Aug 112012

Over at EdWeek and the Gates Foundation’s blog, Anthony Cody and foundation leaders are exchanging letters about a variety of topics. Vicki Phillips recently posted about the use of student data in teacher evaluations, a post that received a bit of praise and a lot of criticism from Cody.

Here is the part of Cody’s response that I am going to focus on in this post:

Ms. Phillips’ post focuses almost exclusively on the work of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, an initiative of the Gates Foundation. While the Gates Foundation has invested upwards of $300 million in this project, they have spent several billion over the past few years funding other groups who are active partisans in the war on the teaching profession. We have not yet seen enough of the systems under development by the MET project to really understand them, so I will focus my attention on the other fruits borne by Gates Foundation investments.

The first question that arises when discussing teacher effectiveness is how we measure student learning. While Ms. Phillips distances herself from the use of test scores, this has been central to the reforms advanced by the Gates Foundation thus far. It is possible that the MET project will chart new ground, but before it does so, it will need to reverse all the policies and laws mandating evaluation systems that rely on test scores that have been passed at the insistence of the Gates Foundation and programs it has funded.

I’m going to avoid the issue of “the war on the teaching profession,” but I do think it would be helpful to have an overall picture of how the Gates Foundation is supporting various teacher-related issues. I’m particularly interested in teacher assessment and human capital management for the following reasons:

  • To say there is a lot of debate about how teachers should be evaluated would be a gross understatement. The debate intensified during the past few years, at least in part due to budget struggles and requirements for the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top. We’ve also seen a flurry of legislative activity regarding teacher evaluations (e.g. NY, TN, FL, LA).
  • The way the teaching force is managed – including, but not limited to teacher preparation, professional development, certification, tenure, evaluation, benefits, hiring, and firing – is a big deal for both current teachers and future teachers.

The primary purpose of this post is to review the Gates Foundation support of teacher-related issues through advocacy, professional development, evaluation, and other means from 2008 to the present. I am going to exclude all grants related to the Measures of Effective Teaching Project and all Washington State grants. I excluded the former since Cody’s post is specifically about the non-MET Project work of the foundation, and I think it’s better to treat the Project as separate from the rest of the foundation’s teacher-related work. I excluded the Washington State grants because the foundation’s giving is markedly different in their home region and better addressed as a separate issue entirely (see here).


I started with the “B&MGF Spending, 2008-2010.xlsx” dataset (available here) that I used for an earlier post. I’m looking at those three years for the following reasons:

  1. They are the most recent years for which IRS Form 990s are currently available.
  2. These three years cover the first two years of the Obama Presidency, including the earliest version of Race to the Top.
  3. The foundation started focusing on teacher quality issues in 2009. Bill mentioned this transition in his 2009 Annual Letter.

I then selected grants that impact the teaching profession in one of the following ways:

  • Grants for advocacy related to teacher quality
  • Grants for research by academics, private companies, or think tanks
  • Grants for supporting current teachers
  • Grants for teacher evaluations
  • Grants for human capital development

An Excel file (“BMGF Spending, 2008-2010 TQ.xlsx”) listing these grants is available here. For the most part, I selected grants based on the descriptions provided by the foundation’s Form 990s. In a few cases, I included grants that do not specifically mention the teaching profession, but that likely did contribute to issues regarding the profession (e.g. EdTrust). Needless to say, it is entirely possible that a different person would include slightly different grants. For instance, one could argue that anything related to the Common Core State Standards should be considered teacher-related. I tried to err on the side of only including grants that were specific to teachers in some way. Here is an overview of the foundation’s giving:

  • The foundation funded a number of organizations that have supported test-based accountability for teachers: Teach Plus, Stand for Children, TNTP, EdTrust, Educators 4 Excellence, Parent Union, Advance Illinois, the PIE Network, and The National Council on Teacher Quality. The foundation has also made a few grants to the NEA and AFT for issues relating to teacher evaluations.
  • Teach for America, the Relay Graduate School of Education (“Uncommon Knowledge and Achievement”), TNTP, the Coalition of Urban Teacher Residencies and AUSL received grants that involve teacher training and preparation.
  • While the grants to organizations listed above get a good amount of attention, there are two other categories of grants that deserve attention: grants for research, and grants for development of specific tools related to teacher quality.
  • ETS, Harvard University, Teach for America, Public Agenda, and Urban Institute received funding for research related to teacher quality issues.
  • The foundation also supported five states in building data systems that will likely be used in teacher evaluations. Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio received grants “to develop and implement of model common definition of teacher of record and standard business process for linking and validating teacher and student data at the SEA level and a representative sample of districts.”
  • The Recovery School District, Atlanta Public Schools, D.C. Public Schools (through the D.C. Public Education Fund), Houston Independent School District, Newark Public Schools (through the NewSchools Venture Fund) and Tulsa Public Schools received grants related to changes in teacher evaluations and/or human capital management.
  • In a handful of instances, the foundation provided funding for programs designed to assist teachers, presumably with additional resources or tools.

That is not a comprehensive list of grantees, but I think it fairly represents the main strands in the foundation’s contributions.


Since Form 990s for the years 2011 and 2012 are not yet available, I pulled grants listed on the Gates Foundation website in order to get a look at the foundation’s teacher-related grants. Specifically, I searched for all grants from 2011 and 2012 related to College-Ready Education, Advocacy & Public Policy, and Research & Development. I believe that encompasses all Gates Foundation education grants announced during those years. A list of these grants is available here.

There is one key difference between the information collected from the Gates website and the information from Form 990s. The website lists grants announced (i.e. new grants), and grants may run for multiple years; Form 990s list money actually distributed during that year, and some, like Gates, include promises of future payments (although I did not collect info on future payments). For 2011 and 2012, the lists below are only new grants; there are still funds going out to organizations that received a multi-year grant during a previous year.

It’s worth looking at the 2011 and 2012 grants more closely. These are the most recently authorized grants and may be more likely to reflect the foundation’s current direction(s).

First, here is a list of all grants with commitments over $1,000,000 announced during 2011 (excluding the MET Project and Washington State):

Here is a list of all grants with commitments between $999,999 and $500,000 announced during 2011:

And a list of all grants with commitments less than $500,000 announced during 2011:

Below is a list of the Gates Foundation’s teacher quality/evaluation grants through July of 2012 (excluding the MET Project and Washington State):

 August 11, 2012  Posted by on August 11, 2012 No Responses »
May 222012

In an earlier post, I looked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation education spending from 2008-2010. This post will focus exclusively on the foundation’s education work in Washington state from 2008-2010. I’m using the data from B&MGF Spending, 2008-2010.xlsx.

Below is an overview of the grants from the foundation for the years 2008-2010. The first table shows the number of grants for each category. The second table shows spending for each category1.

A few observations:

  • There is zero charter school spending because WA doesn’t allow charter schools; that may change.
  • About a third of all grants fall into the Other category. More about that below.
  • About a third of all grants fall into the Early Learning category.

Here is a sample of Other grants for the years 2008-2010:

  • $22,816 in 2008 to the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle to support an after-school education program.
  • $40,000 in 2008 to the Vietnamese Friendship Association of Seattle to support low-income immigrant Vietnamese students and parents in order to improve academic performance.
  • $150,000 in 2008 to Youth Care to support educational and workforce programs for homeless and other at-risk youth.
  • $47,400 in 2009 to the College Success Foundation to support academic mentors for foster children.
  • $490,000 in 2009 to Neighborhood House to support a school-centered program aimed at providing social services to children with behavioral challenges.
  • $172,000 in 2009 to the Technology Access Foundation to support a writing, math and technology program for children.
  • $100,000 in 2009 to Evergreen State College to support academic success for tribal members.
  • $140,000 in 2010 to the Children and Youth Justice Center to support truancy prevention programs.
  • $150,000 in 2010 to Renton Area Youth Family Service to support youth in Renton who are at high risk of dropping out.
  • $150,000 in 2010 to Team Read to support struggling elementary school readers, bringing them up to grade level in reading.

The Other category contains a good number of grants that would probably be considered wrap-around services. The foundation doesn’t give out a lot of those type of grants in other places.

The heavy emphasis on early learning in Washington state is remarkably different than the foundation’s strategy as a whole. Early Learning accounts for approximately half of all non-private school spending by the foundation in Washington, yet only 3-5% of spending by the foundation as a whole is dedicated to early learning – and most of that 3-5% is in Washington! Only 16 of the 83 early learning grants made by the foundation between 2008 and 2010 went to organizations outside of Washington.

The fact that the foundation is headquartered in the state likely explains at least some of the difference in grantmaking. Maybe the foundation saw a significant need and opportunity to improve early learning. Funding the smaller, local organizations is probably a result of the foundation feeling compelled to help out local nonprofits and organizations, and/or a familiarity with local issues that need to be addressed. Whatever the reasons, the foundation disperses funds very differently in Washington state.

  1. Note that the totals in table 1 do not equal the sum of grants listed because some grants fall into multiple categories. In the second table, I weighted the funding for grants that fall into multiple categories. For instance, an early learning advocacy grant of $100k would show up as a $50k grant in early learning and $50k in advocacy. I also included the Total w/o Private Schools because a single grant of $30 million in 2008 to the Lakeside School accounts for almost half of all spending from the year.
 May 22, 2012  Posted by on May 22, 2012 1 Response »
Mar 062012

Below is a list of think tanks that received Gates Foundation funding between 2008 and 2010 and the total funding they received during the year. Please note that a number of think tanks received funding for multiple projects during certain years.

A few notes:

  • I relied on the “B&MGF Spending, 2008-2010″ dataset (available here) for these figures. Aside from some formatting changes and simple addition, the information comes directly from the foundation’s IRS 990-PFs.
  • The Center for Reinventing Public Education, housed at the University of Washington, is not included in this table. EdTrust is not included either. Some consider the former a think tank; the latter, although more an advocacy organization, does produce some research.

Below is a closer look at the foundation’s support for think tanks and grant descriptions, by year:



 March 6, 2012  Posted by on March 6, 2012 No Responses »
Mar 052012

A number of people have chimed in about the shift in charter school spending by the Gates Foundation between 2008 and 2010. Here’s a quick look at which charter-related organizations received funding during the years ending in 2008, 2009, and 2010:

The color key at the bottom is based on the brief descriptions on the foundation’s IRS 990-PFs. Check with the dataset I have posted on the data page or visit the Gates Foundation’s Search Past Grants page if you want more information about specific grants.

A few things I notice:

  • The facilities development grants suggest, at least to me, that the foundation is looking for other ways to support the development of charters. Unlocking funds for facilities is a way to potentially help many charters.
  • Grants to management organizations and charter intermediaries took the biggest hit between 2008 and 2010.
  • It’s also worth noting that the foundation’s grants to charter operators went exclusively to management organizations, not stand-alone charter schools. This is a very different approach than the Walton Family Foundation, which gives out planning grants to many stand-alone charter schools.
  • Advocacy orgs at the state and national level draw the majority of charter-related advocacy funds.

NB: One issue with relying on IRS 990-PFs is that one grant can actually show up as multiple grants when displayed this way. For instance, most of the funds paid to the Charter School Growth Fund during these three years are part of a $10 million, 4 year and 3 month grant dedicated to expanding charter schools. What I’m really looking at here is the disbursement of funds during a given year.

 March 5, 2012  Posted by on March 5, 2012 No Responses »
Mar 022012

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest philanthropic organization involved in public education. Their flexible capital allows the foundation to change course, experiment and take on tasks that would be problematic for other organizations.

Although the foundation’s education programs have been the subject of both praise and controversy, one area in which they deserve a great deal of credit is transparency. Unlike most other foundations, which provide a bare minimum, time-lagged account of their activities, Gates not only provides a description of each grant on its annually-filed IRS 990-PF forms, but it also maintains a continually updated list of grants posted on the foundation’s website. This nearly real-time outlet provides the public with information about grants months before the foundation is required to do so.

The purpose of this post is to provide descriptive information about programmatic support and changes between 2008 and 2010. These are the three years for which information is currently available.

I extracted a list of all Gates Foundation education grants listed on publicly available IRS 990-PF forms (available through or the Gates Foundation website) for the years ending in 2008-2010. The foundation gave out nearly 1,300 education-related grants during these three years[1. I did not include employee matching grants or grants approved for future payment]

I created a coding scheme with 20 different categories and then placed each grant in one or more category. Since some grants fall into multiple categories, I also weighted the funding across categories. For example, a $250,000 grant supporting early learning advocacy would fit into both the advocacy and early learning categories, and both categories would receive $125,000. This is far from perfect, but it’s better than not weighting grants at all.

The first table below lists each category and the amount of resources allocated. The second lists each category and the number of grants.

It should come as no surprise to see the small schools funds decreasing quite dramatically. The drop in funds allocated to charter schools, however, may come as more of a surprise to some. Alternative schools and private schools are no longer receiving the same level of resources they were just a few years ago. Investments in school/district reforms tapered off sharply between 2009 and 2010.

The foundation more than tripled the number of grants dedicated to development between 2008 and 2010. It’s important to note that I included the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching in both the development and human capital categories.

The development resources ($28,730,901) dedicated to the MET Project accounts for approximately thirty percent of the resources the foundation used for development during 2009 and 2010. However, the number of grants dedicated to development increased rather significantly during this time period even if you remove the MET Project grants.

In addition to funding more development projects, the foundation allocated $13 million to Common Core State Standards in 2010, up from just over $600,000 two years prior. Human capital projects, largely a side project in 2008, became a centerpiece of the foundations work in 2010.

Overall, then, there are two broad takeaways from these data. First, the foundation funds a wide diversity of programs, and there really is not a single dominant category. Second, the year-to-year changes reflect a great deal of flexibility in shifting resources between those priorities.

[Also posted at The dataset used for this post is available here.]

 March 2, 2012  Posted by on March 2, 2012 1 Response »