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Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation

Last year Sue and I discovered that a lot of money from Bill Gates and the Broad Foundation was being funneled into several organizations in Seattle to push the ideas of ed reform. See The Lines of Influence in Education Reform . We also discovered that the Gates Foundation, along with the Broad Foundation, was filtering money into the Seattle Public School system through the Alliance for Education. The Alliance for Education brought NCTQ to town which was the introduction of “teacher effectiveness” measured by student scores which began the push for ed reform in earnest in Seattle and ended with the passage of Bill 6696, the ed reform bill for the state of Washington. There has also been money spent by the Alliance for a company called Strategies 360, basically an expensive marketing firm to handle public relations in terms of all things Race to the Top to manufacture consent using unsuspecting community leaders and organizations to sign onto what was referred to as the Community Values’ Statement. With the sign-on of these organizations, the ed reform troops marched to Olympia and said that we were all for ed reform, here is the proof.

This also pressured the teachers’ union to sign onto merit pay and a teacher’s performance based on student test scores. This ed reform push was a well orchestrated maneuver on the part of the Alliance, the League of Education Voters and our local PTSA  and we have generous donations from Bill Gates and Eli Broad to thank for it.

Post Script: One of the Strategies 360 folks has been seen at certain events with our school superintendent. Our Broad-trained superintendent, I suppose, needs to make sure that she stays on-message.

Also see:

Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools

The Gates’ Foundation and the Future of U.S. Public Education: A Call
for Scholars to Counter Misinformation Campaigns

‘Race to the Top’ and the Bill Gates Connection: Who gets to speak about what schools need?

Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates

Bill Gates and the Corporatization of American”Public” Schools

“With Arms like an Octopus, Gates Foundation Reaches in all Directions”

Bill Gates tells us why *his* high school was a great learning environment

Bill Gates is Stealing Our Lunch Money

Aging Geeky Oligarch Front and Center in Education Takeover


The Gates Foundation hires Portland’s former superintendent as its new head of education

By Beth Slovic

The new education director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation left her previous job as the superintendent of Portland (Ore.) Public Schools in June. But a picture of Vicki Phillips, who arrived in Oregon in August 2004, still hangs on the wall of my cubicle not far from the Portland school district’s headquarters.

The picture is a still shot of Phillips’ profile taken from a televised public meeting that occurred in the spring of 2005, and the timing is important.

It’s the height of a school-closures storm led by the superintendent, whom my newspaper in Portland would later nickname “Hurricane Vicki,” and Phillips is walking in front of a slide from her presentation that evening. Her audience is an angry and tearful group of parents, teachers, and community members, who’ve only recently learned about the imminent closure of some of their neighborhood schools. Little did they know the whirlwind changes under Phillips were just beginning.

To some of those same teachers, parents, and community activists, the words floating above Phillips’ head in the image from that night perfectly summarize the superintendent’s three-year tenure in Portland.

“So why believe me?” the bold black letters declare.

Unfortunately for Portland, Phillips was never very good at publicly answering her own questions let alone other people’s, especially critical teachers’. In her time in the famously progressive, consensus-driven city, she closed six schools, merged nearly two dozen others through K-8 conversions, pushed to standardize the district’s curriculum, and championed new and controversial measures for testing the district’s 46,000 children-all mostly without stopping for long enough to adequately address the concerns her changes generated in the neighborhoods and schools where they played out.

During her three years in Portland, Phillips’ name became synonymous with top-down management, corporate-style reforms, and a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. If Phillips’ time in Portland offers any sort of preview on what’s to come from the Gates Foundation in the coming years, the country’s educators could face a new era of well-funded curriculum standardization, support for business-like initiatives, and additional, test-driven programs that may not serve individual school districts well.

Three years ago, that’s not what Portland educators were expecting.

“In the beginning it was such a breath of fresh air,” says Patty Braunger, a Portland elementary school reading specialist and a 30-year veteran of the district. “But I definitely think she had an agenda, and it had nothing to do with who was sitting in front of her . . . I don’t think she looked at what was working well in Portland.”

Yet business leaders in Portland for the most part crooned. They called Phillips a strong leader in a time of near crisis. (Portland’s student population was shrinking. The city, she said, had too many buildings to support. And money was, as always, tight.) She was, in their eyes, “a rising star.” “She’s decisive, she’s fact-based, she’s inclusive, she listens, and she’s not afraid to change her mind when the facts tell her to change her mind,” Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, told Willamette Week last February.

Many teachers, however, had an entirely different view. From the elementary schools to the high schools, longtime teachers decried Phillips’ efforts as “top-down” and disingenuously urgent. “Her vision of the ideal school system was one with a powerful centralized office that was always reacting to problems with new mandates-sometimes, it felt, capriciously,” says Karl Meiner, a high school English teacher in the district.

Still more teachers said Phillips was “contemptuous” of teachers’ expertise. They were skeptical of her reliance on high-paid consultants who parachuted into the district from out of state. And they worried aloud that the effects of her reforms would be a wholesale dumbing down of Portland’s schools. On several occasions, throngs of teachers showed up at school-board meetings to speak to their concerns. They wore handmade buttons and carried signs that warned against creating “cookie cutter” schools as Phillips pushed for what she called equity and teachers called sameness. They walked away feeling as if they hadn’t been heard. “Once she knew what she wanted to do, she just did it no matter what,” says Hyung Nam, a high school social studies teacher in Portland and a Rethinking Schools editorial associate.

Privately, teachers questioned whether Phillips’ reforms were good for kids-or simply good for Phillips’ career.
Earlier this year, those teachers got at least a partial answer. And now their question has national implications.

In August, Phillips succeeded Thomas Vander Ark as the new education director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a position that earned Vander Ark a salary of $340,000 in 2005. Overnight, Phillips went from overseeing an organization with a budget of $400 million to one with a purse of $3.4 billion, a sum far greater than the discretionary funds in the U.S. Department of Education’s 2008 budget.

As education activist Susan Ohanian puts it on her website (, that makes Phillips a force to be reckoned with: “Truly, because money talks so loudly in this country, it makes her, by default, the nation’s Director of Education, in control of $3 billion smackers.”

The Gates Foundation isn’t allowing Phillips to grant interviews during her first few months on the job, according to Education Week. But in news accounts relating Vander Ark’s departure and Gates’ future goals, it’s clear the foundation is at a turning point, that it’s searching for methods to improve schools that go beyond breaking comprehensive schools into smaller academies.

At the forefront of that effort to reshape the Gates Foundation’s education platform will be “Hurricane Vicki,” ambitious, attuned to the concerns of business, with a legacy of top-down decisions, and standardization offered with a rhetoric of equity.


Twice divorced and without children, Phillips grew up poor, according to her accounts. She was raised without indoor plumbing in a rural community in Kentucky, where no one expected her to go on to college, she says.

That’s a story Phillips, 49, has shared numerous times with audiences in Portland.

“Two grade schools fed into the high school-one rich, one poor,” she writes in When You Were 15, an anthology of short biographies written by adults in the Portland area. “When teachers found out I went to McQuady, they knew I came from poverty. In my entire high school career, not one adult talked to me about going to college-no teacher, no counselor, not the principal. I had straight A’s, and I graduated in the top 10 percent of my class, but they thought that because I was from Falls of Rough, I would never go to college. My friend Cindi thought otherwise.”

That’s also a story Phillips shared in her first speech as the education director for the Gates Foundation, at their annual convention in Seattle in July.

Phillips, of course, went on to get not only a bachelor’s degree, from Western Kentucky University, but a Ph.D. in educational leadership and management as well, from England’s University of Lincoln in 2002. In addition to serving as Portland’s schools superintendent, she led the Lancaster School District in Pennsylvania from 1998 to 2003 and was briefly the Pennsylvania secretary of education under Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, before moving to Portland in 2004.

Portland teachers’ first official introduction to Phillips would prove to be a memorable event. On a weekday morning shortly after her arrival in the city, Phillips gathered the district’s 3,700 educators in the Memorial Coliseum, an indoor arena, donned a microphone á la Madonna, and proceeded to give a presentation outlining “the buckets of work” she saw in front of her in Portland.

What came next wasn’t just show. In her first year on the job, Phillips announced a new strategy for measuring student achievement in addition to the state’s writing and portfolio assessments. Sometimes called “anchor papers”-dubbed “anger papers” by some teachers-the additional common assessments gave observers outside the school district the impression Phillips was implementing new tests to gauge student progress. Insiders wondered whether she even knew about the state’s robust writing system and saw these new mandates more as a way of collecting data to compare teachers and schools than as assessments that would provide useful information on student learning. Assignments were scored from 1 to 4, but in one category on the eighth-grade scoring guide the difference between a score of 3 and a score of 4, the highest, was the difference between striking “a balance between own ideas and references from the text” and striking “an effective balance between own ideas and references from the text.”

How the assignments were unrolled upset teachers as much as what they pretended to achieve. Like a sudden rainstorm, the idea for the new assessments, which were to be put in place across grade levels and in multiple subjects at all schools, came from above with little warning. Teachers immediately spotted numerous problems: the assessments were redundant, they were developed without teacher input, and the prompts on the assignments referred to classes not even taught in Portland.

The scores were ultimately meaningless to teachers since the final grade on a student’s work provided no indication of his or her weaknesses. “She was completely unaccountable for all of that,” says Hyung Nam, the social studies teacher, speaking about the anchor assignments. “She basically ignored our concerns.”

Tumult ensued in the months to come when Phillips proposed closing several schools and reconfiguring several more, creating K-8 campuses out of elementary and middle schools. Parents were divided along a spectrum, but there were two visible camps. On one side, there were those who applauded her bold attempts to get a handle on the school district’s finances. And on the other were parents who saw her efforts as shortsighted and hurried. Phillips’ administrators claimed the changes would promote student learning. “It was sold to us as the end-all-be-all for achievement,” says Mark Hansen, a second-grade teacher formerly at Portland’s Clarendon Elementary. One of Hansen’s students told him recently, “I used to feel like Clarendon was my home, now I feel like I’ve been kidnapped.”

When teachers questioned the research behind Phillips’ proposal and her belief that K-8 schools were the answer for Portland, her administration’s answers provoked more skepticism. For one thing, Phillips and her staff repeatedly pointed to a single source for evidence to support the decision. “You couldn’t get a straight answer from anybody,” Hansen says. “They were there to sell it.”

Jeff Miller, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, is similarly critical.

“The process was characteristic in several ways of the originator,” Miller says. “It was based on trendy and superficial thinking about schools and teaching and learning. The whole K-8 process seemed intended more to promote the reputation of certain adults than to do anything meaningful to improve teaching and learning in Portland Public Schools.”

Miller notes, too, that the schools that were eventually reconfigured sat in the less affluent neighborhoods of Portland, raising questions about why the move was good for some children and not, apparently, others.

But when Phillips emerged from that process triumphant, she embarked on a new one: A massive retooling of Portland’s K-12 curriculum, a project that included purchasing thousands of new textbooks for all grade levels (so that all schools would have the same ones) and an attempt to mandate the order in which different schools offered their courses to students (so that all schools did it the same way). “What we intend is to offer enough guidance to be sure that kids are getting common outcomes but by no means to tie teachers’ hands,” Phillips told Willamette Week last winter.

Phillips did include teachers on committees to evaluate the choices in this matter, but they were asked to choose from a selection of materials from publishing giants that were pre-screened. As a result, Phillips’ invitation to teachers felt to some like an offer to join the superintendent at McDonalds-not the grocery store. “All four options that were up were bad,” says Patty Braunger, the reading specialist. “It was a quick fix to make Vicki Phillips look good.”

But teachers weren’t the only ones to object to Phillips’ plan. Parents also raised their voices-to urge Phillips to slow down and to question the substance of her reforms. “The cost of adopting new, untested textbooks across the board is huge and less effective than the targeted adoption of textbooks for specific classes,” a petition to Phillips and the school board, which was signed by 625 people, read. “As taxpayers, we ask that you show us clear evidence that our investments in the district will be used effectively.”

Phillips, though, forged ahead.

And after teachers resisted her efforts in public meetings and privately at their own schools, Portland principals were given copies of Harvard business professor John Kotter’s 160-page book Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions, a book the New York Times called one of “a growing number of business best sellers that try to explain management or economic ideas in simpler, more reader-friendly language.” (That’s the kind of thinking that caused Phillips to adopt business jargon over educationese at times, opting for financial terms like Q1, Q2, Q3, instead of “quarters” in the school calendar.)

The gist of the book was this: In order to create change, leaders must tell their followers how urgently it is needed.

But some Portland teachers felt as if the problems had never been identified precisely under Phillips.

This year, Portland Public Schools has the new textbooks Phillips wanted. For the youngest readers, that means Reading Street from Pearson Scott Foresman. “It’s like we’ve become Scott Foresman Public Schools,” Braunger says.

And while one principal in the district was asked last winter to dress up as a penguin from Our Iceberg Is Melting and enact a skit whose backdrop was the global warming crisis, those new textbooks don’t convey the same sense of urgency on the topic. The global studies textbook Phillips approved, McDougal Littell’s Modern World History, has less than a page on that inconvenient truth.

Beth Slovic ( is a reporter for Willamette Week in Portland, Ore.

11 thoughts on “Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation

  1. There are many avenues towards education and everyone learns differently. we need to build a collective of resources and see which ones are the most effective so that the people and the students can have choices. Just as we have choices in which careers we choose, I believe that students both young and old need to learn about the power , benefit and consequence of every choice we make.

    Choosing a school, which classes to focus on, what our goals are and what actions we should take are only a small selection of the broad questions we should be asking. A leader is someone who makes a decision when others are not or will not. We only learn by taking action and reviewing the results. Some of these systems seem to really work well for select students, but others may need a different perspective or special handling. Everyone deserves a chance for a better future.

    1. Bryan,

      Here in Seattle we have different models of teaching that work well and offer alternatives to the traditional school approach. Those schools are our alternative or option schools which offer a variety of methods for educating our students.

      What we need to do is focus on what has worked. These alternatives schools were established 40 years ago and other schools have built upon that model due to their success and ability to address the needs of all students.

      There is no reason to reinvent the wheel, just fund what has proven to be successful so that model can continue to grow and evolve.


  2. Gates’ position as espoused in his latest Washington Post interview> education improvement is like baseball improvement; tenure is the cause of the “gap” between rich and poor; video evaluation and teacherss marked by students are needed. Education needs to be more like fast food.

  3. teachforlife,

    Up until about a month ago our Broad trained superintendent was on the Board of Directors for NWEA. A contract for about $4M was awarded to NWEA during her tenure on the board for rights to use the MAP test.

    So many people in the community saw this as a conflict of interest that finally our superintendent did step down from that board albeit reluctantly.

    The most ludicrous part to this testing is that it starts in kindergarten here in Seattle when most children can’t read yet. Apparently animal sounds are used for the answers and the children like the sounds so they continually press the buttons of their favorite sounds.

  4. I am so glad that I found this site! Thanks you so much for researching and posting all of this information. I just wanted to let you know that I piloted MAP testing 4 years ago and it is horrible! I teach 1st grade and I couldn’t believe that my school district wanted to have teachers administer standardized tests on primary children; albeit electronic ones! The questions were cartoonish and didn’t test what we teach, so I found no value in it whatsoever. Thank God that our school district has “shared decision making” built into its contract so the primary teachers could not allow MAP testing to move forward. And no surprise, our district’s assistant superintendent is a consultant for MAP’s parent company (I think it’s NWEA?). Best of luck to you all in Seattle!

  5. As a former Seattle School teacher and member of the SEA rep assembly, I fought against signing on board for the RTTT (rat $). It was a close vote. As for Gates. He was given the no-bid contract to develop the operating system (DOS) for IBM, which had been given the no-bid contract to develop the PC computer by the Pentagon.

    Bill Gates himself never graduated form college and was not a very good student. His pedigree got him into Harvard. Microsoft is an inferior product, just check with any serious programers and they will confirm this. His company uses a monopoly of 90% of the market to promote his software. They have been sued constantly since the 90’s for unfair business practices.

    His father, Bill Gates senior is the real power behind the corporation. The DC law/lobby firm of K&L Gates is the #1 defender of death squad dictators in the world. Jack Abramhof came from this firm. Both Microsoft and and K&L Gates are represented by the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, which was headed by the Dulles brothers and set up all the financial arrangements for the Nazi cartel of the 30’s and 40’s.

    Bill Gates senior is the one who controls the the Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation shelters half of the wealth of Gates family (somewhere around $30-$40 billion). This is untaxed revenue that is invested in most of the corporations destroying the planet, for instance they are a major holder in BP with 7 million shares. A large majority of the grants given out by the Gates Foundation are linked to Gates. The Gates Foundation is squeezing out the small family farmers in Africa through the promotion of unsustainable agriculture which is heavy with toxic chemicals and GMO seeds.

    The Gates Foundation is one of the major forces for privatization public education. They do this by promoting un-researched schemes such as the small schools movement, the New Technology Network, charter schools, and others. This destabilizes public education and paves the way for a market based education system which dumbs down the students and generates profits on wall street.

    You should google up Asa Hilliard’s speech on the “Attack on African Writers writing about their history.” The foundations behind these baseless attacks are linked to Gates and the privatization of Public Education.

    People need to resist this corporate agenda with all their might. Public Education is the last line of defense against a fascist take over of not only the Americas but the rest of the so-called free world.

  6. It is my thought that Bill Gates believes that his ideas on public education which are not based on personal experience either as a student or educator are valid and he sees no other options.

    You can imagine the world that he moves in. He might “visit” a public school occasionally, although I have seen no documentation of that, but that is probably the extent of his involvement to public education at ground level.

    It’s apparent that he has a limited understanding of public education in the United States.

  7. What would be the motivation of the Gates Foundation for this? I have noticed that most of their “charity” seems to benefit corporations who are going to “help” poor people, but I am not sure why they would want this.

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