Hey, hey, big spender! Philanthropists, ed policy, and democracy

Diane Ravitch gave us the term “billionaire boys’ club.” The contention is that such philanthropists as Gates, Broad, and Walton have had outsized influence on the course of recent trends in education policy, for which they are not accountable to any public entity.
Larry Cuban’s blog this past week http://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/philanthropic-advocacy-for-school-reforms/
discusses an interesting article by Rekhow and Snyder in Educational Researcher, which demonstrates how such philanthropists have increasingly converged in their investments, resulting in impact far beyond the dollar amounts bestowed:  http://edr.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/05/07/0013189X14536607.full.pdf

For those new to the issue of philanthropists in education reform, I recommend an investigative 2011 report by Joanne Barkan on the strategies employed by these education-engaged philanthropists (it’s accompanied by a lot of citations, which make for interesting browsing): http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/got-dough-how-billionaires-rule-our-schools

Warning:  Barkan is not a fan of this philanthropy, and this article was written even before the promulgation of the Common Core (This report from the Washington Post traces the role of Gates and other foundations in creating, implementing, and advocating for the CCSS and NGSS)  http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-bill-gates-pulled-off-the-swift-common-core-revolution/2014/06/07/a830e32e-ec34-11e3-9f5c-9075d5508f0a_story.html   )

For a quite counter view:  Frederick Hess, of the American Enterprise Institute, is a major proponent of the current fashion in education reform and was an early critic of educational philanthropy. Yet his critique has moderated in the Gates-Walton-Broad era, and his blog provides an interesting counter to the discussion above:
http://www.aei.org/article/education/k-12/system-reform/no-thanks-very-much-critics-of-public-school-philanthropy-overstate-their-case.

Aside from the content of the reforms being advocated by these large investors, what about democracy? I suppose it depends on what you mean by democracy. For a lot of the players, “free market” is a synonym, and the “money is speech” equation is valid.  John Dewey’s position is one I prefer:
“The idea of democracy…is that every individual must be consulted in such a way , actively, not passively, that he himself becomes a part of the process of authority… that his needs and wants have a chance to be registered in a way where they count in determining social policy. Along with that goes, of course, the other feature which is necessary for the realization of democracy — mutual conference and mutual consultation.” (from Democracy and Education in the world of today. )

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