When Will Bill Gates Leave Public Education Alone?

There can be no doubt that Bill Gates is a smart guy.  What I have a tough time with is that because he is smart AND has lots of money that somehow that makes him an expert on anything he decides is important.
Mr. Gates, like Eli Broad and the Waltons, have created a playbook (probably via our friends at ALEC) for ed reform.

Just to be fair, I'm sure it is as frustrating to them as it is to all American citizens at the stubbornness of the opportunity gap, the numbers of students who drop out, the need for new skills/rigor in our classrooms and the need for the best-trained, best quality teachers.

But here's the playbook they created (this via the Edushyster blog). 

1. Bad News Bears.  The news is bad folks. In fact it’s worse than bad. It’s *terrible.* You thought you knew just how badly our union-stifled public schools were doing? Take what you thought you knew and ratchet up (or is that down?) the failure by a factor of 9—no, make that 10. While there may be astonishing news to the contrary (like the fact that African American 8th graders in Massachusetts outscored the Finns in mathon last year’s TIMSS tests, the global equivalent of March Madness), I can’t think of any reason to report that—can you?

2.  Hype, Hype, Hooray.  Keep saying how bad our teachers are - across the country, mind you - and it'll stick.   We move from Oprah in the '90s telling us how wonderful teachers are (to great applause from her audiences) to a shake of the head over those lazy, low-performing teachers.  Quite the trick.

Meanwhile, hype testing as the great hope for education and have a SECOND hope which is called charter schools.   No matter that testing has not given us a better idea of how ALL American students are doing.  No matter that it has come at a cost of tremendous upheaval, narrowing of curriculum, loss of real teaching in the classroom, fewer ed dollars in the classroom and now, cheating by desperate teachers and administrators.  The former superintendent in El Paso, Texas is now in jail for their cheating scandal.

3. Context is Nothing.  This is one of my favorites.

Folks, I am perfectly willing to listen to new ideas or opinions.  I can respect others who differ with me on what will bring about the best academic outcomes for more students.  What I do NOT respect are those who will NOT be fair and acknowledge the good, the bad and the ugly.

For charter supporters, well, there might be a few bad egg schools but for the rest, it's smooth sailing.  They will mouth that charters "aren't a silver bullet" but then proceed to want every charter cap in every state lifted. 

Gates, Broad and the Waltons have used all of these tactics.   But let's get back to Gates.  He recently had a column published in The Washington Post.  He says that multiple measures are needed to evaluate teachers (and he makes fun, of all people, Tom Brady, the NFL quarterback).   He said this:

Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible. But as states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they’ll use hastily contrived, unproven measures. One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure.

Or, it might be that they want assessments for all subject to keep those subjects relevant.  You teach what you test, Bill.  (Oh but I forgot, your children don't have to be subjected to all these tests.)

And, as Anthony Cody points out in his column (see below), the criticism that Gates has for testing PE came from language in a law in Indiana that Gates had a hand in creating.  Gates continues:

If we aren’t careful to build a system that provides feedback and that teachers trust, this opportunity to dramatically improve the U.S. education system will be wasted. 

The fact is, teachers want to be accountable to their students. What the country needs are thoughtfully developed teacher evaluation systems that include multiple measures of performance, such as student surveys, classroom observations by experienced colleagues and student test results.

Great but where was this talk several years back?

At the Living in Dialogue blog at Ed Week, Anthony Cody takes on Gates' column.

No one in America has done more to promote the raising of stakes for test scores in education than Bill Gates.  (bold his)

The Gates Foundation promoted these practices not only through their migrated staff members, but also through numerous policy and advocacy groups that were well funded, or even created for this purpose. We have the Data Quality Council, the National Council on Teacher Quality, and groups like Teach Plus, given millions of dollars to advocate for the use of test scores in teacher evaluations.

This amounts to an attempt to distance the Gates Foundation from the asinine consequences of the policies they have sponsored, while accepting no responsibility for them whatsoever.  (bold his)

When Bill Gates states he is all for accountability, perhaps he might start with himself. Until then, I really do not value his views on what good accountability systems for others ought to consist of. 

I've said it before - I believe that Melinda and Bill Gates are changing the face of world health and bless them for it.  I just wish that Mr. Gates, a data-driven guy, would step back from public education and ask himself, "What am I getting done with all this money I have spent?  Where are my outcomes?"  The answer would stare him right in the face.  


Unknown said…
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Unknown said…
I wanted to comment this morning on Gates's column this morning, as well as Anthony Cody's responsive column in Ed Week, but I'm so bad at typing on my cell phone-shaped-object, that I gave up. So I'm glad you did. Cody has an associated column in which he goes through the attributes of the billionaire philanthropist on the Billionaire Philanthropist Evaluation at http://bit.ly/14TR2bK. Bill Gates is so entrenched in the entire educational/teacher evaluation schema even he probably had no idea just how bad it really is. He even donates to Ed Week, which published Cody's column. I read Gates's column first and I know he sees himself as an impatient optimist, but after I read his column in which he seems blind to the testing insanity his money/policies have wrought, I couldn't help but think he isn't a tad delusional as well.
A-mom said…
Most people don't get that tests like the MAP are norm-referenced,so that about 50% of students will answer a particular question incorrectly.
Failure by design.
How convenient that the same businesses that create the "failure" have solutions to offer for the right price...control of our public schools and the tax dollars they are afforded.

Suggested: The Myths of Standardized Testing by Phillip Harris, Bruce Smith and Joan Harris
Next up, inBloom and student data collection.
Watching said…
I'm hearing Parent Union (another Bill and Melinda funded organization) will begin their attempts to empower families to bring in charter schools.
Watching, actually Parent Union is another Microsoft millionaire, Scott Oki, but Gates probably put in for that as well. I find the Parents Union kind of laughable and I have to wonder about any parent who would be fooled by their rhetoric.
Anonymous said…
My peeve is the phrase, "Opportunity Gap." Why try to spin in a positive light? It's a "poverty gap," let's call it what it actually is.
Unknown said…
What I get peeved about is the hijacking of causes such as the "opportunity gap" with solutions that are narrowly and ideologically defined by the corporate reformists. I have come to believe that the only reason the reformists are interested in what may traditionally be termed "civil rights" issues are to hijack them and turn them into opportunities to claim grassroots support for the privatization of education. I have no other explanation for why an event sponsored by the League of Education Voters on exclusionary discipline featuring speakers from TeamChild and Washington Appleseed became an event to get contact information from communities of color to get them to buy into LEV and OSC's agenda for involvement in teacher contract negotiations.
Anonymous said…

IF he cared about data, WHY doesn't he hold accountable the people creating the policies which don't work? WHY doesn't he hold accountable the people who do NOT fund policies which do work? WHY doesn't he hold accountable those in charge who can't tell the difference?

Could you ALL please get over your fancy degrees and sophisticated sentences and ponderous paragraphs and Tomes of Truth???

This is NOT about who has the best ideas, this is about who is in charge!

Will it be the elitists behind the curtains with their chief lackeys and their brilliant double think?

What has the Clinton-Obama technocrat cla$$ accomplished? They've continued the military industrial complex inherited from WWII. They've allowed Wall Street shenanigans which would make John D. Rockefellar & Jay Gould & J.P. Morgan drool. They've allowed a medical industrial complex of unprecedented waste to lay waste to our paychecks and our financial security. They've outsourced tens of millions of working stiff jobs and they only to show for it is a bunch of high living yuppies in some high living pockets around the us. They've allowed right wingers to define ALL public debates.

While factual & well reasoned responses to Gate$ are important, they ain't the ONLY thing - there should also be marginalizing his social class, so that they have the credibility and social acceptability of any extremest group NONE of us would give the time of day to.


Ugh,believe me, I long for the chance to talk to Mr. Gates but I never know if I could hold back my unhappiness with his actions versus trying to get him to listen.
Patrick said…
Ugh, the WHY he and his foundation support methods that don't work: they aren't in his script. He doesn't want the answer to be "poverty can't be completely overcome by schools" or "class sizes matter and we need higher taxes to support smaller class sizes" or any other solution that can't be done with current budgets. He wants the answer to be "unions are the problem" and "no more taxes are needed" so those are the only solutions he will look for.

Bill Gates may be smart, but it's ruthless business smarts, not making products that are better for the user. Microsoft's best products are those they bought, cloned, or got by buying another company.
KG said…
Bill Gates IS A HUGE PROBLEM and I congratulate this blog on pointing it out.
Ellie Kesselman said…
That is clever of you to notice that Bill Gates donates, through one of his de facto "cousin-once-removed" holding companies, to the organization that funds Ed Week. And that Ed Week is the very publication where Anthony Cody's column was published. Which was the impetus for Bill Gates' penning his rebuke about public education's supposed shortcomings! It would seem that Bill Gates has more money than he knows what to do with, or keep track of.

I'm surprised that Bill Gates objects to testing in physical education ("gym"). My public school physical education classes administered tests based on Health & Human Services standards of physical fitness for children and adults. I loathed them, but they were good for me, and were not traumatic!

Less facetious now: Bill Gates is too involved in public policy. I read an essay, Outsourcing Education Policy to Philanthropy, via Non-Profit Quarterly, about that. Yes, Bill Gates is savvy and brilliant! But he has no training or experience as a K-12 educator. Unfortunately, because he is so wealthy, there's nothing to prevent him from decimating a system that has served us well for over a century.

Education reformer attitudes are especially pernicious. They consider themselves to be morally good, liberal progressive Democrats, as opposed to those "wicked Republicans". Yet their attitudes e.g. virulent anti-union sentiments and elitism in general, aren't consistent with liberal traditions.

Two prominent education reform advocates (K. Porter-Magee and Sol) wrote an article about Common Core in The National Review Online, a.k.a. conservative-central last week. There were hundreds of comments by regular readers, and a few non-conservative types too. The comments were overwhelmingly negative from these Republican, conservative readers. You'd think they'd be delighted with public school privatization, toothless unions, less government involvement. That wasn't the case. Many objected to Common Core and excessive testing on the grounds that it was a big bureaucracy, with too much time preparing for and taking tests, and not enough time for teachers to teach. Also, that more technology was not necessarily the answer, and that curricula can't be standardized uniformly for every public school in the country, then assessed with metrics. Math and computer science teachers (well, the latter were post-secondary school educators) said that multiple choice tests were not meaningful if used exclusively to gauge subject matter mastery. English, history and social studies teachers didn't think multiple choice tests could replace essay writing! I also learned about that so-called Bloom "thing", which sounds like a database of personal information about children, in the comments.

I've started following Diane Ravitch's blog on WordPress. She wrote that Texas had voted against vouchers for charter and other non-public schools, very decisively against.

Finally, I continue to be dismayed how much privatization funding is going into the ed reform "movement". Beware anyone who describes himself or his organization with the phrase social justice! It is "corporate empowerment" by any other name.
Anonymous said…
endgame = global education companies selling one size fits all schools, materials, services, technology, scripted teachers everywhere in the world.


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