As Gates Foundation signals shift on education, the media turns to Tompkins-Stange

November 9, 2017

When the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced changes in its approach to education philanthropy, many in the media turned to Megan Tompkins-Stange, author of Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform, and the Politics of Influence (Harvard Education Press 2016), for context.

In her book, Tompkins-Stange explores how influential foundations—including the Gates Foundation—have shaped public policy in the education sector.

In interviews with philanthropic and education insiders, Tompkins-Stange heard a reoccurring critique: that the Gates Foundation used a top-down management approach when it came to its giving, treating grantees “like contractors” rather than partners.

While this strategy may be more effective in the short-term, Tompkins-Stange notes that it bypasses the work of building relationships with the people and communities that are impacted by philanthropy—relationships that should be based on trust. Without collaboration between philanthropic efforts and community needs and wants, says Tompkins-Stange, chosen solutions and strategies can fail.

According to conversations between Tompkins-Stange and representatives of the Gates Foundation, it seems that this criticism and "Policy Patrons" itself, were among the influences behind the recent Gates Foundation announcement—which came when the foundation announced plans to commit $1.7 billion for K-12 education over the next five years. 

The bulk of that funding will seek to improve education outcomes in existing traditional public schools. The rest will support the development of new curricula, charter schools focused on students with special needs, “research and development” designed to identify scalable best practice models, and a new focus: supporting “locally-driven solutions.”

“To me, it says that [Bill Gates] and the Gates Foundation leadership has perhaps listened to some of the criticism of their more top-down, outside expert approach to philanthropy in education,” Tompkins-Stange told Non-Profit Quarterly.

Tompkins-Stange’s take on the Gates Foundation news has been featured in several education and philanthropy based publications over the last two weeks:

--By Jackson Voss (MPP '18)