Wall Street Journal Editorial
NOVEMBER 17, 2009 -- We hate to say it, but don't be misled by headlines. The biggest headline in education circles last week was that the Ford Foundation is making a whopping $100 million grant "to transform secondary education in the nation's most disadvantaged schools."
Our eyes raced to see which piece of the vibrant school-reform movement Ford was going to support. Would it be America's 4,600 charters schools, many outperforming their traditional school peers and some even closing the race gap? Maybe it would be Teach for America, busting at the seams and turning down Ivy League applicants by the hundreds. Or, who knows, maybe Ford's really on the leading edge, and would want to support voucher programs in cities like Washington.
Would you believe the recipients of Ford's largesse are the teachers unions? Yup. The folks at Ford are giving new meaning to the word "retro."
Ballyhooing the $100 million, the foundation's president Luis Ubinas said, "Improving our schools, and giving the most vulnerable young people real educational opportunities, benefits all of us. With this initiative we want to shake up the conversations surrounding school reform and help spur some truly imaginative thinking and partnerships."
And yet the Ford press release contains not one mention of charter schools, vouchers, merit pay or even Teach for America. Literally speaking, this really does shake up, not to say shock, "the conversations surrounding school reform."
Ford's formula for reform involves more money, less accountability and a bigger role for the unions. "Many state finance systems fail to allocate enough resources to provide quality schooling for all students," Ford's daring analysts write. And, "standardized tests are a blunt and inadequate tool by which to gauge student learning and school effectiveness."
But one of the screaming ironies of public education, known to all, is that some of the worst school districts in the country spend the most money on students. Standardized tests may be a "blunt" instrument, but they are also the only way that parents have had of holding bad teachers and terrible students accountable. This is why the unions dislike student testing, as well as teacher pay based on student performance.
One of Ford's first grants will go to the new American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund, a "union-led initiative to make grants to AFT affiliates nationwide for innovative efforts established jointly by teachers, administrators, and parents." Here's guessing the main such innovation will be more money for everyone regardless of results.
The fact that Ford is supporting the unions—the biggest barrier to school reform in America—is no surprise. The foundation has funded just about every major failed liberal establishment program since the Great Society. Head Start, Job Corps and the Community Development Corporation were launched from Ford templates. In the 1970s, the foundation supported forced sterilization programs to curb overpopulation in the third world. A few years ago it gave money to an Arab NGO that wanted to wipe Israel off the map. It also largely paid for the University of Michigan's defense of affirmative action at the Supreme Court.
Last Wednesday, by contrast, the Gates Foundation offered $10 million to help the wildly successful KIPP charter schools expand in Houston. One might have hoped that Ford's administrators would have looked at some of the real innovation being done by philanthropies such as Gates or the Walton Foundation and seen how truly far behind the times Ford's ideas are.
Oh, well, another $100 million for education down the drain.