Eli Broad and Bill Gates, two of the most important philanthropists in American public education, have pumped more than $2 billion into improving schools. But now, dissatisfied with the pace of change, they are joining forces for a $60 million foray into politics in an effort to vault education high onto the agenda of the 2008 presidential race...
Under the slogan “Ed in ’08,” the project, called Strong American Schools, will include television and radio advertising in battleground states, an Internet-driven appeal for volunteers and a national network of operatives in both parties.
“I have reached the conclusion as has the Gates foundation, which has done good things also, that all we’re doing is incremental,” said Mr. Broad, the billionaire who founded SunAmerica Inc. and KB Home and who has long been a prodigious donor to Democrats. “If we really want to get the job done, we have got to wake up the American people that we have got a real problem and we need real reform.”
Mr. Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, responding to questions by e-mail, wrote, “The lack of political and public will is a significant barrier to making dramatic improvements in school and student performance.”
The project will not endorse candidates — indeed, it is illegal to do so as a charitable group — but will instead focus on three main areas: a call for stronger, more consistent curriculum standards nationwide; lengthening the school day and year; and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures.
While the effort is shying away from some of the most polarizing topics in education, like vouchers, charter schools and racial integration, there is still room for it to spark vigorous debate. Advocating merit pay to reward high-quality teaching could force Democratic candidates to take a stand typically opposed by the teachers unions who are their strong supporters.
Pushing for stronger, more uniform standards, on the other hand, could force Republican candidates to discuss the potential merits of a national curriculum, a concept advocates for states’ rights deeply oppose and one that President Bush has not embraced.
This from the New York Times.