The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which already awards about $200 million a year in grants to support elementary and secondary education reform, is now spending millions more to influence how the federal government distributes $5 billion in grants to overhaul public schools, the Associated Press reports.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration persuaded Congress to approve money, as part of the stimulus package, for the Race to the Top Fund, which is designed to encourage and support ideas that address the problems of a public education system that, most people agree, is failing too many students. To that end, the Gates Foundation is offering grants of $250,000 to help states apply for Race to the Top funds, so long as they agree with the foundation's overall approach to education reform. Like the administration, the foundation supports efforts to link teacher pay with student test scores, expand the number of charter schools that operate independent of local school boards, and develop a set of common academic standards adopted by every state.
However, many in the education field, including several major teachers' unions, disagree with those priorities, arguing that student achievement is more than a score on a standardized test and that relying so heavily on charter schools is a mistake. Others have argued that the partnership between the foundation and the White House compromises the foundation's willingness to be critical of the government as well as its ability to do controversial or unpopular things in the field.
For his part, Bill Gates defends his foundation's involvement with the fund. "It's no secret the U.S. education system is failing," Gates told the AP. "We're doing all kinds of experiments that are different. The Race to the Top is going to do many different ones. There's no group-think."