The real secretary of education, the joke goes, is Bill Gates.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been the biggest player by far in the school reform movement, spending around $200 million a year on grants to elementary and secondary education.
Now the foundation is taking unprecedented steps to influence education policy, spending millions to influence how the federal government distributes $5 billion in grants to overhaul public schools.
The federal dollars are unprecedented, too.
President Barack Obama persuaded Congress to give him the money as part of the economic stimulus so he could try new ideas to fix an education system that most agree is failing. The foundation is offering $250,000 apiece to help states apply, so long as they agree with the foundation’s approach.
Obama and the Gates Foundation share some goals that not everyone embraces: paying teachers based on student test scores, among other measures of achievement; charter schools that operate independently of local school boards; and a set of common academic standards adopted by every state.