I've written before about the outsize influence of Bill Gates on national education policy. That influence is growing. According to Education Week, as the Department of Education prepares to dole out $4.3 billion in federal grants as part of the Race To the Top program -- an effort to foster education reform and innovation at the state level -- the Gates Foundation is offering 15 states up to $250,000 to hire consultants to fill out the complex application to the program, which the DOE estimates could take up to 642 hours. Those states are Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. During a time of state budget cuts and layoffs, the Gates funds could mean the difference between a barely completed application and one given enough attention to win the competition.
According to the DOE's own standards, one of the Gates-supported states, New York, may not be eligible for a Race to the Top Grant because -- much to the chagrin of New York City edu-reformers -- it prevents student test scores from influencing whether or not teachers are granted tenure. But given the many links between the Gates Foundation and the Arne Ducnan DOE, the foundation's imprimatur is likely to grant New York another look. Race To the Top's top administrator, Joanne Weiss, used to work at the New Schools Venture Fund, a frequent Gates Foundation partner.
Of course, the mere concept of Race To the Top is already deeply influenced by Gates' edu-reform philosophy, with its focus on teacher quality and merit pay above issues like racial and socioecomic integration. The foundation's direct intervention in the Race To the Top competition is just the latest evidence of its increasing influence in federal education policy.