ED in ’08

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 2007

A year and a half before the  Presidential election, the foundations of Bill Gates and Eli Broad—which together had already given more than $2 billion to various education-reform causes—announced a $60 million effort to make education a central issue in the political debate. Under the tagline “ED in ’08,” their campaign launched elaborate communications efforts, celebrity endorsements, fancy campaign paraphernalia, petitions, swing-state advertising, other media efforts, and meetings with candidates and staff.

Despite being what the New York Times described as “one of the most expensive single-issue initiatives ever in a Presidential race,” this effort produced no significant increase in the political salience of educational issues. Both parties adopted their usual platform planks on schools, and over the course of the Presidential debates 20 education-related questions were posed to the candidates—not significantly different from previous election cycles. By the time they had spent $25 million, the Gates and Broad foundations announced that no further money would be put into the initiative.

Reflecting on the aborted project shortly after the election, Bill Gates observed that “most of what we were causing people to do was mouth platitudes.” Fuzzy, generalized efforts to influence policy while dancing around controversial details may not be worth the effort, many observers and donors concluded.

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