Calling Foul: Ravitch is Wrong About MacArthur

This is a bit ironic.

This morning, Diane Ravitch reblogged a post I’d written about an exceptionally good piece on the influence of billionaires in public schools.

Ravitch included the following commentary:

“Blow the whistle. Call foul.  Speak up.  Now.”

Well, now I have to call foul on one of Diane’s posts.


Yesterday, Ravitch disclosed that she was one of the judges for the MacArthur Foundation’s “100&Change” grant competition.

“This is what real philanthropy looks like,” she said of the competition.

But it isn’t.

The MacArthur Foundation, which is up to its ears in next-gen education reform – promoting and investing in concepts like “personalized learning,” digital badging, and digital, behaviorist-based interventions – is among many foundations planting seeds to sprout the Social Impact Bond (SIB’s, also known as Pay for Success) market.

In a nutshell, SIB’s are a way for private investors to profit from public programs. They provide upfront capital to start a program, and if the program meets a set of agreed-upon success metrics, investors get repaid with interest.

It’s an “innovative financial model” still in its infancy, but foundations like MacArthur are busy laying the groundwork for it to take off.

MacArthur is a member and financier of the Global Impact Investing Network, which is building a massive catalogue of “performance metrics” that can be used to determine the risk of social investments.

It’s one of the major reasons that social institutions like public schools and public health programs are now being pillaged for data at every turn – and why everything we do must be “measurable.”

MacArthur is also a prime driver of the datafication and digitalization of public education, supporting – along with the Gates Foundation – organizations likes IMS Global and Mozilla, as they work to develop standardized, digital credentialing systems.

At least one of MacArthur’s 100&Change finalists is exactly the type of behaviorist-based intervention that allows for the quick and easy data collection that investors are looking for: a collaborative between Sesame Street Workshop and the U.K.’s “Behavioural Insights Team” (better known as the “Nudge Unit” ) that plans to bring “cost-effective strategies, including digital platforms” to help Syrian refugee children develop “social-emotional” skills.

And if that alone doesn’t cause you to raise an eyebrow, I don’t know what will.

Now, I won’t speculate on Diane’s motivation for linking up with MacArthur.

Maybe she will explain?

But, a foul is a foul, and I’m blowing the whistle.



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.

23 thoughts on “Calling Foul: Ravitch is Wrong About MacArthur”

  1. How sad that with all these people trying to profit by stealing education tax dollars and destroying public education that you found it necessary to attack Diane Ravitch. It is not just sad it is stupid.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I agree, tultican. With all the forces arrayed against us, those of us who are mostly on the same side should stop trying to tear each other apart.
      I just stopped “following” this blog.


    2. [Tom, this is the comment I posted this morning on Diane’s blog, before you put up your last one. It is still not up, but yours denouncing Emily is posted. Please address the important issues raised with Diane. Open the MacArthur foundation link, please! Try to get it posted yourself. ]

      Why is it that prominent people are so easily enlisted in glamorous false philanthropy projects like this? How would we ask them to please withhold their endorsement if they won’t engage their responsibility to understand its context?

      Yes, MacArthur is screening legitimate social service projects, specifically to enlist them in its Social Impact Bond pool. It isn’t a secret conspiracy, there are hundreds of public public statements directly describing it. Out here in the real world, they are offering longtime activists a Faustian bargain – sign on as our profit-driven Social Investment product, or be cut off from all funding. They combine the coercive apparatus of the state sector, the immunity from public oversight of the philanthropy sector, and the rapacious greed of 21st century finance capital into one structure. We need to answer them.

      “The 2017 Annual Impact Investor Survey finds that investors still see some significant challenges, including a shortfall of appropriate capital across the risk-return spectrum and a lack of suitable exit options. The report also cites progress: innovative deal and fund structures are more available; investors have better access to data and research on products and performance; and a growing number of investment opportunities with track records is accessible.”

      “EMILY TALMAGE LASHES OUT AT ME” is an unnecessary escalation of the disagreement, and a false accusation. She didn’t “lash out” at you, you just took offense at her turn of phrase. Again, it is you who took up the responsibility to understand. I hope our age would be a call to our wisdom, and not an exemption form that challenge.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Emily,

    I was invited some months ago by the MacArthur Foundation to be one of hundreds of reviewers for their $100 million contest for a single great idea. The foundation received 2,000 applications. I reviewed 10. A few were not very good ideas. Some were very impressive. They were submitted by well qualified teams of experts with sound ideas about alleviating hunger, poverty, disease, and other major problems, in this country and in impoverished countries. None of the ideas I approved were profit-making ventures.

    I was not paid for doing this. It was an interesting assignment, to which I devoted a few hours one evening.

    I was not asked to review the MacArthur Foundation. In my extensive readings of nefarious organizations, I don’t recall coming across the MacArthur Foundation as a funder. Had I been asked to do a similar assignment for the Walton Foundation or the Broad Foundation or the CZI or the Gates Foundation, I would have said no.

    I know the MacArthur Foundation only for its “genius” awards, which I have never seen as controversial.

    I make no apologies for judging 10 of 2,000 proposals.

    You can reach any conclusion you wish.

    I am not your enemy. You have read my blog. You know where I stand on testing, privatization, and CBE. Frankly, I was surprised that you would write as if I were not on your side. News flash: I am your ally.

    Diane Ravitch

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Diane,

      Did you go through the links on my post about what MacArthur funds in the area of digital learning and they role they have played in the development of the impact investment sector? If you have not, now is the time. Many still look up to you as an expert in this arena, and remaining uniformed of these forces is doing a grave disservice to your readership. If we (including you) do not begin educating people about the dangers of ed-tech and impact investment schemes immediately, the forces of global finance and cloud-based computing will wreak a level of havoc practically unimaginable, not just on education, but on EVERY public service sector from pre-k to addiction treatment, to homeless services. You owe it to your readers to revisit your position on MacArthur.

      Please take the time to read this:

      and this

      Both are by Tim Scott. He has done ground-breaking work. I expect after reading them and looking at the links on my post you will have a very different opinion of the MacArthur Foundation. I hope you will consider recanting your support for the type of philanthropy they pursue and advocate against the digitally-mediated, gamified version of educational surveillance they are promoting. MacArthur is no different from Gates; at the moment they are simply flying under the radar. I look forward to reading your response to Tim’s articles. Feel free to drop me a line on my blog. I don’t block comments.


    2. Diane, the problem is, this is not what real philanthropy looks like. People need to challenge that claim. Your purity hasn’t been attacked. This is a critique of a specific position you are taking.

      Emily asked you to look more deeply into the nature of Macarthur’s philanthropy, and supplies many links. It seems like you have brought that responsibility on yourself, by promoting them in your column.

      I’m not going to add any arguments about MacArthur, because they are right here on this page. Please address the substance of the argument.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Even my mind reels. Sesame Workshop is one of Macarthur’s five competition finalists, for a $100 million “prize”. Their project involves a Grover puppet and some photogenic traumatized Syrian children.

      What would Sesame Workshop do for those kids with its hundred million dollars? It turns out they would invest it in other profit-seeking non-profit ventures.

      Reach Capital explains:
      Through a new investing vehicle known as Sesame Ventures, Sesame Workshop invests in educational initiatives that preserve and grow capital as well as further their mission “to help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.”

      Tanya Haider, executive vice president of Strategy, Research, and Ventures at Sesame Workshop explained,
      “We had heard consistently that Reach was doing something really quite different; that their model of seed investing was interesting because they weren’t just giving cash to entrepreneurs but really helping them with their business models and really priming them for success for subsequent investment. We also liked the fact that we had heard repeatedly that the team had established themselves as the go-to place even more so than some of the larger funds for edtech entrepreneurs in the [Silicon] Valley.

      … Carolan revealed:
      “We worked really hard at catalyzing co-investment dollars and, in fact, that was
      one of the two measures that we used to measure our success. We called it the
      catalyzation metric. We recorded every investor introduction we made and would track the outcome. Early on, we spent a lot of time sharing our insights of K-12 education with potential co-investors. We targeted a 10x catalyzation metric meaning for every dollar we invested, we targeted getting another $10 to invest alongside us. It has varied over the years, but now for every $1 that we invest, we bring in another $7.3.

      An unintended consequence of these partnerships was a natural progression of investment among co-investors focused on different stages of financing. Carolan continued,
      “Companies come out of [accelerator] ImagineK12, we do seed investments, and then the next round of financing could be a mid-stage fund like Owl Ventures or Rethink Education based in New York City.”

      Page 10

      Click to access Stanford-GSB-Case-Study.pdf

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am shocked and saddened that a distinguished elder and leader of the movement to save public schools is being given a public scolding by someone who is on “our side.” Write her privately if you must, but speculating on her motives is deeply offensive and discounts everything you claim to stand for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. if you read carefully, you’ll see that I DIDnt speculate on her motives. I was calling out the promotion of MacArthur as “real Philanthropy” which is absolutely isn’t for all the reasons I included.


  4. This is what i wrote to Diane:

    Diane, I’m sorry you read my post as an attack on you personally. It wasn’t intended to be, though yes I did fear it would be perceived that ways – hence the duck and cover GIF. IT was intended to “call out” the claim that the MacArthur 100&Change is “real philanthropy.” That claim was my real concern – less so your involvement, bc I figured either you hadn’t yet learned what I had about MacArthur, or you had some other reason. I really hope readers, especially those who are offended by my piece, take the time to actually read what I wrote about MacArthur and follow the embedded links. Their work with SIBs and their effort to advance it SHOULD be a concern to anyone fighting for public education.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Here is what I wrote to Diane. I hope people will cool their jets and look into the real issue in my post:

    Diane, I’m sorry you read my post as an attack on you personally. It wasn’t intended to be, though yes I did fear it would be perceived that ways – hence the duck and cover GIF. IT was intended to “call out” the claim that the MacArthur 100&Change is “real philanthropy.” That claim was my real concern – less so your involvement, bc I figured either you hadn’t yet learned what I had about MacArthur, or you had some other reason. I really hope readers, especially those who are offended by my piece, take the time to actually read what I wrote about MacArthur and follow the embedded links. Their work with SIBs and their effort to advance it SHOULD be a concern to anyone fighting for public education.


  6. Emily, I, and many others I’m sure, appreciate your detective work. I discovered your blog because of Diane’s repost and I am so glad I did! We all need to be educated about the enemies of public education. I am going to read your links. I have learned so much from Diane’s blogs and writing over the years. I understand that your intention was not to attack Diane, but to expose the truth about the MacArthur Foundation. It would have been better to do some more research first. Since Diane is not the enemy, you could have reached out to her to learn what her intentions were. And maybe you could have educated her a bit. It’s a give and take and we must all work together to fight this beast of reform. Thank you for all you do.


    1. Diane blocks many comments, mine included. She is not really open to dialogue with people who are not deferential to her viewpoint. That has been my experience. Unless you are a person asking questions some prefer not be out in the open, you may not realize that. The blog is as she says, her vehicle, her rules. That is why this information has to be shared in other spaces, and I feel people deserve to know why.


      1. The #1 rule of my blog is that I don’t post comments that insult me. Write whatever you want wherever you want, but if you insult me personally, I am not obligated to post it on my blog. I have said many times that my blog is my living room. I expect people to be civil. Not to use certain curse words. Not to engage in conspiracy theories like “Sandy Hook was a hoax.” And I do not permit any guest in my living room to insult me. If you can’t abide by those rules, you will be blocked. Very few people people are blocked. I will not be insulted and demeaned on my own blog. Consider how many other blogs there are where your insults will be welcome. The 74, many more.


        Liked by 2 people

      2. Diane, I think that you are more than patient with your commenters, like Charles, among others, with whom you strongly disagree, but whom you have not banned.
        I don’t know what problem wrenchingthegears has with you. Maybe he/she has been totally inappropriate and insulting, in which case, they can certainly start their own blog.
        But it seems as though he/she has totally misjudged you. And to be brutally frank, I’m glad that this commenter is not on your blog, because he/she sounds like someone who is, what can I say, a jerk.


      3. Please look at the two comments in my post that were not released from moderation. If you consider “Wow, you are so out of touch.” And “That is right up there with your Salesforce pitch. My head is spinning.” To fit those criteria, then people should be aware that candid discussion is not allowed on your blog. Which is the very reason why so many bloggers are using their voices on their own sites and not really paying attention to you anymore. Your lack of intellectual curiosity and openness to new ideas not your own is stifling and not conducive to the grassroots progress we desperately need to make. Thousands have read this post. The future is ours to make. We don’t need your blessing or endorsement.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: