About 300 teachers and their supporters critical of the influence the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wields in U.S. education policy planned to march to the foundation’s Seattle offices late Thursday afternoon around rush hour.
The Washington state contingent of a Facebook group called Badass Teachers Association — which formed last June and now counts a national membership of more than 48,000 — is organizing the event.
Activists with another website, Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates, which has provided an online forum for teachers to tell Gates how his policies affect their classrooms, will deliver those letters during the demonstration.
The event begins with a rally at 5 p.m. at Westlake Park, followed by a march to the foundation’s offices at the corner of Fifth Avenue North and Mercer Street at 5:45 p.m. Featured speakers include Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant; University of Washington, Bothell education professor Wayne Au; and Anthony Cody, a former California teacher and blogger for the newsweekly Education Week.
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It’s expected to finish by 7 p.m.
City officials expect significant congestion in the area and are urging drivers to plan accordingly.
Participating educators say the Gates Foundation, through its initiatives and the groups it funds, has blamed teachers and their unions for shortcomings in student performance while discounting the role of poverty.
They also are skeptical about the foundation’s influence in pushing one of the most sweeping changes in American education in decades — the new Common Core standards for English and math.
The Gates Foundation has spent $233 million since 2008 supporting the writing and promotion of the Common Core standards, which have been fully adopted by Washington and 44 other states, according to a Washington Post story earlier this month.
On Wednesday the foundation did not respond to a request to comment on the protest, but on Thursday issued a statement saying it is “engaged in a constant conversation” with teachers here and around the country about how the foundation can help them.
“While not all teachers agree on how best to make that happen, they are all dedicated and passionate about their students,” the statement said.
The Seattle Times Education Lab project, done in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN), is funded in large part by a grant from the Gates Foundation to SJN.
Among the issues that most rankle the foundation’s critics is its support of using student test scores in judging teacher performance. Recently, though, the foundation sided with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who in April 2013 called for a moratorium on using Common Core tests for teacher evaluation.
“No evaluation system will work unless teachers believe it is fair and reliable, and it’s very hard to be fair in a time of transition,” Vicki Phillips, the foundation’s director of education, wrote in an open letter earlier this month calling for a two-year moratorium.
“The standards need time to work,” Phillips wrote. “Teachers need time to develop lessons, receive more training, get used to the new tests, and offer their feedback.”
Such statements are unlikely to blunt the criticism of the educators marching on Thursday.
Renton elementary-school teacher Julianna Dauble, a local organizer of the event, said that educators already are overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to be a classroom teacher these days.
“Instead of improving education by supporting teachers and reducing the workload, Bill Gates has piled on a whole new level of anxiety-ridden workload with Common Core,” she said.
John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @jhigginsSTe