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Education Reporter

Billionaires Call for ‘Ed in ’08’

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Billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad, with other top philanthropists, plan a $60 million effort to put public education at the top of the 2008 presidential campaign agenda. Gates and Broad have spent more than $2 billion on various education initiatives in the past. The new $60 million project, called Strong American Schools, will nearly top the list for spending on single-issue initiatives in presidential races.

The campaign will proceed under the slogan "Ed in '08." "The lack of political and public will is a significant barrier to making dramatic improvements in school and student performance," said Gates in an e-mail to the New York Times. Strong American Schools hopes to motivate voters and candidates through TV and radio ads in battleground states, along with other strategies.

Gates and Broad say this effort will be nonpartisan. Gates has supported campaigns in both the Democratic and Republican parties at different times. Broad is a prominent Democratic donor and has given money to Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The billionaires have recruited bipartisan leadership and financial support for this project.

The project will promote three main education initiatives: stronger and more nationally consistent curriculum standards, a longer school day and year, and merit pay for teachers.

The largest teachers unions oppose merit pay and other incentives to reward teacher quality. Strong American Schools may therefore create some confusion among Democratic supporters and candidates, with the teachers unions and the billionaires pulling in two different directions on this topic.

Many Republicans, on the other hand, favor merit pay, but oppose national standards. The third item, longer school days and school years, is already in effect in some school districts scattered across the nation, and some are convinced it is the solution to lagging school and student performance. Opponents point to nations where students excel in school while spending far less time in class than American students already do. For example, in Sweden, children at all levels must spend 741 hours in school per year. The average American child spends 900 hours per year in school.

The project will avoid some of the most controversial issues in education: vouchers, charter schools, and state-funded preschool. (New York Times, 4-25-07)

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