Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, others are bankrolling the woke education agenda, says parents group

Reading scores just saw their largest decline in 30 years, according to the Department of Education

Some of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world are funneling millions of dollars into schools to push left-wing education initiatives at the expense of students academics, one parent activist group says.

Parents Defending Education, a grassroots organization helping parents with resources devoted to fighting "indoctrination in the classroom," investigated where five prominent foundations were awarding grants. 

Their study called "Cracked Foundations," found these organizations gave over $200 million to 70 school districts across the nation from 2017-2021. The parents group said that students in some of these districts were failing at math and reading, yet grants were being awarded to advance initiatives promoting equitable grading, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Critical Race Theory instead of academics.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Wallace Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Windward Fund were the focus of the study, which analyzed the last four years. All five organizations speak of their commitment to fostering "equity" on their websites.

Interior of classroom in elementary school. Row of empty desks are in illuminated room.

Interior of classroom in elementary school. Row of empty desks are in illuminated room. (iStock)

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Through 990 tax filings, publicly available documents and FOIA requests, the group found the most dollars went to the Battle Creek Public Schools in Michigan and Denver Public Schools in Colorado. Eight other districts in Florida, Texas, Kentucky, Ohio and California received ranges from over $1 million to $8 million dollars.

Battle Creek public Schools received over $31 million from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation over the course of four years in grants with a stated goal of "transforming" the schools "to address structural bias and segregation," according to the study. 

The Gates Foundation also gave millions to Denver Public Schools’ Foundation, the Baltimore City Public Schools’ Fund for Educational Excellence, the New York City Department of Education’s Fund for Public Schools Inc, and the Tulare County Office of Education "to implement equity-focused programming such as equitable grading," according to the report.

The Gates Foundation gave millions to "implement equity-focused programming such as equitable grading," according to the Parents Defending Education study.

The Gates Foundation gave millions to "implement equity-focused programming such as equitable grading," according to the Parents Defending Education study. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

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Bob Hughes, director of K-12 education at the Gates Foundation, stated that the foundation planned to "rebuild" public education by "leading with equity," the study quoted him as saying.

Besides equitable grading, social and emotional learning was another focus of these foundations' giving.

In one example, Parents Defending Education criticized $9 million from three of the foundations being given to consultants who specialize in social and emotional learning, such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

The Gates Foundation describes the learning philosophy as fostering "strong relationships and equitable learning environments attuned to and sustaining of students’ identity and cultural context in order to increase postsecondary success."

But the parents group said the teaching philosophy has become another way to implement race and gender ideology. 

Southeastern Legal Foundation launches guidebook instructing parents how they can oppose woke indoctrination. 

Southeastern Legal Foundation launches guidebook instructing parents how they can oppose woke indoctrination.  (Southeastern Legal Foundation )

Last month the Nation's Report Card was released showing math and reading testing scores had dropped significantly in the years schools were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic for fourth through eighth graders. Reading scores for 9-year-olds dropped to their lowest level in 30 years.

Parents Defending Education President and Founder Nicole Neily said their study shows how school districts continue to ask taxpayers for more money despite low academic standards while pushing progressive political ideas in schools.

"On a regular basis, PDE is asked ‘where do these programs come from,’ so we decided to investigate. Far from being an organic, bottom-up effort, this is very much a concerted strategy driven by progressive foundations. This is merely the tip of the iceberg – but at a time when school districts continue to pass nine-figure bonds asking for money, and families are hit up via GoFundMe campaigns for school supplies (not to mention the billions of dollars that were sent to schools via ESSER funding), American taxpayers deserve to know what’s taking place behind the schoolhouse gates – and how these foundation-driven spending priorities have impacted student achievement," she said in a statement to Fox News Digital.

Math scores saw their largest decreases ever from 2019 to 2022, while reading scores dropped to levels not seen since 1992 for fourth and eighth graders across the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Math scores saw their largest decreases ever from 2019 to 2022, while reading scores dropped to levels not seen since 1992 for fourth and eighth graders across the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. (Memedozaslan)

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Some of the foundations mentioned in the study pushed back on the idea that these programs hurt students' learning.

The Wallace Foundation told Fox News Digital that research and evidence shows SEL can actually improve student academics. 

While sharing concerns "for academic achievement, the well-being of all students and the negative impact of the pandemic" the group said "The work we support is designed to benefit students academically."

"Research suggests that an emphasis on SEL can enhance, rather than detract from, schools’ core mission of promoting academic achievement and attainment. And there is strong evidence linking improved training and support for principals to benefits for all students in reading and math," they wrote in response to the criticism.

"Our work in social and emotional learning with districts aims to help them use data and evidence in their own approaches to promoting student success, based on their own definition of equity," the foundation added.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also defended their grants as helping students achieve "their full potential without race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status serving as predictors of educational attainment and economic mobility and security."

"We are committed to working with schools and districts to improve outcomes for all students, especially Black and Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds," the foundation said in an email to Fox News Digital.

Kid wearing yellow school bag when crossing the street on her way to school

Kid wearing yellow school bag when crossing the street on her way to school (iStock)

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They went on to share concerns over the Nation's Report Card as only "reinforcing the urgency" of their work.

"Over the next 10 years, our K-12 strategy will focus on working with partners to improve student math outcomes by increasing motivation, engagement, and persistence in the math classroom, while supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instructional materials that will engage students and make math more relevant to their everyday lives. The most recent NAEP data showing a sharp decline in math achievement for nearly all subgroups only reinforces the urgency of our work. The pandemic has exacerbated existing academic gaps and put millions of students off-track. We believe that by working with educators, schools, districts, and local partners, together we can improve student outcomes," they wrote.

Students prepare to enter the building of Stratford Landing Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, on Monday, August 23, 2021, the first day back to school for many districts in northern Virginia. 

Students prepare to enter the building of Stratford Landing Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, on Monday, August 23, 2021, the first day back to school for many districts in northern Virginia.  (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Windward Fund also contested the study's claim that a COVID-19 fund was used for these programs.

"In 2020, Windward Fund’s fiscally sponsored project Student Emergency Food Access Fund was established to support school districts in continuing to feed children during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The contributions to school nutrition programs helped feed children and their families suffering from food insecurity due to school closures. None of the funding we provided was used for curriculum programs," a spokesperson for the foundation told Fox News Digital.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation told Fox News Digital they are "honored" to support Battle Creek Public Schools and for their investments in education. 

"A community’s greatest asset is its children – and in an equitable society, all children have the opportunity to thrive. At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, our commitment to advancing racial equity and healing, community engagement and leadership are our DNA, and are essential to propelling children to achieve success," their statement stated. "This investment is not just in a school district, but in the community for a stronger economy and future for all children and families. Fulfilling the potential of the district’s aims and enacting lasting changes will take time, especially given the broader challenges brought on by the pandemic. We’re inspired by the progress the district has made and proud of the more than 100 organizations who have stepped up to support Battle Creek’s children."

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The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative did not respond to Fox News Digital's request for comment.