“At some point in recent American history, we started assuming that if people are rich enough, they must be experts in all things. That’s why we trust Mark Zuckerberg to save Newark schools and Bill Gates to rid the world of malaria. Expertise is so 20th century.”
There are several points here when it comes to education reform:
- I think part of it is that people don’t associate this wealth with other kinds of wealth, like that of CEOs of financial institutions. Were the CEO of Wells Fargo to start dictating how to reform schools, I think people would have a problem with it. However, I think there’s some sort of preferential treatment that we give tech wealth because for the most part, we actively witness, in one way or another, the rise of these figures and institutions and generally seem to attribute it to intelligence and hard work. However, echoing the point this quote makes, just because someone is an expert in one field doesn’t mean they’re an expert in other fields as well. Bill Gates is not an expert of education and should not be directing education reform.
- Part of the problem with this issue, I think, is also that people tend not to realize when money is used as a joystick. When foundations give out millions of dollars to schools in the form of grants, they’re not just giving out free money. These grants come with specific objectives and structures that the foundations would like to see in place. And therefore, by luring in educational institutions with funding that they sorely need, they become the drivers for education reform. However, no one has really sat down, besides their own internal analysts, to figure out if these reforms are any good.
- This isn’t something that’s been happening forever, though. This way of using money to drive personal agendas rather than simply helping further the mission of educational institutions is a relatively new thing. It wasn’t really until this decade that we’ve had these organizations doing real political work in education. Point is, it doesn’t have to be this way.
For all the good that the Obama administration has done for education, I am very uncomfortable with the way that it used basically the same strategy to push its own reform agendas on schools, agendas that seem very similar to the strategies pushed by some of these major foundations. I mean, let’s be honest, that’s what Race to the Top was. I don’t think that these foundations themselves are a problem. I think that using money to drive reforms is the issue.
But thinking about it, I recognize that without changing tax code or something drastic like that, there’s not much to be done about it. And taking Gates as an example, I can’t say he’s a bad guy or it’s a bad foundation. Without their help, hundreds of schools and districts would be in really critical condition. Not only that, but I’m sure they think they’re doing the right thing. If I had billions of dollars, I can see myself doing the same thing, wanting to use those dollars to push for reforms I think are right.
I think the real problem here, then, is that there’s no real counterweight. The other forces that have strong stakes and a real intelligence base lack power. For most of those groups, including teachers and parents, their work in effectively advocating for their constituencies is more complicated than just throwing money at things. Even when it comes to academic researchers, whose work in education often is overlooked by policy-drivers, there’s just not a real organization to pull in the reigns on this hit-hard-and-fast kind of education reform and stop anything from happening.
I guess this is just a problem with the juxtaposition of capitalism and democracy. I’m not saying they’re mutually exclusive. But here, at least, they seem not to be working so well together. And in the end, I don’t know if the solution is to stop the money, or rather to put together a better, more balanced way of changing our nation.
(Thanks to openmindedjoey for showing me how to reblog a quote as text!)