In a classic "aw shucks, we tried and keep in mind, education, if run like a business would do a lot better" interview, Bill Gates spoke with the Wall Street Journal.
He somewhat humbly says, "It's been about a decade of learning." Kind of true but it's also been a decade of experimenting with other people's children. (But I think Bill, like a writer at Forbes who had written about yet-another Gates ed initiative said, he wouldn't want it for his own child but sure, why not try it somewhere.)
He also claims that the smaller high school initiative saw "maybe 10%" more kids go to college. Well, that's news to me because I never heard that figure before anywhere.
In typical Wall Street Journal fashion, here's the problem for public education in urban districts:
The reality is that the Gates Foundation met the same resistance that
other sizeable philanthropic efforts have encountered while trying to
transform dysfunctional urban school systems run by powerful labor
unions and a top-down government monopoly provider.
Gates tries to pile on (and mislead) by saying:
"It's worth remembering that $600 billion a year is spent by various
government entities on education, and all the philanthropy that's ever
been spent on this space is not going to add up to $10 billion. So it's
truly a rounding error."
This is funny because that $600B a year is in service to education benefiting the majority of children in the United States. He makes it worse by saying:
"I bring a bias to this," says Mr. Gates. "I believe in innovation and
that the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the
basic facts." Compared with R&D spending in the pharmaceutical or
information-technology sectors, he says, next to nothing is spent on
So he complains that $600B is being spent on education (apparently to no good end) AND no one in the public sector is using the money to do ed research. I can only say that many universities - both public and private - have been and are doing education research as well as many non-profits.
He then says:
"That's partly because of the problem of who would do it. Who thinks of
it as their business? The 50 states don't think of it that way, and
schools of education are not about research. So we come into this
thinking that we should fund the research."
His words betray him. "Who thinks of it as their business" might have been better stated as "Who thinks of it as their responsibility?" but Bill is nothing if not a business guy.
There's then a lot of blah, blah about teacher effectiveness and that tired canard about teachers who can take the "toughest students and they'll teach them two-and-a half years of math in a single year." I still am waiting to see where this has happened in large and measurable numbers.
There is also a telling story about him watching the film, To Sir with Love, that is about a great teacher in a tough school. Gates says, "I can't create a personnel system where I say, 'Go watch this movie and be like him.'" That statement is interesting on two levels.
One, because the point of the film is that it is about relationships and modeling for students even more than teaching. Two, because no one is paying or has appointed/hired Gates to create ANY personnel system. What makes him think that if he builds it, districts are going to use it?
He also goes right along with the standard ed reform jargon saying that teachers unions can be counted on "to stick up for the status quo." I'm still waiting to find that one public education teacher - in the entire U.S. - who will stand up and say everything is fine in public education and it needs no changes.
I give him credit - he does say that there seems to be little correlation to how well a state's public education system performance based on unions. I'm glad he realizes that any criticism on that basis will not work.
And, of course, he is on the Common Core bandwagon. I guess my question is, where was he, and all these other people, when NCLB was created? Because the whole premise there was that we could have 50 different tests and figure out how the country was doing as a whole. I didn't hear him complaining (or fighting back) at that time.
He also talks of how much better (and cheaply) KIPP is than the "dropout factory down the road." It's almost laughable if anyone knows the data and understands how ridiculous that comparison is.
Here's a surprising thing:
He praises the private school model for its efficiency vis-à-vis
traditional public schools, noting that the "parochial school system,
per dollar spent, is an excellent school system." But the politics, he
says, are just too tough right now. "We haven't chosen to get behind
[vouchers] in a big way, as we have with personnel systems or charters,
because the negativity about them is very, very high."
I have never heard him advocate vouchers before. Very dangerous and very troubling.
As for the "efficiency" of private schools? Well, Lakeside (the top private school in our area) would not be a model of efficiency considering how much it costs per student. And the parochial system likely does NOT service ELL students, Sped students, advanced learners or its teachers as well as the public school system.
Again, it's about serving ALL students, not some kids.
There was this jaw-dropping line which serves to show that neither Gates nor the WSJ writer understand what has been happening as a result of Gates' efforts:
It's a response that in some ways encapsulates the Gates Foundation's
approach to education reform—more evolution, less disruption. It
attempts to do as much good as possible without upsetting too many
The article ends with the usual "he's a good guy with money" phrasing:
You can quibble with Mr. Gates about that strategy. You can second-guess
him. You can even offer free advice. Or you can shake his hand, thank
him for his time and remember that it's his money.
No, I won't "quibble" with Gates and I would likely decline to shake his hand.
It is his time and his money but it's OUR public school system and our students.