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The Empire Strikes Back

Bill and Melinda Gates, in their education reform efforts, have drawn the ire of NEA types, RiShawn Biddle at the Capital Research Center [1] points out. “From the bastions of traditional public education—the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the university-level schools of education that dominate teacher training, and the public school superintendents—the alarm has sounded: the Gates Foundation engages in ‘misinformation campaigns,’ and wants to ‘effectively cripple public control’ of schools,” Biddle writes. “Two years ago the National Commission on Skills in the Workplace, a Gates Foundation-funded panel, released a series of recommendations for improving schools that provoked harsh criticism.”

“Steven Miller and Jack Gerson of the NEA’s Oakland affiliate accused the commission and the foundation of proposing policies that would end up ‘effectively terminating the right to a public education, as we have known it.’” We can only hope.

One reason for the disconnect between Gates and the NEA is that the latter is unaccustomed to anyone who wants to put money into the public school system for some reason other than twisting its arm to make it hit jackpot. “This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate,” retiring general counsel Bob Chanin [2]told members. “To the contrary, these are the goals that guide the work we do.”

“But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.”

For its part, the Gates Foundation might be understandably gunshy about the NEA because the charity has been taken in by NEA types before. Three years ago, we reported [3] on the foundation’s experience with “public education, as we have known it.” “At the Gates Foundation, early grants went to utopian and communitarian movements but we moved away from that because it does not work,” foundation spokesman David Ferrero said in March 2006 at a conference on high school reform sponsored by the Center for Education at the National Academies of Science.

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia [4].