Corporate “ Reformers” Andrew Ross Sorkin. NYTimes.
Beginning with the Carnegies and the Rockefellers, billionaires have long seen the nation’s education as a willing cause for their philanthropy — and, with it, their own ideas about how students should learn. The latest crop of billionaires, however, has tended to take the line that fixing our broken educational system is the key to unlocking our stagnant economy. Whether it’s hedge-fund managers like Paul Tudor Jones (who has given tens of millions to support charter schools) or industrialists like Eli Broad (who has backed “blended learning” programs that feature enhanced technology), these philanthropists have generally espoused the idea that education should operate more like a business. (The Walton Foundation, backed by the family that founded Walmart, has taken this idea to new heights: It has spent more than $1 billion supporting various charter schools and voucher programs that seek to establish alternatives to the current public-school system.) Often these patrons want to restructure the system to make it more efficient, utilizing the latest technology and management philosophies to turn out a new generation of employable students.
For many teachers, Weingarten explained, this outside influence has become off-putting, if not downright scary. “We have a really polarized environment in terms of education, which we didn’t have 10 years ago,” she said. “Public education was a bipartisan or multipartisan enterprise — it didn’t matter if you were a Republican or Democrat or elite or not elite. People viewed public education as an anchor of democracy and a propeller of the economy in the country.” Now, she said, “there are people that have been far away from classrooms who have an outsize influence on what happens inside classrooms. Beforehand, the philanthropies were viewed as one of many voices in education. Now they are viewed — and the market reformers and the tech folks — as the dominant forces, and as dissonant to those who work in schools every day. She took a deep breath and softened her tone: “In some ways, I give Bill Gates huge credit. Bill Gates took a risk to get engaged. The fact that he was willing to step up and say, ‘Public education is important,’ is very different than foundations like the Walton Foundation, who basically try to undermine public education at every opportunity.”