Is B&MG Foundation Admitting They Don't Know Everything?

 Update: I'm just going to piggyback on Michael's story which needs some sussing out for full impact (but I'm glad he got to it; I'm behind.)

Here's the letter that the Gates Foundation's CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellman   wrote earlier this month.  Buried in there are some real gems about public education (couched of course in nuanced language.)

The lead paragraph:
From the beginning, Bill and Melinda wanted their foundation to be a learning organization; one that evolves and course corrects based on evidence. We want to get continually smarter. One of our greatest areas of learning has been our work in K-12 U.S. education.
I actually laughed out loud.  Well, the Gates Foundation may have "learned" something but it has taken them millions to do so and that "evidence" is more experience in failure.  As well, they were using other people's children and schools as their guinea pigs.

However, all this learning never seemed to get them out of their echo chamber which is their biggest problem.

 She goes into talking about Common Core and how it's helping and uses Kentucky as an example.  Kentucky was one of the earliest adopters of CC.  One thing Ms. Desmond-Hellman leaves out is this (from The Hechinger Report):
Once the state introduced the Common Core-aligned tests in the spring of 2012, that percentage dropped 28 points in reading (to 48 percent) and 33 points in math (to 40 percent), according to the Kentucky Department of Education. Middle and high school students’ scores also dropped.  Scores have been edging up ever since. 

Despite that improvement, within those numbers are hidden divisions that have existed for decades. Breaking the scores down shows that African-American students fare much worse than their white peers.

And those gaps, in many cases, have widened, according to an analysis of state testing data by The Hechinger Report and the Courier-Journal.
Desmond-Hellman also says this:
Rigorous standards and high expectations are meaningless if teachers aren’t equipped to help students meet them.
Okay then, what has the Gates Foundation done, either verbally or with dollars, to better equip teachers on a systemic level?  I can tell you that if Bill Gates went to Olympia and testified before either the Senate or the House education committees about McCleary, they would listen.

Here's where they eat their humble pie:
Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.

This has been a challenging lesson for us to absorb, but we take it to heart. The mission of improving education in America is both vast and complicated, and the Gates Foundation doesn’t have all the answers.
Of course, they then blame the confusion/problems around CC implementation on
"identifying or developing Common Core-aligned materials is a challenge."

As for the LA Times editorial, this is big.  The LA Times, like the Seattle Times, has a "partnership" relationship for ed reporting.  Many people have been troubled by how the Gates Foundation has tried to - well - buy media, create faux teacher and parent groups, etc.  In short, control the messaging on public education.

That the LA Times is pushing back was quite a surprise.  From the editorial:

It was a remarkable admission for a foundation that had often acted as though it did have all the answers. Today, the Gates Foundation is clearly rethinking its bust-the-walls-down strategy on education — as it should. And so should the politicians and policymakers, from the federal level to the local, who have given the educational wishes of Bill and Melinda Gates and other well-meaning  philanthropists and foundations too much sway in recent years over how schools are run.
Philanthropists are not generally education experts, and even if they hire scholars and experts, public officials shouldn’t be allowing them to set the policy agenda for the nation’s public schools. The Gates experience teaches once again that educational silver bullets are in short supply and that some educational trends live only a little longer than mayflies.
I'm with Michael - this could be a breakthrough.

end of update
Could this be the breakthrough where the really rich people actually start listening to teachers and parents and stop believing just because they went to school 40 years ago and they have made billions of dollars they have all the answers to public education in the country?

I doubt it, but we can always hope.

Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America's public school agenda


Anonymous said…
The legacy of his failed "ideas" has wrecked many a career and sown seeds of dysfunction across the country. Every time he has a new idea while working out on his treadmill real people suffer the consequences of his hubris. The legacy of his failed small schools still lingers through the Puget Sound and the nation as a whole -- not to mention the lasting impacts of his other failures.

--Stop Bill
Anonymous said…
I would sure like to know who nominated Bill Gates to be the world’s expert on education.

I never even thought his software was very good.

S parent
Eric B said…
I always thought the idea of Common Core (reasonably common standards across the states) was actually pretty good. The problem came in implementation, from tests to teacher supports to curricular recommendations and so forth. Hopefully, BMGF learns that implementation is the hard part, not the easy part.
Anonymous said…
Hoo boy - too bad Common Core took grammar and academic writing out of the curriculum. Irony, your name is Bill.

"...We want to get continually smarter...."

Anonymous said…

I am disappointed at how little time is devoted to fiction/literature in elementary. Most if the year seems to be spent on non-fiction. I am not sure if this a function of the readers writers workshop or the common core.

Opt out news from the Diane Ravitch blog:

Half the juniors in 2 Palo Alto high schools opt out of SBAC

Watching said…
" As well, they were using other people's children and schools as their guinea pigs"

I am in complete agreement and Gates will never be held accountable to the voting public.
Watching, as I like to say, he was not hired, appointed or elected to do this work.

So his calling card to this work is his money and nothing else.
another opinion said…
Only two of several comments I could make but first teachers are asked to teach too much to do anything well. I'm targeting elementary of course. With class sizes in the mid twenties and children from diverse backgrounds (meaning the educational level and competence of parents), each student requires more face time. But we are rushed to get it all in.

Second, I think the standards are not too low. There is a lot of emphasis on thinking skills which are much harder to teach than knowledge. I've had high achieving students who are great readers (fluency, to lesser degree vocabulary), but who do not make connections well. Inferences, subtext, connections - these all require competencies that for many kids start at home but for many others do not. They take discussion and multiple experiences to teach all of which takes time.

Also, in math I've had numbers kids who are facile with numbers but couldn't do more than addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Once they had to think more deeply or make connections as simple as $1.49 = 149 pennies = 149% they were lost. Or once they had to explain why their computational method worked, they couldn't. So they would sometimes too often employ the incorrect method to the problem. Perhaps this gets back to reading skills again!

Giving students time to apply their reading and math skills to real life projects is key but again time consuming. Such projects would also increase children's engagement and fun. I guess I'm back to number one again!

I think Bill and Melinda Gates need to spend a lot of personal time in classrooms if they really want to understand education beyond Lakeside and privilege. Then I would welcome their opinions.
Anonymous said…
The standards are often the opposite of "too low" - they teeter on the edge of developmentally inappropriate. Asking fourth and fifth graders to "analyze" a text, present a cogent argument with supporting evidence, or use a text to make inferences about a character is a bridge too far for many students. I am all for teaching "toward" these skills (meaning, setting kids up to be able to do these things when they are ready), but teachers and students alike will continue to be frustrated when faced with almost impossible tasks. It's good to set the bar high, but setting it too high for no demonstrable reason is demoralizing to everyone.

another opinion said…
Absolutely agree. I think you said it correctly. They are developmentally inappropriate. I'm not even saying "teetering on..." Thanks for clarifying.
Anonymous said…

Thank you "another opinion" and "exhausted". Thank you to all teachers out there who take these developmentally inappropriate standards and still try and teach our children something meaningful everyday.

Watching said…
IMO, Common Core is problematic for young children. Here is one article:

A child psychologist finds Common Core inappropriate for young children. If you get a chance, please watch this video. There is a very good explanation regarding cognitive development and the need for children to discover a sense of mastery. Developmentally, it is very important for children to have a sense of mastery. Teachers, writing tests, understand this concept.

Sadly, I feel our legislature and school districts do a poor job of independent analysis. IMO, legislators and school districts are fed messaging points. Political consulting firms create letters for parents, messaging tips to superintendents etc.

As Gates himself said, it will take 10 years before we know whether or not his scheme works- and our children are the guinea pigs. Shameful.

Watching, there are many, many early childhood experts that think Common Core is developmentally inappropriate. (As well, there were none on the group that wrote the standards.) Why Gates didn't think that important is a good question.

Now if you believe some people who get called conspiracy theorists, the goal is to tear the public education apart. Tests that many kids can't pass, piling on of more and more unfunded mandates from feds/state, closing schools, pushing charter schools, etc.

If schools perform badly enough, than there are those who say, "Our school system is 'failing,' we need to do something new and drastic."

Chicago is a great example (except that they have the great Karen Lewis as head of the teachers union who is on Emanuel's case all the time.)
Outsider said…
Many public policies are designed to fail, as measured by the stated goal, which means the real goal is something else. See Iraq war, war on drugs, etc. Education has good company in that regard.

Common core and the testing regime have no shortage of real goals, and could be considered modestly successful in that regard:

1) Some right-wing types hate unions and consider the teachers' union to be a department of the Democratic party. So they want to make the schools look bad to weaken unions.

2) Globalizers want a rationale for off-shoring jobs and hiring foreigners instead of Americans. First they table a scheme in which all Americans will become knowledge workers; then promote an impossible regime of standards and tests to make that possible; then watch kids fail; then shrug their shoulders and say what can we do? The schools failed so we have to send the jobs to China.

3) Crony capitalists make loot selling books and tests to the school systems, and are delighted if the direction of education policy changes every six months.

See, common core and the tests are successful after all. They work in so many ways for so many people. But don't worry, Ms. Clinton will stop it all.
Anonymous said…

I think that the common core emphasis on skills vs content will mean

1. NAEP scores will be flat or start to decline.
2. Achievement gap will widen.

karen said…
U r right about that and most experts agree but he bought himself into a virtual monopoly and so businesses were forced to use his software and suffer untold amounts of time and money to deal with his sloppy programming, updates and patches to "fix" bad programming.
karen said…
Implementation was the least of his problems. The fact that the standards were not written by experts in the fields or which they set "standards" and thus they were horrible, developmentally inappropriate was the biggest issue. We teachers are being forced to abuse students to succeed at things they are not ready to master. Like asking a 6mo old to ride a bike. It isn't possible but you can keep pressuring them, taking away any real learning opportunities to make them keep practicing something they can never accomplish. A good resource is Mercedes Schneider' "Common Core Dilemma".
karen said…
Data is already showing both to be true.

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