Did Bill Gates fund an ‘educational coup’?


(Jeffrey MacMillan for The Washington Post)

My Post colleague Lyndsey Layton has written an illuminating story about the role Bill Gates and his money played in the Common Core State Standards initiative and its adoption by 45 states and the District of Columbia. In great detail, she explains how on one summer day in 2008, two men — Gene Wilhoit, then-director of the Council for Chief State School Officers, and David Coleman, at the time an educational consultant and an “emerging evangelist for the standards movement” — persuaded Gates to fund the creation and marketing of what became the Common Core.

The article makes a few things clear if they weren’t before:

*The Core wasn’t Gates’s idea, but his willingness to underwrite the effort — to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars  — made it happen. Perhaps another billionaire might have done the same thing had Gates declined, but it wasn’t necessary for Wilhoit and Coleman to look for other funding.

*To make the Core as dominant nationwide as it became, Core creators needed the Obama administration for help in persuading states to adopt the standards. They got it in the form of Race to the Top, a multibillion-dollar competition for federal educational funds launched in 2009 by Education Secretary Arne Duncan that gave points in the calculations for states that adopted “common” standards. Layton reports that in an early draft of Race to the Top, the Common Core was actually written in but later removed at the urging of Wilhoit, “who feared that some states would consider that unwanted — and possibly illegal — interference from Washington.” Layton noted that the Race to the Top “was a clever way around federal laws that prohibit Washington from interfering in what takes place in classrooms.”

*The extent to which money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is spread out in the education world is stunning, touching every part of Core creation, advocacy and implementation.

Education historian and activist Diane Ravitch, in a post on her blog about Layton’s story, called the Gates involvement an “educational coup.”

This is the closest thing to an educational coup in the history of the United States. Our education system is made up of about 14,000 local school districts; most education policy is set at the state level. But Bill Gates was able to underwrite a swift revolution. It happened so quickly that there was very little debate or discussion. Almost every consequential education group was funded by the Gates Foundation to study or promote the Common Core standards. Whereas most businesses would conduct pilot testing of a major new product, there was no pilot testing of the Common Core. These national standards were written with minimal public awareness or participation, and at least one state — Kentucky — adopted them before the final draft was finished.

Now there is growing pushback against the Core. Three states have passed laws pulling out of the initiative, while several others are considering it or have “rebranded” the standards. Numerous states have pulled out of the two multi-state consortia developing Core-aligned standardized tests with about $360 million in federal funds.

The opposition comes from all parts of the political spectrum. Many are upset with the way the Core was written and implemented as well as how the aligned tests have been designed and administered. Others say the early childhood standards for young children are developmentally inappropriate. Some see the Core as a federal takeover of public education, which has long been locally driven. And the far, far right has come up with some nutty conspiracy theories, such as how the Core is linked to Lucifer and will turn public schools into communist indoctrination centers that turn children gay. (You can read about that here and here.)

Layton’s article reflects the power and influence that America’s billionaires are having on public education, pouring massive amounts of money into projects they like, without benefit of research or much, if any, input from educators. Gates isn’t the only education philanthropist, but he is the king in terms of money spent. Read the article and decide for yourself whether American democracy is well-served by wealthy philanthropists who fund pet projects with so much money that public policy and public funding follow in their wake.

 

 

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | June 8