: Our Billionaire Philanthropists
Rich philanthropists are almost invariably described in the press as generous, visionary benefactors; it seems indecorous to complain about a rich man who is apparently trying to give his money away to help people. But the new model of foundation giving comes with a host of hidden costs that bear closer scrutiny.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:42 AM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Gates was on Charlie Rose recently, talking-up his ideas for education, including bringing stack-ranking into the system for teacher evaluation.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:19 AM on July 17, 2012

I think the criticism is valid and substantive, but I really thought those two pieces at edweek did a terrible job of making that case (to be fair, the second piece was much, much better than the first). The majority of the arguments seemed to be "Monsanto [or whomever] is bad and has done bad things, Monsanto works with Gates Foundation, Monsanto makes lots of money, therefore Gates Foundation does bad things with Monsanto to make them lots of money."

I really dislike that hyperlink-orgy style of writing, because it usually - and definitely in those pieces - links to the things that are most written about/easily proved, rather than the things it should link to.

The Gates foundation is very influential, possesses huge amounts of money, and advances lots of complex interests, many of which are not solely or perhaps even wholly based on charitable goals. But those pieces barely scratch the surface of what that might mean and where it might be problematic. I would far rather longer pieces focussed just on the links with Pearson, and rather than bland assertion, some more deconstruction as to how it happens, why it happens, what people in the relevant sectors think about it, and what might be done about it. Or, you know, actual journalism.

I suppose the fault is mine; that's what I was expecting and those ed week pieces are definitely not that.
posted by smoke at 4:20 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

This article has a number of glaring errors. Common Core is not a Pearson project. Microsoft's $15 million dollar R&D effort consists of grants for teachers doing innovative things with technology or who have projects they'd like to research. Gates had been heavily promoting abd funding work of Creative Commons Education practice, the Khan Academy and other open education projects.
posted by humanfont at 4:37 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Anyone that writes credulously that Bt cotton has been unambiguously bad for Indian farmers is not a reliable narrator. Non-activist sources are far more nuanced and studies even suggest benefits. Oh, but wait, the first article links to Vandana Shiva approvingly. Sorry, no, I'm not going to trust a word about agriculture in the entire article if the author considers Shiva a reliable source. She is definitely on one very far side of agricultural debates, for example believing even that hybrid seeds -- not even transgenic, but hybrids that have been around for 50 or more years -- destroy farmers (mostly by attributing traits to them they don't have, aside from the obvious one where you need to buy new seeds crossed from the same parents if you want similar yield). She also, not surprisingly, thinks the types of projects the Gates Foundation funds (even the non-GM ones) are bad for farmers. So, either this author is unaware that he chose a biased source or doesn't care, but in any case the argument is going to be inadequate for it.
posted by R343L at 6:55 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gates was on Charlie Rose recently, talking-up his ideas for education, including bringing stack-ranking into the system for teacher evaluation.--Thorzdad

Interesting, because stack rating is apparently very unpopular and counterproductive at Microsoft.
posted by eye of newt at 8:39 AM on July 17, 2012

Sorry, no, I'm not going to trust a word about agriculture in the entire article if the author considers Shiva a reliable source

You're discounting Vandana Shiva? One of the most respected voices in the food sovereignty campaign?

Maybe you're right. Maybe she's wrong, and maybe those Indian farmers beaten by the corporate food system should be listening to you.

At least 17,368 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2009, the worst figure for farm suicides in six years, according to data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
posted by ecourbanist at 11:09 AM on July 17, 2012

The Awl: Our Billionaire Philanthropists

Wow, good article; I missed it. I sure do like that Maria Bustillos.
posted by latkes at 1:29 PM on July 17, 2012

... Farmers may be killing themselves, but it's not at all clear it has anything to do with many of the issues that Shiva attributes it to (see the links) which are usually large agribusiness and specifically GM seeds. These aren't complete explanations for farmer suicides but primarily what she talks about when bringing them up. Moreover, her idea of food sovereignty is such that she is completely unable to believe that farmers might voluntarily decide a thirdparty developed seed is more useful than "traditional" seeds. She has a particular vision of the world and agriculture which is very different than the overwhelming majority of the international community. Using her as a source to criticize the Gates Foundation is using one of the most biased possible sources for information on their activities.
posted by R343L at 1:35 PM on July 17, 2012

"Don't collect data because we don't like the way you analyze it" isn't an argument that I have much sympathy for.

That sort of reflexive antipositivisim is self defeating because it inhibits the very research that is necessary to head off mad schemes like stack ranking.

I grew up in New York during the transition to mandatory Regent's testing across the board. I experienced the results of several decades of teaching to tests. I know what its like to be in History class with a standard curriculum that's more interested in the Diet of Worms than my state mandated Biology class.

I also saw that the problem with the Regents tests wasn't that they were so difficult as to force teachers to devote time strictly to teach to the test. Instead they were so predictable that it was easier to teach to the test than to teach the subject matter it ostensibly covered.

My European history teacher had collected every regents test, decomposed the questions into topics, and did a running statistical analysis to see what was worthing spending his time on to achieve above average test scores. From there he'd use his new data to amend a set of review materials that allowed us to progress through the class with minimal effort on his part. The process had run for decades and was steadily approaching slightly above average perfection.

My American history teacher played us music on a portable CD player. We used a cherished set of textbooks with actual primary texts from ~1965 that he had fiercely defended against all attempts to provide him with standard textbooks in name only. We read Martin Luther King and started to abuse anaphora. While he was out of the room we taped a kid to the wall. I don't remember why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. He wasn't happy, but we were all Spartacus.

I passed my regents tests in easily both classes, but as you can imagine I learned a lot more about history (and tape) in one than the other. The regents tests great failing was not that they doomed me to a semester of being mechanically conditioned to pass a test, but that they lacked the sophistication to discriminate between that soul crushing experience and a transformative one that would inspire me for years.

Teacher's have been afforded a special privilege of secure jobs, limited regulation of their methods, and minimal accountability. This has allowed many educators a vibrant voice with which to teach, but it is now bearing the brunt of the blame for poor outcomes.

You can't take anecdotes to a numbers fight. Accountability is coming for better or for worse; it seems to prudent to be ready.
posted by ethansr at 2:14 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

She has a particular vision of the world and agriculture which is very different than the overwhelming majority of the international community.

Some people think Vandana Shiva, a quantum physicist and founder of an agricultural organization that has been preserving the rights of farmers to save and grow their own non-corporate seeds in India since 1991 and which has 70,000 farmer members, is kinda smart and knows her topic.

But maybe you could explain how you know the overwhelming majority of the world agrees with you that she shouldn't be heard?

While you're doing that, it might not hurt to keep reading and learning:

Bt cotton - less miracles, more failures for Indian farmers

How the Times of India Colluded with Monsanto in Fake Reports of Bt Cotton Successes
posted by ecourbanist at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2012

Where exactly did I say she shouldn't be heard? All I asserted was that Shiva's viewpoint is not mainstream and that I considered that a sign that the original links were likely unduly biased against the Gates Foundation. I do consider Shiva's viewpoint to be extreme and have little interest in authors who seem completely unaware that she's a controversial information source. She thinks to think no farmer could rationally choose a modern hybrid seed despite the fact that millions of farmers do every season. But I said nothing about tryng to shut her up.

Also, I find it curious that you would give me two magazine articles when I've provided a Nature News article and a recent peer-reviewed journal article. Which do you think I'm likely to find more credible? Moreover, you write as if you think I haven't looked into the topic. I have and I think it's far more complicated than evil multinationals railroading farmers and lying to the press.
posted by R343L at 9:26 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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