To those of you concerned about big-money foundations and their influence on local schools, hold onto your hats: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today is announcing a new public relations campaign on behalf of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Given all the uproar over expanded testing, performance-pay and other initiatives critics see as being driven by foundations like Gates and Broad, this one is sure to attract a lot of attention. You can read some of what we've written about the influence of foundations on school reform here.
The news release that landed in my in-box says the effort's called "Educating Change," and aims to teach the general public about the broad palette of reforms CMS has launched within Strategic Plan 2014, the school system's overall school reform blueprint. There will be TV, radio and internet ads, printed and digital materials, and a web site at http://www.educatingchangenow.org/. You can get a sense of what the TV stuff will look like here:
It's all funded by a grant from the Gates Foundation, and will be overseen by the Charlotte Chamber and a local committee of parents, business owners, clergy and civic leaders, the news release says. A local PR firm, Carolina PR, is on the case, and the campaign is to be completed this fall. The timing raises some obvious questions: Will the campaign impact the school board elections and the hunt for a new superintendent? Is it aimed at countering the groundswell of opposition that cropped up this spring in reaction against the reform-related expansion of testing?
I'll be seeking answers to those and other questions during a conference call with the organizers this afternoon. I'll update you with what I find out.
UPDATE: The Chamber folks say the PR campaign costs $200,000, but no money will go toward the school board election campaigns. They say it's not specifically aimed at countering the groundswell against expanded testing, but rather is aimed at getting people educated about school reform generally in Charlotte. Natalie English, an official with the chamber, said she wrote the grant for it after Gates folks called her asking how the chamber's managed to be so successful at helping get bond campaigns passed. She said the PR campaign will teach people the various components of Strategic Plan 2014.
School board chair Eric Davis told me the school system's PR staff has been decimated by cuts, and CMS needs the kind of help Gates is offering: "This is nothing more than trying to get factual information out to the community about our efforts to try to improve student learning."