Diane Ravitch, the born-again school reformer, offers more thoughtful views on education reform in this article for the Journal of Philanthropy.
She worries about the immense influence enjoyed by private foundations, such as the Walton Foundation, exerting huge influence over public decisions in Arkansas and elsewhere. You have to subscribe for the full article, but here's a taste:
Those foundations, no matter how worthy and high-minded, are, after all, not public agencies. They are not subject to public oversight or review, as a public agency would be. They have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state.
If voters don’t like the foundations’ reform agenda, they can’t vote them out of office. The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one. If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them. They are bastions of unaccountable power.
Such questions are seldom discussed in the mass media. Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research wrote in 2005 that the major foundations—especially Gates, Broad, and Walton—are the beneficiaries of remarkably “gentle treatment” by the press, which suspends its skeptical faculties in covering their grants to school reform.
Ravitch decries the moneybags' push to essentially privatize public schools.
The market undermines traditional values and traditional ties; it undermines morals, which rest on community consensus. If there is no consensus, then one person’s sense of morals is as good as the next, and neither takes precedence. This may be great for the entertainment industry, but it is not healthy for children, who need to grow up surrounded by the mores and values of their community. ...
With so much money and power aligned against the neighborhood public school and against education as a profession, public education itself is placed at risk. The strategies now favored by the most powerful forces in the private and public sectors are unlikely to improve American education. Deregulation contributed to the near-collapse of our national economy in 2008, and there is no reason to anticipate that it will make education better for most children.