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Do Corporate Philanthropists Have a Seat at the Education Policy Table? Duncan: 'Nothing Could Be Further from the Truth'

Is there a corporate agenda in the United States Department of Education? According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, no.

Duncan sat down with two teaching ambassador fellows at the U.S. Department of Education to answer questions about corporate influence in education policy. When asked whether corporate philanthropists like the Gates Foundation are playing "too heavy a role in public education," Duncan replied that these organizations don't even have a seat at the policy table.

"Anyone who thinks that those who are major donors to education or those giving a lot have a seat at the table in terms of policymaking, nothing could be further from the truth," Duncan said.

He continued: "We try and listen to everyone so where folks are investing, whether it's foundations, whether it's corporations, whether it's nonprofits coming in and helping schools, faith-based organizations, we want everyone rallying behind the effort."

Critics, including individual teachers and education advocates, as well as education organizations, have railed against the "corporatization" of education in general, and corporate influence on major initiatives like Common Core State Standards in particular.

Duncan, however, said that philanthropists like Bill Gates and Eli Broad have an important role to play in education.

"I have tremendus respect for them and am thrilled that, given lots of other places they could choose to put their dollars, the fact that they're trying to help education, I think it's a very positive thing. But no, it doesn't get them a seat at the table.... But again, having people in philanthropy who've ben successful come back and give back and help be part of the solution, I think that's really important."

The dialog was posted today on ed.gov, with a video of the interview hosted on YouTube. YouTube comments on the video have been disabled, but the hashtag #askarne is being used to continue the conversation on Twitter.


About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 29-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEDavidNagel (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).