Gates Undercover


Several months ago, while conducting some much overdue research into the back-story of Common Core, I stumbled across a document from the Gates Foundation that painted such a frighteningly clear picture of next-gen ed-reform that I actually wondered for a time if perhaps I was hallucinating.

I wasn’t, and within a very short time, it became unmistakably obvious that the Common Core Standards, our new Smarter Balanced test, and Maine’s one of a kind (but not for long if they have their way, so watch out!) proficiency-based diploma mandate were all linked like pieces of a puzzle to a corporate-driven agenda to transform our schools into “personalized” (digital!) learning environments. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, see here  for more.)

Quite literally sick to my stomach, I emailed a union rep to ask if he knew anything about the paper I had found.

“It’s ghastly,” he replied, “but in Maine, it has been the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the Great Schools Partnership that has been behind these policies.”

Okay.  So maybe I was mistaken. Nellie Mae sounded friendly enough. So did Great Schools. (Who doesn’t like great schools?)

Just to be sure, I went to the “Awarded Grants” section of the Gates Foundation website, and typed in the words “Nellie Mae.”

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Then I typed in Great Schools Partnership.

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And then I did this:


Then, I went to the Nellie Mae page, typed in the word “Maine,” and sure enough, there on their website was page after page of grants awarded to organizations in our state.

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Now thoroughly alarmed, I emailed a state education official, asking what he knew about our proficiency-based mandate. Where had it come from and why?

“That was passed in 2012 to strengthen our high school diplomas. Who could argue with it?  Look, here are all the people who support it,” he wrote back, with links to a handful of letters written in support of the bill.

I clicked on one, saw the Great Schools Partnership logo at the top, and then did this:


Then I clicked on another.

This one was from the Maine Teacher of the Year program. That seemed curious to me. Why were Maine’s Teachers of the Year supporting something for which there was not yet any research?

And so I looked up Maine Teacher of the Year. A group called “Educate Maine” had taken over the program in 2014.

Educate Maine? Hadn’t I just seen them on the Nellie Mae page?

Sure enough…

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And, as if it hadn’t gotten horrifying enough, I read this portion of our state legislative record, in which one senator describes a trip Educate Maine had taken them on to visit a school implementing a “proficiency-based” model.

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Now, of course, it all makes sense.

The Gates Foundation and Nellie Mae are clients of Bellwether Education, who suggest in their “Policy Playbook” setting up nonprofits to help create demand for personalized learning.

“Independent nonprofits can also serve as advocates for innovation with state policymakers, schools, and districts, working to spur demand for new models. For example, an organization might coordinate “field trips” for policymakers, principals, and civic leaders to visit schools in and outside the state that are implementing personalized learning model,” the playbook says.

Of course.

Coordinate field trips, to help convince lawmakers to vote for legislation that will allow you to experiment on children, and sell your products.

Have you looked to see where they’ve gone undercover in your state?


Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

20 thoughts on “Gates Undercover”

  1. Oh, my gosh. I’m not surprised since computer companies benefit from “personalized learning” which is usually computer based. Ditto the mass testing. Ditto the massive money spent by naïve administrators on technology that has yet to show its value in student achievement. Thank you for all your research. Your blog is great.


  2. With all the media attention on the failure of testing – NCLB and Race To The Top – and the Gates Foundation involvement in Common Core testing – now is the time to make change.

    Below is Diane Ravitch’s recent article about testing fixation in the country. She is a leading educator, historian and writer. She concludes her article by saying, “Time is running out for this (Obama) administration, and it is not likely that there will be any meaningful change of course in education policy.”

    Please follow the link at the bottom to sign your name to the petition to bring Diane Ravitch to the White House – now – to guide meaningful change of course in education policy.

    Please pass it on to your social media connections.


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