Bill_Gates_in_Poland

Seattle Times’ Gates-funded Education Lab Blog Experiment

Bill Gates lives in Seattle.

His money buys experiments there, too.

In October 2013, the Seattle Times announced that it had “sought” a grant from the Gates Foundation for a year-long “project” in partnership with Solutions Journalism Network– a blog called the “Education Lab”:

Education Lab, a partnership between The Seattle Times and Solutions Journalism Network, will explore promising programs and innovations inside early-education programs, K-12 schools and colleges that are addressing some of the biggest challenges facing public education.

The yearlong project is funded by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

As part of a “Q and A” on the grant money and the project, Seattle Times offers the following:

The project has received $530,000 in foundation funding — $450,000 from the Gates Foundation and $80,000 from the Knight Foundation, a foundation that supports journalism excellence and media innovation.

The Seattle Times will receive $426,000 during an 18-month period. The bulk of its funding will pay for the salaries of two education reporters, allowing us to expand our education team; an editor and photographer primarily dedicated to the project; and a newly hired community-engagement editor. The funds will also be used for community outreach and public forums, creation of a blog and design and data work. …

The Seattle Times would neither seek nor accept a grant that did not give us full editorial control over what is published. Generally, when a grant is made, there is agreement on a specific project or a broad area of reporting it will support. … The foundation had no role in deciding which stories we choose to pursue or how we report those stories. It also does not review stories before publication. … 

Beyond agreeing to fund the project, the foundations have not asked for and will not have any input into the reporting of stories or into any of the content that will emerge from the project. The foundations will not be aware of specific stories we are working on or review them before publication. …

There will be no direct relationship between the foundation’s education advocacy and the reporting for Education Lab. It is possible the project will analyze and report on efforts that the Gates Foundation supports and those it does not. In determining the focus of the reporting in the project, the support of the Gates Foundation, or lack thereof, will play no role. Throughout the duration of the project, we will be transparent about funding for Education Lab. …

For this project, the [Gates] foundation has a strong desire to test and learn whether this solutions-oriented approach would help promote deeper engagement on a complex topic like education. [Emphasis added.]

The Seattle Times sure is making an effort to convince those in Bill Gates’ home town that this is not just another Gates overreach.

Or is it?

In offering the above information up front, Seattle Times notes that it is being “transparent with readers about the source of the money.”

That’s $450,000 directly from Gates to the Seattle Times, right?

Not according to the Gates Grants search engine, which indicates no grant paid to the Seattle Times on or around October 2013 in the amount of $450,000. The search engine also indicates no $450,000 grant paid to either Solutions Journalism Network or Education Lab.

However…

…the Gates grants search engine does include this this July 2013 grant for $700,000, paid to New Ventures Fund of Washington, DC, for “communications” and “strategic partnerships”– specific to education journalism in the Seattle Times:

New Venture Fund

Date: July 2013 
Purpose: to test solutions-oriented education journalism that leads to problem-solving and positive outcomes with the Seattle Times 
Amount: $700,000 
Term: 18 
Topic: Communications, Strategic Partnerships 
Program: Communications 
Grantee Location: Washington, District of Columbia 
Grantee Website: http://www.newventurefund.org

It seems that someone is not being “completely transparent,” after all.

Looks like Education Lab goes beyond being a Seattle Times idea. Looks like it is another Gates “strategic” education experiment.

Here is what New Venture Fund offers as its mission:

The New Venture Fund, a 501(c)(3) public charity, supports innovative and effective public interest projects. NVF was established in 2006 in response to demand from leading philanthropists for an efficient, cost-effective, and time-saving platform to launch and operate charitable projects. We execute a range of donor-driven public interest projects in conservation, global health, public policy, international development, education, disaster recovery, and the arts. More than half of the 50 largest US grantmaking foundations have funded projects hosted at NVF, including 8 of the top 10. 

NVF is overseen by an independent board of directors that has extensive experience in philanthropy and nonprofit management. NVF is managed under an administrative agreement with Arabella Advisors, a leading national philanthropy services firm that helps philanthropists and investors find innovative ways to achieve greater good with their resources. NVF has collaborated with Arabella on successful projects for many of philanthropy’s leading players and institutions, and the two organizations share a commitment to evaluation and measuring impact. [Emphasis added.]

Along the side bar of the Education Lab funding Q and A page, I noticed a number ofSeattle Times stories focusing on test scores (see here and here and here and here). And here, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are mentioned, and it seems that parents are fine with CCSS “perhaps because test scores are going up.”

Based upon its sidebar of education stories, the Seattle Times sure is promoting a sunny perspective on test-driven education reform.

Now, according to the Seattle Times, this is their agenda, not a forced Gates agenda.

So that makes it okay… right?

Nevertheless…

Note that Bill Gates has really pushed usage of high stakes test scores. Though Gates is only a “neutral party” when it comes to issues of American education (tongue in cheek), and though he might be willing to delay their high-stakes usage (and by sheer coincidence, the federal government “comes up with the idea” two months after Gates does), Gates clearly intends to promote test-driven education for the masses.

So, for both Gates and the Seattle Times: high test scores are the ultimate determinant of education “success.”

Based upon the sidebar of Seattle Times stories on the Education Lab site, one reads that the Seattle Times also pushes the message that the best outcome for all students is college.

College. For. ALL.

I didn’t see any sidebar stories about students who become successes in jobs requiring specialized– dare I write it– non-college– training or apprenticeships.

If such stories exist, they are not featured on this sidebar.

The Seattle Times does offer some unique stories– like this one about a school transformed into a STEM school with a focus on hands-on projects. Even here, the “college is best” and “higher test scores means it’s valuable” messages lurk in the background of a “learning for learning’s sake” story.

Let us now turn our attention to Education Lab.

Here is the curiosity:

In contrast to the Seattle Times sidebar stories, the two Education Lab blog writers, Claudia Rowe and Linda Shaw, write stories that appear to critically question test-driven reform, as well as stories on special interest, education issues not part of the test-score-driven, education privatization agenda. (Click links to see archived stories by Rowe and Shaw.)

So, one sees this Education Lab blog with some rather refreshing education stories– and at the same time, one sees the primarily test-score-measure-of-success, Seattle Times education stories along the Education Lab sidebar.

Part of the experiment, perhaps?

We might soon find out. That “yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest” will expire in a couple of months.

Perhaps then, the Seattle Times, or the New Venture Fund, or Solutions Journalism Network, or the Gates Foundation will have the word for us on what this “project” means for American education.

Perhaps Bill will address the matter himself. Perhaps Melinda will do it.

You’ll have to forgive me if I appear skeptical of Gates involvement in American education ventures– and especially in the “measuring impact” of Gates-funded “positive outcomes.” Only last month, for my upcoming book on Common Core origins, I wrote a detailed chapter about what Gates promotes as his “neutral” involvement in American education and the reality of his repeatedly and actively promoting his personal view of what American education should look like.

Then again, this Gates “venture” is taking place in Seattle, where people are familiar with his games.

Like my writing? Read my newly-released ed “reform” whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public EducationNOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE.