Gates Foundation's Tactics to Remake Public Education During Pandemic Are Undemocratic (Opinion) - The Chronicle of PhilanthropyGates Foundation's Tactics to Remake Public Education During Pandemic Are Undemocratic
During one of his recent daily press briefings, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that his state will work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to “reimagine” its school system. Cuomo presented this as a grand opportunity to transform learning through technology and significantly alter “the old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class . . . in all these physical classrooms.”
While there is a place for educational technology in U.S. schools and classrooms, Governor Cuomo’s announcement, including a call for greater reliance on virtual classrooms, reflects the power of foundations to propose technical solutions to high-stakes political debates on educational equity and quality. As a nation, we must be wary of foundations capitalizing on political opportunities created by crises such as Covid-19 to assert their influence over public education.
In this case, the health crisis is being used as an excuse to radically reshape public education without public deliberation or accountability. In any other moment, rethinking classrooms and the entire nature of schooling would be a highly contested solution to the challenge of educating the nation’s children. This undemocratic process leaves marginalized people particularly vulnerable to negative consequences from philanthropic actions.
Powerful foundations like the Gates Foundation do not simply impose policies on governments like New York State, according to research by Megan Tompkins-Stange, public-policy assistant professor at the University of Michigan, and Sarah Reckhow, a political scientist at Michigan State University. Rather, they influence state officials’ consensus about which policies to adopt by positioning themselves as experts on education, garnering widespread support for their policy proposals, and offering economic and organizational support to put those policies into effect. In our research, we refer to this as a process of “philanthropizing consent” for highly controversial policy solutions. On the surface, this educational policy game may seem fair, but the Gates Foundation’s role in shaping public policy stems from its tremendous economic clout, including its vast networks and ability to draw media attention.