Gates: Funding Reform for Longer Than You Think

In “How Bill Gates Funded the Swift Common Core Revolution,” journalist Lyndsey Layton tells the story of how David Coleman, CEO of College Board, and Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director of the Council for Chief State School Officers, approached Bill Gates with a “new approach to transform every school in America.”

The “new approach,” of course, was the Common Core State Standards.

“The duo needed money,” writes Layton,“[and] a champion who could overcome the politics that had thwarted every previous attempt to institute national standards.”

According to the article, Gates deliberated for weeks before at last coming back with his answer: he was in.

What followed was the swift Gates takeover of our public schools.


If only it were so simple!

The truth is that Gates has been funding a much broader effort to fundamentally remake our public education system for far longer than Layton’s article suggests.

In order to make sense of the Gates Foundation’s long-time financial involvement in education reform, the first thing you need to understand is what the end game really is: a hyper-efficient, digitally-based, workforce-aligned system driven by the needs and desires of multi-national corporations.

You also need to come to grips with an almost unbearable truth: the test-and-punish regime we’ve experienced under No Child Left Behind has merely been a step along the way toward this fundamental restructuring of our education system.

Finally, you need to understand that Gates is just one of many players in what amounts to a giant educational-industrial complex that has been built over many decades. Getting to the heart of who is at the center of this effort is like peeling back the layers of a never-ending onion. A vast network of foundations, think-tanks, and governmental groups make up a web of almost incomprehensible scale. Gates is but one node in the network – albeit a very powerful one – that arose in the late nineties due to the intersection of the restructuring agenda and its reliance on technology and algorithmic learning.

From its very inception, the Gates Foundation has been funding efforts to remake our schools.  In 1999, Gates awarded money to a tiny district in Chugach, Alaska to experiment with a competency-based, workforce-aligned approach to education. In 2000, Gates awarded 6.3 million dollars to a Texas organization “to provide superintendents and principals from public and private schools access to quality leadership development focused on technology integration and whole systems change.” In 2002, the Gates Foundation awarded ten million dollars to fund an experimental program called “Promising Futures” that now serves as the prototype for our state-wide shift to proficiency-based education – despite the fact that no data has ever been offered to show the benefits of the program.

Now, pay close attention to the dialogue happening in both Maine and Texas.

In Texas, Superintendent Mary Ann Whiteker is claiming that she has “given up on the testing and accountability game.” Look carefully at the document that she claims fueled her “conversion,” however, and you will see the true agenda buried within:

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In Maine, Senator Angus King and former Commissioner Duke Albanese recently had a conversation over the radio in which they lamented problems associated with the era of No Child Left Behind, and then gushed about the promise of “proficiency-based learning.”

“Keep up the good work, buddy,” King told Albanese, who now sits on the board of the Gates-funded Great Schools Partnership that is now attempting to remake our schools, and once wrote a gushing letter of praise to former Gates executive, Tom Vander Ark.

Play close attention, too, to the role that the little district out in Alaska is now playing in these conversations. Chugach, Alaska is now being held up as model for reform on Dr. Marzano’s Reinventing Schools website.

Across the country, the story we are being told is the same: after years of A test-and-punish accountability system, it is time to move to the new era of “competency-based,” personalized, workforce-aligned education that they have been planning for so long.

“We believe it’s possible with the convergence of the Common Core State Standards, the work on new standards-based assessments, the development of new data systems, and the rapid growth of technology-enabled learning experiences,” explains this document from the Gates foundation.

No, there is no research to show that this is best for your kids, and no – it has not worked well anywhere that it has been tried.

But it’s happening anyway.

If all of this sounds crazy to you, rest assured that you are not alone. It’s hard to wrap your mind around. But as soon as you do, please spread the word.

We have been duped too many times, and enough is enough. It’s time we get our schools back.


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.

7 thoughts on “Gates: Funding Reform for Longer Than You Think”

    1. How perfectly stated!! When will not only our public school art classes, but the curriculum forced onto our music, theater, dance and creative writing instruction turn those classes into Paint By Number courses as well?


      1. They already have the creative writing forced curriculum called Lucy Calkins which gives us age inappropriate rubrics to stress out even our high achieving students.

        Liked by 1 person

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