Gates Funds “Watchdog” Decrying National Teachers’ Involvement in Gates Funding Issue

Gates Foundation money is at the center of another controversy this week around attempts at school reform. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced yesterday that it will withdraw $40 million in funding to Pittsburgh Public Schools unless an agreement is reached on teacher evaluations. Andy Sheehan of KDKA TV news in Pittsburgh shared the Foundation’s statement in his January 8 report:

The Gates Foundation made a significant investment in Pittsburgh because their leaders were committed to ensuring every student has an effective teacher in every class. This is complicated work that requires collaboration — the commitment of the board, the superintendent and the union was a requirement of the grant. We are disappointed by the current turn of events.

The dispute concerns a particular measurement, tied to testing, in teacher evaluations. The American Federation of Teachers says opposing these standards is a “critical fight” with national implications.

Sheehan spoke with Carey Harris, director of the non-profit A-plus Schools, who called this development “devastating” to the school district, the city and its children.

In response to the AFT’s involvement, Harris told Sheehan: “They need to get back to the table and work for kids and focus on the kids. Put national interests and politics aside and work for kids.”

Sheehan fails to mention that A-plus Schools is substantially funded by the Gates Foundation. It had a budget of just under $200,000 in 2009. Its budget jumped to roughly $1million for 2010 and 2011. (2012 records are not posted.) A-plus does not detail donation amounts on its website or its publicly posted 990s. But the Gates Foundation lists $500,000 grants to A-plus Schools beginning in April 2011. Shortly after the first $500,000, A-plus announced a new strategic plan. “Teacher effectiveness,” a major focus for the Gates Foundation, has become a prime issue for A-plus.

The organiztion’s connection to the Gates Foundation is not mentioned in KDKA reporting, which simply calls A-plus a “watchdog” group. Nor is Harris asked about her organization’s national funding when she chastises the national AFT for becoming involved in a what she claims is a local issue. The Education Town Hall will follow this story, seeking comments from Harris and others involved. Stay tuned and check back.

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