The Download: The best school policy money can buy?

Bill Gates has made improving US schools one of the cornerstones of the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and he’s put his considerable stash of money where his mouth is. The foundation ponied up some $373 million for education efforts in 2009 alone, the last year for which full records are available, according to this front-page story in Sunday’s New York Times.

But the growing question is whether all that philanthropy is an unqualified welcome thing. Unlike efforts in earlier years, which provided direct funding to support various education enterprises, including a push to improve outcomes through smaller schools that was deemed to be bust, the Gates Foundation has turned more of its focus recently to advocacy, funding a large complement of organizations that are pushing for major policy changes in areas such as teacher evaluation and seniority rules.  

“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California-Berkeley, told the Times.  

The tone of the story suggests something frighteningly nefarious is going on here.  And yesterday’s Times story is hardly the first to suggest that the Gates Foundation has hijacked education reform policy in the US.  This 5,500-word take-out from the Winter issue of Dissent magazine makes the case in much greater detail than Sunday’s Times story.  

Because of the amount of money Gates has to throw into education efforts, the outside scrutiny of how the foundation is influencing the policy agenda certainly seems appropriate.  For example, the foundation poured a lot of money into the effort to have states adopt common core academic standards, something 45 states, including Massachusetts, have now done.  

But some of the connections drawn between Gates money and advocacy groups seem to suggest an underhanded dimension to efforts of a foundation to support policy reforms it believes in.

The Times story leads with the account of Teach Plus, a Boston-based organization that has brought together teachers who support reforms such as ending the strict reliance on seniority to determine layoffs during tight times. The article quotes an Indiana state lawmaker who supported an effort to change seniority-based laws, who said the Teach Plus members there  “seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.”  Though the organization has received several million dollars from Gates to expand to a number of cities, does that make the teachers who support the policy changes something other than “genuine, real people”?  This 2009 CommonWealth story on teacher policies included discussion of the work Teach Plus is doing — and featured one of the group’s leaders on the magazine cover.  Maria Fenwick’s account of her work as a Boston public schools teacher — and her explanation of why she believes so fervently in the need for changes in teacher policy to drive improvements in urban education — seemed anything but inauthentic.  

                                                                                                                        –MICHAEL JONAS


It’s bold names week in the DiMasi corruption trial, with potential witnesses heading for the Moakley Courthouse including Gov. Deval Patrick, his former top aide, Doug Rubin, and the the state’s one-time chief budget official, Leslie Kirwan. The Herald ponders the impact of the governor’s impending testimony, complete with kind words from one William Bulger. Peter Gelzinis wonders whether it’s time for DiMasi to take the stand in his own defense.

Attorney General Martha Coakley is pushing a ban on nonprofit board pay via an amendment to the Senate’s budget.


Police say Patrick Blanchette, Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua’s economic development director, was drunk and disorderly outside a nightclub, but Blanchette says he was just wanted to know why it was taking so many cruisers to tow illegally parked cars. The Eagle-Tribune reports the police have a videotape.

The Eagle-Tribune, in an editorial, says Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua bought the silence of four local senators and reps when “he dragged them across the electoral finish line” last fall. The paper says the four “hear no evil, see no evil, and most definitely speak no evil” of Lantigua.

Roland Van Liew has invested $90,000 to force a recall of four selectmen in Chelmsford, which the selectmen say is part of a witch hunt to take out Town Manager Paul Cohen. The Lowell Sun has the story.

Fall River officials are eyeing a prescription drug program that could save up to $1 million a year for the city’s self-insured plan by recouping rebates and repackaging profits that vary widely, depending on the purpose of the prescription and who’s paying for it.


The Ouraged Liberal compares Princeton professor Cornel West, who blasted what he perceives as President Obama’s lack of blackness, to John Silber and Glenn Beck. Ouch, that’s gonna leave a mark.  The Globe front-pages on the controversy.


Tim Pawlenty makes his GOP bid official. Time asks: Is he too nice for his own good?

Setti Warren on Keller@Large.

Another one bites the dust: With his family opposed to a campaign, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels decides to pass on seeking the Republican presidential nomination. The Wall Street Journal sizes up the GOP field post-Daniels.


Five years after his death, Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith still engenders enmity from conservatives who think his Keynesian-based theories have undermined American capitalism.

Passenger traffic is rebounding at Bradley International Airport.


WBUR launches its series on what makes a good teacher, along with an interactive map.

The Globe reports that another tuition hike appears to be coming for UMass students.


Some malpractice attorneys and legal experts say the language in the health care bill on Beacon Hill allowing a physician to apologize  for errors but not have it used against him or her in court goes too far.

The MetroWest Daily News wants lawmakers and public health officials to get a handle on controlling Lyme disease.

The American Fitness Index says Boston is the third healthiest city in the country behind Minneapolis and Washington.


The MBTA pass scam was worth $4 million, the Gloucester Times reports.


The Cape Cod Times critiques a federal ruling that takes the teeth out of state law designed to reduce oil spills in Buzzards Bay.

New England faces greater flooding risks due to rising groundwater levels, according to a new study by University of Massachusetts geologists.

Don’t poke the bear: As more bears show up in Holyoke neighborhoods, police urge residents to leave them alone.


A laundromat in Lawrence offers a free drying service, but police say it was free because the owner had altered his gas meter so he was getting natural gas to power the dryers for free. NECN has the story.

A Springfield Republican editorials argues that Gov. Patrick’s plan to replace private attorneys  who represent indigent clients with 1,000 attorneys hired by the state doesn’t add up.

A Bridgewater man already charged with taking his 4-year-old daughter along on house break-ins while people were at funerals has been charged with breaking into a church hall with his 11-year-old son and stealing food.


The Associated Press profiles New England Aquarium resident Smoke the Seal, who turns 40 this week. Smoke is the second oldest harbor seal in captivity. Via The Washington Post.