To the Editor: School district influenced by private foundation

When a billionaire in California is getting involved in Rockford School District No. 205, that might seem like a positive, but whether it is or not, I believe the community should at least be aware of it. The Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation came into Rockford with Dr. LaVonne Sheffield. Dr. Sheffield sought the school board’s agreement early last fall to have a representative of this organization take an active role in her evaluation, they agreed, and that is what just recently occurred. These are available with a little digging.

A little background on the Broad Foundation is in order. This information comes from Diane Ravitch, who is a former adviser to the Bush and Clinton administrations. Her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, was published this year and has had an important impact on American education.

In 2002, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton (Wal-Mart) Family Foundation were by far the top donors to education. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, built upon a fortune made in home building and insurance, was formed in 1999 and soon joined the previous foundations with a well-funded interest in American education. These people wield vast influence because the money-starved schools are eager to adapt their priorities seek a multi-million-dollar grant.

Their goal of helping the struggling American schools is commendable. Being successful business people, they are determined that improvement lies in privatization and competition. While they are free to try these methods, there are some cautions—the most serious being that public schools will end up being the repository for those with learning disabilities, those who are emotionally disturbed and don’t succeed in charter schools, or those who don’t have parents willing or able to seek alternatives. Are we choosing to end our tradition of democratic, strong and equal education for all?

The educational professionals working with parents and citizens at large need to keep informed and be involved in working to make our students successful. These billionaires–well meaning as they are—are having a profound impact through their use of their personal fortunes. And the very accountability they are demanding in others is completely lacking for them. They answer to no one.

So now the Broad Foundation is involved in Rockford schools, and very few of us in Rockford are even aware of this. I think we should be. Just how deeply involved is the Broad Foundation in Rockford education?

Barb Oehlke


From the Sept. 1-7, 2010 issue

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