Everyone involved in education policy understands that the Gates Foundation is the octopus with many arms (and even more dollars) pushing the national standards and assessment movement forward. In a recent report in the Lowell Sun we learn:
The Gates Foundation since January 2008 has awarded more than $35 million to the Council of Chief School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the two main organizations charged with drafting and promoting common standards.
In the run-up to his recommendation, [MA school chief] Chester told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that he would base his decision on analysis being done by his staff, as well as independent reports prepared by three state and national education research firms — Achieve, Inc., The Fordham Institute, and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.
Achieve, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based education-reform organization, received $12.6 million from the Gates Foundation in February 2008, according to data provided to the Washington Post by the foundation.
The Fordham Institute has accepted more than $1.4 million from the Gates Foundation, including nearly $960,000 to conduct Common Core reviews.
Checker Finn, the head of the Fordham Foundation, oddly felt the need to tell Business Week in their profile of the Gates push for national standards that: “The Gates folks are well aware of our independence and, I think, incorruptibility.”
This sounds like Nixon declaring that he is not a crook. If it’s true, there is usually no need to announce it.
I’ve long argued that in education policy debates we should focus on the merits of the arguments rather than the motives of the people involved in the argument. Whatever Fordham’s motives I think their arguments have to be addressed and I have done so here, among other places.
But let me go further. I strongly doubt that Gates money has had any serious effect on Fordham’s stance on national standards. Fordham has always been in support of the idea, although it has often opposed specific proposals for standards that it thought were counter-productive. Gates decided to pour a mountain of money on Fordham because Fordham was already on board for the idea of national standards. The money would just help improve the efficacy of Fordham to advocate the view they already held. There was the danger that Fordham would have opposed the specific national standards backed by Gates, but Fordham has decided that these are good enough standards for them. Of course, Fordham may still change its mind (and is known for strategic reversals on policies, such as NCLB), but I have no doubt that Fordham is completely sincere in its support for national standards and assessment.