According to public records, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is by far one of the biggest donors to public education in the US to date.
Which brings me to why I write. I have concerns about their education policies.
Here is a typical Common Core style question – this one featuring Bill Gates himself:
While the Gates’ philanthropic endeavors may seem admirable on the surface, recent appreciation does not extend to Gates education policy it seems. Of particular concern to parents and educators is Common Core.
Dr. William Crain is a CUNY Professor of Psychology who specializes in child development. He recently wrote an Op Ed Common Core pushes abstract topics too early that raises grave concerns about CC.
The Common Core sets its sights on children’s future needs. Specifically, it wants to ensure that all children are “college- and workforce-ready.” This goal seems worthwhile, but the Common Core also needs to consider the ways in which children grow and develop.
Seeing that children will need “high order” conceptual thinking in college and the workplace, Common Core introduces such thinking early on. For example, it introduces mathematical place value, an abstract topic, in kindergarten and the first grade. But before the age of 7 or so, children’s minds aren’t inclined toward such conceptual matters. Young children are more naturally motivated to develop their powers through the arts, play, and the exploration of nature. They are enthusiastic about these activities, which enable them to develop their imaginations and sense of wonder.
Our educational system needs to resist the impulse to take up children’s time with abstract material that is beyond their years. Such instruction is unlikely to be effective, and it can cause children to dislike school and learning. Instead, educational policymakers need to pay greater attention to the capacities that children themselves are ready and eager to develop at their present stages of development.
Common Core has been touted by the Gates’ as a miracle in education reform. But, parents, educators and students are living a much different reality. Those in praise of CCSS sit in sheer disconnect to the facts. For instance, please compare one public school in NYS subject to CCSS and testing whose Superintendent was reduced to begging for relief from CCSS and testing policies to a private Montessori school in NYS where the NYS Commissioner of education sends his own two children that has not implemented CCSS. The philosophy on CC and testing students between private school and public school raises eyebrows.
Which begs the question, if Common Core is so darn great, why are private college prepatory schools choosing NOT to implement it? Why is Common Core being implemented in public schools ONLY.
One would imagine that private schools would be jumping on board to join the Common Core religion. But, in fact, the opposite is occurring.
In New York State, astute parents and educators like myself have noticed quite an uptick in advertisements for private schools specifically BOASTING they do NOT subject students to Common Core and standardized testing. Despite expensive tuitions, those who can afford to are buying their children OUT OF COMMON CORE. That speaks volumes!
For example, here are 2 advertisements that came across my desk this week:
Adding insult to injury, why is it that those who are in charge of education policy choose to send their OWN children to private schools that are not subjected to the very policies that they impose on our children?
USDE Arne Duncan, Bill and Melinda Gates, NYSEDs Commissioner King, and their ilk all seem to run ed policy like a business – with intrinsic paternalism driven by corporate interests and economic concerns but not with an eye toward best practices or in education.
This business agenda is what shows.
Some celebs get it.
Matt Damon lambastes USDE and the Pres ed policies and aptly explains that poverty underscores the MANY problems in ed policy and that high stakes tests. Damon took alot of heat form Jeb Bush, of all people, for those remarks.
Louis CK chimed in against Common Core and took alot heat too.
Speaking from a parent’s point-of-view, he described his daughter’s schooling as a “massive stressball.” He questioned the role of test-makers like Pearson who now seem to figure more prominently in his children’s education than their teachers do.
For some reason, Bill Gates took it upon himself and decided that he should take charge of education policy in the US. Gates has spent more than $200 million to advance the “Common Core.”
Are Bill or Melinda Gates listening to parent and educators concerns? Apparently not.
This past March 2014, Gates prepared wrtten remarks and a speech from the Teaching & Learning Conference on March 2014 in which he fully defended and rationalized Common Core.
He stated as follows:
Public education is the single greatest instrument for equal opportunity in America. That is why Melinda and I focus on public schools. And that is why we support a change that can trigger big gains for our students: the Common Core State Standards.
After studying them, talking to teachers about them, and seeing students learn from them, we are convinced that the new standards are a platform for innovation. They will give teachers the freedom you need to be creative, the tools you need to be effective, the feedback you need to keep improving – and the rigor that our students need to become great learners.
As you know, the standards are benchmarks in math and English for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. They emphasize critical thinking and problem-solving, and they are now being implemented in 45 states and here in the District of Columbia.
They’re also inspiring heated debate. Some of the debate comes from people who want more time and support for teachers to implement the standards. Some of the debate comes from people who want to stop the standards, which would send us back to what we had before.
As someone who passionately supports the new standards, I want to offer my views today about what they are, why we need them, and what should be done to help teachers master them. I feel honored to be making these remarks to teachers who have done so much to advance the standards of the teaching profession. There are many voices in this debate, but none are more important or more trusted than yours.
Last month, we had more than a dozen teachers from across the country come talk to our team at the Foundation so we could hear more about what they’re facing as they switch over to the Common Core.
One teacher told a story about the old standards that for her captured the need for the Common Core. She said: “We have kids who fail, and it’s not [just] the kids who think they’re going to fail.” Then she talked of a student of hers she called a “success story kid.” She said “I told [him he] was ready. He trusted me, and went to college and dropped out because he wasn’t ready.” Then she added: “What we were doing before was not always working, even when we thought it was…. that is why we’re asking more.”
Millions of students have suffered through the same story. From kindergarten through high school, they meet the standards we ask of them, but we don’t ask enough. Then after years of not asking enough, we suddenly ask way too much – and they learn too late that their high school diploma didn’t prepare them for college. They have to pay out of their own pockets to take remedial courses to learn what we should have already taught them. And most of them never make it through. They drop out. And they never did anything wrong.
This is a defining challenge for our schools today. There is a huge gap between what it takes to graduate from high school and what it takes to be ready for college or work. This gap is why the nation’s governors joined together in 2009 to call on teachers and education experts to design new standards. The standards they developed are a direct response to our biggest challenge, and a striking advance over what we had before.
The Features of the Common Core
First, the new standards are set high to match the needs of students who want to go to college or get a job that leads to a career. If we teach to these standards, we will finally make good on the covenant between schools and students: “If you learn what we teach, you will be ready to succeed at the next stage.”
Second, the standards are clear and focused. In math, the common core focuses on the essential concepts that are crucial to mastering the next year’s concepts – from multiplying and dividing – to working with fractions – to using ratios and proportions. The common core is not a list of skills; it’s a staircase. Each standard is a step toward the higher skills that will help students solve complex problems in the classroom and beyond.
In English Language Arts, research has shown that the single most important predictor of student success in college and career is the ability to read complex text. The approach of the common core to reading is simple and effective. The students should read text – understand it, explain it, apply it, analyze it, draw inferences from it, and cite evidence from it – at ever higher levels of complexity – with ever greater independence. When students master this, they open the door to everything.
Third, the standards are consistent from state to state. Some people who see the value of higher standards don’t see the need for shared standards. Why can’t we have 50 separate sets of standards, so long as they’re higher? The answer is: Inconsistent standards punish students. When students want to go to college, they take the ACT or the SAT. When they get into college, they may take placement tests. Students who haven’t been taught what’s on these tests are at a huge disadvantage. Under the old standards, if you were from Kentucky, you didn’t have to know the quadratic formula, but your neighbors in Tennessee did. If you were from Maryland, you didn’t have to learn trigonometry, but your neighbors in Virginia did. If you didn’t learn an area of math that other students did, you might find out about it for the first time on a test that helps determine your future. That’s blatantly unfair to millions of students.
Advancing the Profession of Teaching
There is another crucial reason for making standards consistent from state to state: Clear, consistent standards will advance the teaching profession. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards demonstrates even in its title the essential link between standards and a profession.
Consistent Standards: A Platform for Innovation.
But let’s be open about this. When most of us hear that the government is going to set a new standard, the first thing we think is – ‘this is going to get in my way.’ Believe me; I understand this reaction. But it’s important to explain to people that this is different – that the common core standards don’t limit freedom; they promote freedom.
As you know, a standard means, in one sense, a ‘level of performance’. But there is another meaning that is relevant here – a standard also means ‘a common definition that everyone understands and accepts’.
These standards are so ubiquitous in society that we often don’t see them, but they are crucial to innovation. A standard electrical outlet allows technological innovations to be used in every home. A standard computer language (TCP/IP) allows billions of people to share information on the internet. A standard shipping container lets us move goods from ships to trains to trucks. Standard units allow scientists to share data. Without consistent standards, we wouldn’t be able to share information or spread innovation.
When there are 50 different interpretations of what students need to know, it’s harder to make progress toward big goals because it’s hard to agree on the goals. On the other hand, when everyone embraces consistent standards, you can define goals, test methods, and see what’s effective. That’s why consistent standards are so important to teaching: they provide a shared platform that allows teachers to communicate, cooperate, innovate, learn from each other and keep pushing to get better.
I’ve discussed this with people who say – how can standards be a platform for innovation if everyone has to teach the same standards? They’re confusing standards and curriculum. They’re not the same. Standards say only what your students need to learn; they don’t tell you how to teach it.
Here’s an illustration. This is a common core standard for high school geometry:
“Prove theorems about lines and angles.”
That’s it. That’s not curriculum; it’s a standard. No one can learn geometry without knowing it. No one can make a rational case for excluding it. And it doesn’t matter in the slightest how you teach it as long as the students learn it.
There’s a standard for eighth grade literature that is basically this:
First read a book, then watch the movie, then analyze and evaluate the differences.
That is a standard. It doesn’t tell anyone what to think; it doesn’t tell you what to read; it doesn’t tell you how to teach. It just describes the kind of thinking the students need to be able to do.
That’s how clear and consistent standards drive innovation. They set teachers free to try any method, compare their results, and share the ones that work best. This opens the door to insightful teacher feedback that can be tied to great professional development and customized for each teacher. Teachers can build their strengths by watching videos of their colleagues in the classroom—or studying their lesson plans.
Consistent standards give teachers access to the most valuable resource possible: each other. Teaching is suddenly not an isolated pursuit, but a shared enterprise. It lets all teachers learn from each other, and that’s what drives a profession forward.
Consistent Standards: Innovation in Teaching Tools
Consistent standards will also lead to tools that help teachers reach each student. Until now, different standards in every state made it hard for innovators to design tools that a lot of teachers could use, so teachers haven’t enjoyed the technology advances that benefit other professionals. Consistent standards can change that.
Imagine you’re teaching the standard on analyzing the differences between a book and a film. How can you engage every student at the highest level? What if someone developed software that allowed students to choose the book and film that interest them most? That would personalize the experience and help engage each student.
Or imagine you’re teaching students to “prove theorems about lines and angles.” You could point them to an on-line program that demonstrates how to do the proofs and then tests their knowledge. If the student doesn’t get it, the software can review the concepts, taking her as far back as she needs to go to start getting it right. Meanwhile, teachers no longer have to spend class time delivering content; they are now free to do the things that software can’t do – work with students one-on-one or in small groups, motivating them and boosting their confidence.
We’re just at the start of this. There is a lot of innovation happening on-line that is free and interactive. It can show students where they stand and share that information with the teacher.
I think you deserve this kind of support. Doctors don’t sit alone in their offices trying to design new tools for healing. Athletes don’t stay late at the stadium trying to design themselves a lighter shoe. They’re supported by huge industries that are designing new tools to give them an edge. You should benefit from innovation at least as much as they do. To get innovation that advances quickly and works for all 50 states, we need the consistent standards of the common core.
I am very enthusiastic about the Common Core, but I know that implementation has been bumpy in places. Teachers have talked to us about the challenges. One teacher said: “When I looked at the standards and started understanding them, I was excited about the opportunities to… develop my own materials on it. I loved that. But a lot of teachers just don’t have that perspective right now.”
Another teacher was having a harder time. He said: ‘Everybody in my school is complaining about the lack of curriculum … now we have to jump all over the place and find extra materials to make things deeper and richer.”
Progress is faster in some places than others, and the states that are doing implementation well are following a few key principles.
They involve teachers in planning.
They listen to teachers and make changes based on their feedback.
They help teachers get experience with the new standards.
They create ways for teachers to share their practices.
And they give teachers and students time to adjust to the new standards before they face consequences for not meeting them.
No one who supports the common core wants to raise the standards just to see students fail. We all want to see them succeed. So as we raise the standards, we have to make sure that teachers get what they need to teach them well.
Fortunately, teachers across the country are mobilizing to support each other. Colorado educators have created more than 600 curriculum samples based on the standards. The Georgia State Department of Education has a library of more than a 1,000 videos of common core lessons. The NEA master teacher initiative has brought together 95 teachers to develop a year’s worth of common core-aligned lessons.
These are all encouraging signs that teachers will get the new materials and support they need.
There is one thing that worries me, though. It’s the false claims that some people keep making about the standards.
It’s a federal takeover. It’s a national curriculum. It’s the end of innovation.
None of this is true, and the controversy it stirs up takes the focus away from helping teachers. When people are yelling about problems that aren’t there, they make it harder to solve the challenges that are there.
Even if it will never persuade some people, it’s important to repeat the facts. The states designed the standards, not the federal government. The standards are goals, not methods. They say what should be learned, not how it must be taught.
We don’t have time to answer every false tweet and post. The best response to these claims is the voice of an experienced teacher talking to a concerned parent.
The teachers we heard from had a special respect for the parents who came in and complained, because it proved how much they wanted their kids to be successful. Some parents would come in and say: “You’re experimenting on my kid.” And the teachers’ reaction was: ‘We’re not experimenting on your kid. We’re trying to help your kid be a better learner… and get into college and not live in your basement.’
That’s a goal that unites a lot of parents.
The transition to the new standards is hard – but it has to be. We’re trying to get America’s kids ready for life in a global knowledge-based economy. As one teacher put it: “The kids that are leaving my room – they’re not all going to be trying to get a job in the town where I teach.”
The standards shouldn’t be a mark of where students came from, but a key to wherever they want to go.
I hope each one of you can be involved in this discussion and bring it back to what’s real. I hope you can find time to sit down with parents in your community and tell them what the standards really are.
The Common Core isn’t just another policy debate; it’s a pivotal issue for the future. It will help prepare all our students for college and career – and that’s the best idea our country has for giving every child an equal chance. Thank you.
Meanwhile, the little Mrs followed suit.
In a recent NPR piece, Melinda Gates recently came to the defense and support of Common Core as well:
“We got so interested in Common Core because we saw such a huge number of students not being prepared to go on to college” she lamented.
Gates attributes this to different education standards from state to state. She said it was time for something “different.”
That different standard was the Common Core and throwing money at it is the solution?
I dont suppose the Bill or Melinda Gates ever thought about donating money to schools outright say so that they could supply teachers? Fund programs such as art and music? reduce class sizes? I dont know, call me crazy, but Im thinking that maybe providing a sound basic education to students might help mitigate some of the remediation concerns she spoke about, no? But, I digress.
According to Melinda Gates, CC is a tested and proven pedagogy which “standards” we expect to provide our students what they need to succeed.
As to New York State, I am very skeptical of that contention and with good reason with all due respect.
Specifically as to New York, the State is about to receive a $3.5 billion windfall as part of a legal settlement negotiated with the French bank, BNP Paribas. This money is needed, I hope the State will do the right thing by public school students and teachers and use the bulk of the funds for public schools.
In his first year in office, Gov. Cuomo slashed education funding across the backs of students in a self serving attempt to resolve a $10 billion budget deficit. This has had a devastating impact on schools State wide. Governor Cuomo owes New York students and their schools $5.7 billion resulting in rising class sizes and loss of critical services and programs to NYS students. Lack of funding in New York schools has deprived our students and teachers with the opportunity to succeed. So, let us not be naive and think that the Gates funded CC is what we need for our students to be “college and career ready.” While higher standards and accountability are good, denial about how the State will realistically get there jeopardizes every public school students right to a sound basic education leaving their livlihood and success just hanging in the balance.
Lets be honest here, NYS students need money, programs and resources. NOT CC.
As to criticism, Melinda summarily dismisses concerns they are the standards to have students prepared for this ecomony and to be college and career. She admits that States that backed off did not repeal, but renamed them. According to Melinda, implementation is the problem with CC. She claims that “we know CC works.”
I have to ask her, how do you know it works? Where is the evidence?
What Melinda Gates fails to provide us, is any independent data that supports that contention. By independent, I am referring to support for CC that is not backed by the 1% with Gates and/or conflict corporate money behind this measure.
Compare, private schools and college prep schools in NYS do NOT provide CC or standardized testing (see the 2 examples above). If CC is so great and is the answer to student achievement, then please explain to me why private schools and Montessori schools do not follow CC?
As the ad above shows, the Knox School, a private college prep school in LI, NY offers a student body that is diverse and dynamic, representing a dozen countries including the United States.
The teacher/student ratio there is 6:1 and the average class size is 12.
This private school offers a traditional college preparatory program with Advanced Placement (AP) courses in all disciplines.
It boasts that 100% of its graduates go on to college – approximately 80% to their top choice.
In fact, most private schools boast small class sizes, rich instruction and robust curriculum.
Many of them also offer college counseling programs, with distinct opportunities for one-on-one mentoring with college counselors and advisors.
But, the one feature that many private college prep schools are boasting these days – is that it does not follow Common Core and has no standardized testing.
Again, If CC is such a great pedagogy, why arent private schools where the elite send their children choosing to implement it? That speaks volumes.
Because Common Core is NOT the answer. The answer is much simpler than higher standards, it all boils down to money.
Public schools in New York State cannot provide the same opportunities to public school students as private schools can. In NYS, Governor Cuomo has made sure of that. The State has skimmed $5.7 Billion off the backs of public school children under his rule.
In the piece, Melinda Gates admits that “sometimes you dont ask the question in the right way”. To end homelessness, Melinda admits that “the way to end homelessness is to make sure people dont drop into that situation in the first place. You go back upstream to say how else could we effect change” she says.
I agree with Melinda Gates on that point. It is important that the Gates Foundation take the time to go back upstream and realize that they could effect more change by closing the gap on funding and providing rich and robust programs and resources in public schools.
What is missing in NYS public schools, are the finances and resources that are necessary to make sure students dont drop into the situation of compromised student achievement at the outset. Poverty is a key contributor not lack of good teachers or challenge. Once again, the Gates Foundation grossly misinterprets what students in real life need to succeed.
Back to the Gates Foundation, Lyndsey Layton’s Washington Post article on Bill Gates and the Common Core demonstrates that Common Core wasn’t “state led,” it was “Gates led”.
From the left, education historian Diane Ravitch has put the call out for a congressional investigation of the ties between the Gates Foundation and the US Education Department, and of the role of both in imposing Common Core on the states.
From the right, Stanley Kurtz of the EPCC has agreed that a congressional investigation is now in order. He further posits that Congress is obliged to investigate.
The Business Roundtable admits that its #1 priority is the full adoption and implementation of the Common Core standards. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is likewise making a full-court press to advance the Common Core. Major corporations have taken out full-page ads to insist that Common Core is the answer to college and career preparedness. Businessmen tout CCSS and praise the agenda claiming they are far superior pedagogy.
What is noticeably absent from CCSS is educator input. The CCSS fail miserably to take into consideration early child development, the needs and best interests of students instead relying on conclusory and hyped propaganda and prose. Anthony Cody raises these issues in a piece that addresses all the prime concerns surrounding Common Core.
Global comparisons and scores are harshly skewed and drive education policy here in the US. I applaud the signers of the Open Letter who courageously bring light to the fact that global benchmarking is the force behind RTT and other policies students here in the US are subjected to involuntarily and that these policies are skewed and flawed.
OECD has no particular stated interest or charter to address the welfare of children their goals are purely driven by economic policy. This is a problem that manifests in the testing craze here in the USA which too is driven by the Common Core and supported by the 1% who back this draconian measure.
The US prides itself on being non conformists. Then, why the craze for our children to conform? Why so much emphasis on standardized education and Common Core?
Bill and Melinda Gates “philanthropy” is not without debate.
This piece by Anthony Cody in Ed Week shows Lindsey Layton interviewing Gates asking him flat out about his interests in Common Core. Gates squirmed. The interview, was most telling.
Likewise, private philanthropies that have become increasingly influential in shaping global development policy—above all the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-is challenged sharply by the economist William Easterly in his new book, The Tyranny of Experts.
It is also believed that Gates may indeed profit from Common Core as a result of Microsoft’s various projects related to the new standards.
Is it “philanthropy” if the donor benefits from it?
To advance the Common Core agenda in NYS, Gates has now generously donated $500K to the Higher Ed for Higher Standards Coalition for the purpose of advancing CC. You may ask yourself, is this $ being used to advance education? No. Is it being used to supply books and much needed resources to students NY schools? No. Will this money save arts and music? No.
So, what will this money be used for?
According to a Times Union piece, this precious money will support Gates funded pro CC……
Thank you, Bill Gates. NYS appreciates your philanthropy.