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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Big bucks, but big results?


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent a few billion on remaking public schools in the United States. 

Strangely, they have not attempted to introduce the kind of student-centered education that they own children experience at Lakeside Academy in Seattle. Instead, they want everything and everyone to be tested and data-driven, including the privately managed charter schools in which they have invested. 

They don’t “give” money to public schools, as philanthropists of an earlier generation do. They give money to be used only as they direct: on high-stakes testing, on evaluation of teachers by test scores, on the uniform adoption of the Common Core standards, and on schools willing to follow their directions. 

Needless to say, neither Bill nor Melinda has ever been a teacher. Yet they consider themselves to be experts in what and how to teach.


In this article, Carol Burris reviews the couple’s recent national conference, at which they announced that they are pleased with what they have done and have no intention of changing their approaches. In other words, they called a press conference to say “Stay the course.” 

Clearly, they have not noticed that 220,000 students in New York state opted out of the state tests in protest of an overemphasis on standardized tests. Nor have they noticed the protests from all sides of the political spectrum against the coup engineered by Bill Gates to impose the Common Core on the nation without bothering to respect the views of the public (i.e., democracy).

Burris, the new executive director of the Network for Public Education, says that Bill and Melinda point to Kentucky, Denver, and Washington, D.C. as their evidence for the success of their reforms. 

She carefully dissects each of these examples and demonstrates that they have only been listening to their “yes” men and women. Denver has stagnated for the past decade despite near-total control by Gates-style reformers; Washington, D.C. continues to have staggeringly large achievement gaps between different racial and ethnic groups; Burris shows that Kentucky’s improvements began long before the introduction of the Common Core. 

(Hmmm, Kentucky is one of the few states that doesn’t have charter schools, which may explain why communities are very invested in their public schools.)

Carol says that this is what she learned from their interview with PBS journalist Gwen Ifill:
From this interview, three things seem clear.
Bill and Melinda Gates do not understand teaching and learning, yet they comfortably assume an air of expertise.They view victory as the implementation of their reforms and while they claim to be all about the metrics, they only select examples that suit their purpose.The first couple of reform neither appreciate nor respect the role of democracy plays in the governance public schools.
They demonstrate the old maxim that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

They also demonstrate that they have a problem with democracy; it threatens to derail some of their fabulous ideas.
It was clear that the couple worry that the democratic process can undo their reforms. As Bill Gates wryly observed at the end of the interview, “The work can go backwards….nobody votes to un-invent our vaccine.”
This statement is a bold assertion of Gates’ arrogance. Nothing that his foundation has done to American public schools is comparable to a vaccine against disease. If you listen to parents and teachers, the Gates’ obsession with standardization and testing is the disease, not the vaccine.


Our only hope to find a vaccine for the standardized testing disease, which is a mental aberration that distorts the purpose of education, is democracy, not the Gates Foundation. The public must vote for candidates who promise to make public education more like Lakeside, not a processing machine that ignores the interests and needs of children.