Governing Outside the Public Sphere? Here’s Another Gates Funded Anti-Public Education Billionaire Front Group 

Bill Gates and venture philanthropy in general have been in the news lately[1] and I don’t believe the attention has been all that welcome in those circles. There is a lot of evidence these “disruptive innovators” are on the defensive. I take the Gates funded Higher Education for Higher Standards group rallying some higher education “leaders” into lip synching the Common Core chorus to be a rather frank admission of concern.

As I analyze three years of data to better trace the role and significance of the funding activity of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in framing and imposing current education policy, I’ve come across yet another anti-public education reform group[2], a 501c3, who is, in their words, “working together towards a high-quality education for all kids, regardless of their address.”[3]

A Case Study in the New Function of Non-Profits?

50CAN, Inc., received in October of 2011 a $2,399,505 jolt from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This grant, as described on the funders website[4] was “to expand the 50-Can business model to three additional states in 2012, including New York.”

What is the 50-Can “business model” and why would it benefit Gates to have it extended to New York? And what is 50CAN anyway?

Reading their website, one is confronted with language that was crafted by those exposed to a Common Core education long before it went national. Buzzwords. Lies masquerading as evidence. Fiction masquerading as non-fiction. Irrational narrative masquerading as logic. But a close reading helps!

My opinion is this: 50CAN is part ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council, crafting Gates approved, business-friendly laws and policies in private to bring to state legislatures), part PR, part education (“training” education “leaders”, similar in kind to what the Broad Foundation does) and part Lobby. 50CAN is yet another example of Gates and friends building infrastructure to govern from beyond existing political institutions.

And for what do they advocate? Here’s NY’s CAN report on what they’ve achieved since 2011. In short, they’ve pushed for using invalid and unreliable high stakes tests to evaluate teachers; they’ve pushed for “parent trigger” mechanisms that empower privatizers; and they’ve joined the club in working to dismantle teacher education and lower qualifications for entry into the profession. Oh, and they support the Common Core too!

Remember, this is only one of the many organizations funded by Gates to push the same agenda: one voice masquerading as many. And remember, they’re not happy with these results. There is still work to be done.

What is striking in their assessment is their unabashed striving to influence legislators. They are the hired guns of the usurpers, the guerilla’s of education reform warfare; methodical insurgents, going from state to state. They organize to bring in educators among their ranks. And certainly there’s the promise of some serious cash.

But it is key to go beyond lobbying and corruption. What is really striking is the role that non-profit institutions are playing in changing governance.

Non-profit status was originally afforded to institutions that served the public good; they were awarded non-profit status as it was believed that the profit motive governing for-profit companies was incompatible with the missions of religious, cultural or other organizations aiming to serve the public.

But the increasingly significant role of the non-profit in changing how education is governed needs to be examined, as much of the Common Core, and even charter schools, is governed outside the public domain.

Does 50CAN serve the public interest? Does the Gates Foundation? Should the governance of public institutions such as schools be handed over and contracted out to non-profit organizations over which the public has no direct control? Does this proposal not portend a significant shift in the role of organizations outside the public domain in governing public life, a proposal that serves to eliminate the public altogether?


  1. See here and most notably, here — the Foundation is also the subject of a protest this coming week.
  2. Anti-public education reform is any effort meant to improve the effectiveness of the attacks on public education, democratic strivings and institutions and any pro-social agendas.
  3. While this formulation portends a continuance of the fight for equality of educational opportunity, it in fact reveals a significant break with this past formulation. It carefully reintroduces into education policy discourse the logic of separate but equal. It explicitly calls us to ignore that lived experience is institutionally structured to be unequal (“varies by address”); we are compelled by the vision to abandon the fight for real equality, an end to segregation, and the affirmation of the rights of all for the hope that bootstrapping poor kids in a segregated “college prep” charter academy will suffice.
  4. Note that this was prior to the website being redesigned in 2013, at which time some data was altered.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.