A Look At The Education Programs Of The Gates Foundation

Posted by on March 2, 2012

Our guest author today is Ken Libby, a graduate student studying educational foundations, policy and practice at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest philanthropic organization involved in public education. Their flexible capital allows the foundation to change course, experiment and take on tasks that would be problematic for other organizations.

Although the foundation’s education programs have been the subject of both praise and controversy, one area in which they deserve a great deal of credit is transparency. Unlike most other foundations, which provide a bare minimum, time-lagged account of their activities, Gates not only provides a description of each grant on its annually-filed IRS 990-PF forms, but it also maintains a continually updated list of grants posted on the foundation’s website. This nearly real-time outlet provides the public with information about grants months before the foundation is required to do so.

The purpose of this post is to provide descriptive information about programmatic support and changes between 2008 and 2010. These are the three years for which information is currently available.

I extracted a list of all Gates Foundation education grants listed on publicly available IRS 990-PF forms (available through guidestar.org or the Gates Foundation website) for the years ending in 2008-2010. The foundation gave out nearly 1,300 education-related grants during these three years.*

I created a coding scheme with 20 different categories and then placed each grant in one or more category. Since some grants fall into multiple categories, I also weighted the funding across categories. For example, a $250,000 grant supporting early learning advocacy would fit into both the advocacy and early learning categories, and both categories would receive $125,000. This is far from perfect, but it’s better than not weighting grants at all.

The first table below lists each category and the amount of resources allocated. The second lists each category and the number of grants.

It should come as no surprise to see the small schools funds decreasing quite dramatically. The drop in funds allocated to charter schools, however, may come as more of a surprise to some. Alternative schools and private schools are no longer receiving the same level of resources they were just a few years ago. Investments in school/district reforms tapered off sharply between 2009 and 2010.

The foundation more than tripled the number of grants dedicated to development between 2008 and 2010. It’s important to note that I included the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching in both the development and human capital categories.

The development resources ($28,730,901) dedicated to the MET Project accounts for approximately thirty percent of the resources the foundation used for development during 2009 and 2010. However, the number of grants dedicated to development increased rather significantly during this time period even if you remove the MET Project grants.

In addition to funding more development projects, the foundation allocated $13 million to Common Core State Standards in 2010, up from just over $600,000 two years prior. Human capital projects, largely a side project in 2008, became a centerpiece of the foundations work in 2010.

Overall, then, there are two broad takeaways from these data. First, the foundation funds a wide diversity of programs, and there really is not a single dominant category. Second, the year-to-year changes reflect a great deal of flexibility in shifting resources between those priorities.

- Ken Libby


* I did not include employee matching grants or grants approved for future payment.

12 Comments posted so far

  • So, now we know what you think of these numbers.

    Tell us what you think of what Gates and ALEC are doing to public education.

    Comment by TFT
    March 2, 2012 at 3:16 PM
  • These Common Core Standards have some potential for usefulness in identifying middle school students who have obviously fallen behind in basic skills and may deserve support for the remediation of these deficits in after-school tutoring centres like those I taught in in east Asia. It is a pity that so often those who could use such extra supports are unable to access them because of poverty. The Gates Foundation should consider granting support for initiatives to develop such links between our neediest students and such institutions that could help them, which are currently authorized under No Child Left Behind.

    March 2, 2012 at 4:47 PM
  • Any ideas on why support for alternative schools declined?

    Comment by john thompson
    March 2, 2012 at 5:30 PM
  • [...] Libby, on a guest post for The Shanker Blog, does a quick analysis of where Gates Foundation grant money is going. Most fascinating to me? The drop in donations to [...]

    March 2, 2012 at 10:43 PM
  • This is good work Ken! Hold your nose for a second. Do you think the Gates Foundation could be convinced to shift resources towards more democratic/humane forms of schooling?

    Just curious….

    Comment by Philip Kovacs
    March 3, 2012 at 9:34 AM
  • thanks Ken this is fascinating.

    some follow-up questions: Where does the national data center fit in that they have already given more than $76M, over 7 months, which will hold confidential teacher and student data and be operated by Murdoch’s Wireless, euphemistically known as the Shared Learning Collaborative?

    Also can you be a more descriptive about the types of advocacy groups Gates is funding, what issues they focus on, and how many are start ups that rely heavily on the Gates’ funding?

    I’m also very interested in the media category: what does this include aside from Education Nation & the Media Bullpen? does it include the NPR grant?

    Finally, what is the “development” category? Usually I think of that as fundraising, but this is clearly not what you mean by it if you include the MET project (which might also be tagged as research.)

    Comment by Leonie Haimson
    March 3, 2012 at 12:14 PM
  • [...] a question I’ve had for a long, long time, Ken Libby, a UC Boulder grad student has a post on the Shanker Blog detailing how the Gates Foundation spends its education-oriented funds. Looks like the whole [...]

    March 3, 2012 at 2:41 PM
  • I too would like to know the nature of the grants within these categories, especially advocacy (since Gates has been contributing to ALEC), but as well the development grants beyond the MET. It is in this information that we can discern the ideology behind Gates. As to the conclusion about flexibility, it reveals one danger of reform from the philanthropic elite: easy come easy go. As to Philip Kovacs’ question–nose held: philanthropic elites, no matter what kinds of education they support, present a danger to the democratic potential of education. I don’t want rule by any oligarchs, benign or not.


    Comment by barbara madeloni
    March 4, 2012 at 7:42 AM
  • [...] Gates Foundation is up to on the education front, and blogger Ken Libby has pulled together some of the most recent figures so we can all see the [...]

    March 4, 2012 at 3:19 PM
  • Since the purpose of this post was just to provide descriptive information about funding, I’m going to refrain from speculating about past changes or future shifts in programs.

    Keep in mind that I only looked at the years 2008-2010. That means some grants (e.g. ALEC and SLC, both in 2011) are not included.

    For those interested, the dataset I assembled for this post is available at the link below:


    Comment by Ken Libby
    March 5, 2012 at 1:57 PM
  • [...] Gates Foundation gives to a wide and ever-shifting list of education grantees. (Shanker Blog) Email Share  Print [...]

    March 6, 2012 at 7:31 PM
  • Is it true that the Gates foundation is funding/developing student evaluation software for mandatory RTI student assessment?

    Comment by Chris Plante
    November 21, 2012 at 7:24 AM

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