Did Bill Gates buy his podium at the American Federation of Teachers’ Convention in Seattle?

This summer, the two national teachers’ unions held their annual conferences, one in New Orleans, the other here in Seattle.

A big difference between the two, though, was the choice of keynote speaker. The National Education Association chose Diane Ravitch, noted education historian, former education cabinet member in both the Bush I and Clinton administrations, author of numerous books on education, including her most recent “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” in which she explains her opposition to all the key agenda items currently being pushed by the ed reformers – charter schools, “merit pay,” high-stakes testing.

“The current so-called reform movement is pushing bad ideas,” said Ravitch to the delegates at the 2010 NEA Representative Assembly in New Orleans. “No high-performing nation in the world is privatizing its schools, closing its schools, and inflicting high-stakes testing on every subject on its children. The current reform movement wants to end tenure and seniority, to weaken the teaching profession, to silence teachers’ unions, to privatize large sectors of public education. Don’t let it happen!”

Over here in Seattle, however, the American Federation of Teachers had Bill Gates as their keynote speaker. Gates, who heavily supports non-union, privately run charter schools, is on a rampage against teachers, declaring that many aren’t “effective,” based solely on standardized student test scores, and wants to tie their pay to high-stakes test results (even though this is proven not to improve teacher or student performance), force them to compete against each other for money, spy on/videotape them, and dissect their teaching methods, maybe even replace teachers and schools altogether with online lectures.

In other words, he’s not an obvious or uplifting choice for keynote speaker to a conference of teaching professionals.

Not surprisingly, a number of AFT members got up and walked out when he gave his speech. Sure, he dropped in a couple of token niceties about how hard it is to be a teacher (though he has no experience in the field other than parenting), but beneath the icing remains the basic icy message: You guys aren’t good enough and I know how to make you better.

It’s true that Gates spends millions of dollars on education, but he has zero background in the field, and all his grants have heavy strings attached. He has pet projects and the weight of his wealth and his connection to the Obama administration (former Gates Foundation staffers now staff the Obama administration and vice versa – also see p. 5 of the recent Businessweek article about “Bill Gates’ School Crusade” and the attempted move by Brad Jupp from the Obama administration to the Gates Foundation) gives him a disproportionate and unchecked influence on the direction of public education in this nation right now.

Some have jokingly referred to Gates  — not Arne Duncan — as the true Education Secretary. This has a number of sound-minded people worried – including Ravitch, who was recently interviewed on KUOW, and had this to say about Gates: “I’m just concerned about the unaccountable power of the Gates Foundation. They are now virtually managing education policy in the United States.”

So why did AFT invite ‘Bill the teacher-basher’ to address a national conference of its teachers?

Perhaps this has something to do with it:  That same month, the Gates Foundation gave the AFT $3.4 million to push for “teacher quality initiatives,” and another “$217,200” in June for “conference support.”

From the Gates Foundation web site:

American Federation Of Teachers Educational Foundation

Date: July 2010

Purpose: to continue the American Federation Of Teachers Innovation Fund’s efforts to support local affiliates that engage in research-based, union-developed teacher quality initiatives and to work with a consortium of local and state affiliates—the Teacher Excellence Collaborative—to create and implement a comprehensive development and evaluation system based upon the American Federation Of Teachers framework

Amount: $3,421,725

Term: 2 years and 1 month

Topic: High Schools

Region Served: North America, Global

Program: United States

Grantee Location: Washington, District of Columbia

Grantee Web site: http://www.aft.org

American Federation Of Teachers Educational Foundation

Date: June 2010

Purpose: for conference support

Amount: $217,200

Term: 7 months

Topic: High Schools

Region Served: North America, Global

Program: United States

Grantee Location: Washington, District of Columbia

Grantee Web site: http://www.aft.org

— sue p.

3 thoughts on “Did Bill Gates buy his podium at the American Federation of Teachers’ Convention in Seattle?

  1. Dear Seattle School Director Smith-Blum, 8-23-2010

    Attached you will find a lot of valuable information that will prove very useful in evaluating the SERVE proposal.

    SERVE is a colossal waste of money. There is no reason to implement another expensive giant experiment, which has little if any research evidence indicating it is a reasonable undertaking.

    Please see the attachments from:

    Would Accountability Based on Teacher Value Added Be Smart Policy? An Examination of the Statistical Properties and Policy Alternatives

    by Douglas N. Harris of University of Wisconsin Madison

    Education Finance and Policy Journal from MIT Press
    Fall 2009, Vol. 4, No. 4: 319–350.

    Much more is available in the:
    Journal of Education Finance and Policy
    Fall 2009, Vol. 4, No. 4:
    Volume 4, Issue 4 – Fall 2009 –

    Special Issue: Key Issues in Value-Added Modeling
    Available here:


    The Seattle Central Administration and likely the Board did insufficient research before putting SERVE on the bargaining table. Under no circumstance should it be adopted.

    I realize from Director DeBell’s comments over the last few years that VAM has been the plan since the original bonus for Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was created. Unfortunately far too little of what the Board believes will be effective and eventually approves have a solid research base. Direction produced by political pandering is not data driven.

    RttT has enormous flaws. A belief in the efficacy of Value Added Modeling is one of the enormous flaws.

    The Performance Management policy and the sole source NWEA/MAP approval certainly indicate that the Board needs to do more homework. If the Board expects adequate research from the Central Administration, just think about Everyday Math and the poor research divulged to the Board by Ms. Santorno and her data cherry-picker at that time Mr. Brad Bernetek. Things are hardly different today in regard to Value Added Models.

    Sincerely, Dan Dempsey

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