The Media Still Doesn’t Grasp Problems with Bill Gates Control of Ed Policy

Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)
Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

We’ve written about the Gates Foundation’s admission that its efforts to impose Common Core nationwide were misguided and ineffective. Remarkably, the mainstream media have begun to analyze the relatively unexamined problems with allowing one unelected man – even one who is very very very rich – to control public-education policy. But although they’ve taken a small step in the right direction, they still miss some essential conclusions.

Case in point: a recent column in the Los Angeles Times, promisingly entitled “Gates Foundation Failures Show Philanthropists Shouldn’t Be Setting America’s Public School Agenda.” The Times correctly observed that “the Gates Foundation strongly supported the proposed Common Core curriculum standards, helping to bankroll not just their development, but the political effort to have them quickly adopted and implemented by states.” Agreeing with and elaborating on the foundation’s admission of “stumbling,” the Times concluded that Gates accumulated “an unhealthy amount of power” and was given “too much sway in recent years over how schools are run.”

Too bad no one ever saw this problem before. Oh wait – thousands of parents and other concerned observers have been protesting for years now Gates’s assault on local control over education, and his blunderbuss attempts to remake schools in his own image. But not until his foundation itself admits what has been glaringly obvious for some time does the Times notice the situation.

Perhaps we shouldn’t criticize the Johnny-come-latelies in the press but rather welcome them to the train wreck. But they richly deserve criticism for still clinging to the shreds of Common Core propaganda that Gates and other proponents continue to recycle. From the same Times piece: “Financial support for Common Core isn’t a bad thing. When the standards are implemented well, which isn’t easy, they ought to develop better reading, writing and thinking skills.”

Journalists in the old days usually based conclusions on facts, but one searches this column in vain for any facts supporting the bald assertion that Common Core will “develop better reading, writing and thinking skills.” Says who, exactly? Where is the evidence that any of this has occurred or is likely to occur?

In fact, of course, the evidence overwhelmingly points to the contrary conclusion. As we pointed out in our previous piece, students’ scores on the National Association of Educational Progress (NAEP) have actually been declining since Common Core was fully implemented (see here and here). College-readiness, as measured by NAEP, is sliding downhill as well. College math professors are complaining that incoming freshmen are increasingly less prepared for college-level work.

But never mind, says the Times. Having just chastised Gates for its failure on Common Core, it turns around and accepts, uncritically, his claims that the scheme will work if we just get the logistics right.

Another interesting observation is that the Times lauds Common Core for its potential benefits to “reading, writing and thinking skills.” Notice the omission? Math.

Maybe this was just an oversight. Or maybe the Times editors read the Wall Street Journal article by their neighbor up the road, world-class mathematician Dr. Marina Ratner of UC-Berkeley, in which she warned “that students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in.” Maybe they’ve heard from Dr. James Milgram of Stanford –another world-class mathematician–that the dumbed-down math standards cannot prepare students for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) studies in college. (Even one of the drafters of the math standards admitted the standards are designed for community college work, nothing more.)

The Times editors owe it to their readers to investigate the standards they’re still pushing. It’s not hard – a simple Google search will pull up a treasure trove of information. “Philanthropists,” says the Times, “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.” Nor should public officials accept at face value, as the Times editors seem to have done, unsupported predictions about the benefits of Common Core.

Now that the media have begun to notice the emperor’s state of undress, maybe they should take the next step and actually report the whole truth.

Jane Robbins is a senior fellow with American Principles Project.

Emmett McGroarty is the Director of Education with American Principles Project.

2 thoughts on “The Media Still Doesn’t Grasp Problems with Bill Gates Control of Ed Policy

  1. The saga of Bill Gates has the hollow repetition of failures who preceded him. And that’s the truth.

    How was he any more qualified to bully his way into the national education spotlight than he would be taking over as coach of an NFL team? Why didn’t he lead the charge on infrastructure rejuvenation … you know, updating bridges and airports and roads and dams and water systems? Did he feel under-qualified? I guess so … BUT … he felt very qualified to barge into the realm of education. And he did it with such certainty. How come? Who whispered in his ear that he was the pedagogical messiah? And why did he believe it?

    Gates was seduced by his own narrow brilliance … and was narcissused into believing that his technological IQ had purchase in the world of teaching and learning. It didn’t. Others know this … that one’s genius is almost mostly narrow … unless you happen to be that DaVincii guy … then all bets are off. Gates is no DaVinci.

    It’s amusing that he found curing diseases easier than reforming education. Diseases are easy targets … have the right science at hand and you’ve got path to success.

    Education is a splendid disease for those in the practice. For those who’ve spent a lifetime polishing their craft and reforming their own philosophies to suit the always changing circumstances. Teaching is an endeavor with built-in surprises and in constant search of a positive reaction to changes as they appear. If you’re not nimble …. you’re doomed.

    Bill Gates was doomed. He was self-seduced into luscious deliriums with Eden-like outcomes. An educational nirvana where all successful learning was a sweet algorithm away.

    It’s amusing that he found curing diseases easier than reforming education. Diseases are easy targets … have the right science at hand and you’ve got path to success.

    Education is a splendid disease for those who’ve spent a lifetime polishing their craft and reforming their own philosophies to suit the always changing circumstances. Teaching is an endeavor with built-in surprises and in constant search of a positive reaction to changes as they appear. If you’re not nimble …. you’re doomed. Gates was too married to his thesis.

    Bill Gates was doomed. He was self-seduced into luscious deliriums with expected Eden-like outcomes. An educational nirvana where all successful learning was a sweet algorithm away.

    But his most serious sin … his greatest stumble … was that he ignored the foot-soldiers of education. He blew off the master teachers … and threw his hat in with classroom-allergic theoreticians and calculating entrepreneurs who contorted his dream into a mess. And what we have here is a major reform failure. A magnificent mess.

    So, what have we learned? Perhaps a lesson worth remembering …

    Never assume another person’s mastery is a simple matter. It’s the surest way to make an ass of yourself.

    Denis Ian

  2. The problem stems from the fact that Bill Gates seems to think he knows more about education than the top education researchers like myself. If he wants to cure malaria, he gets the top scientists in the field. When it comes to education it’s clear he isn’t tapping top educators because I have yet to talk to one who thinks the reforms he is pushing are a good idea. I published on this subject at http://bit.ly/22XVm4O Great article. Keep up the good fight.

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