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How Microsoft will make money from Common Core (despite what Bill Gates said)

Bill Gates <br/> (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

Microsoft founder Bill Gates got somewhat indignant when my Post colleague Lyndsey Layton asked him in an interview this past spring about concerns  of some opponents of the Common Core State Standards  that his important support for the initiative has been driven by business interests. The interview was part of the extensive reporting Layton did over two months to write an important story about Gates’s vital involvement in the Core initiative, which you can read here. (You can see the full interview here and an excerpted video here. )Here is how part of the interview went:

Layton: Let me ask you about … your belief in the Common Core. There are some people who, when they hear the speech that you just gave where you were talking about standardization and common standards will help drive innovation and help us have this, the online revolution in a way that, that this part of the economy has really been untouched; that it’s important that if we have common standards, then we can really open up the online, the benefits of the online revolution in education. There are people who hear that and think, ‘That’s what he’s doing. He really wants this because he wants to encourage the technology industry because he’s the co-founder of Microsoft. It’s, it’s, he’s being driven by business interests here.’ What, how would you respond to that?
Gates: Uh, I think, you’re, you’re sticking to the political side of this thing. Uhh…
Layton: I’m from The Washington Post. We’re in Washington….
Gates: …Okay, so give me the, give me the logic here.
Layton: The logic is…
Gates: What is it that you’re saying? It’s all a lot of self-interest? It’s…
Layton: That, no, that that’s, that that’s one of the driving forces behind your embrace of the Common Core.
Gates: Meaning what?
Layton: Meaning Microsoft and Pearson just signed a deal to, to put the Common Core curriculum on the surface. So, you’ve got a product, Microsoft has a product now that it’s, that it’s selling…
Gates: Yeah, we had the old Pearson stuff. I, it, it, there’s no connection, there’s no connection to Common Core and any Microsoft thing…..
Layton: But it’s a question when people know, when people learn that you are promoting the Common Core…
Gates: Do you seriously think that the reason I like the Common Core is for some self-interested reason? That’s what you’re saying….
Layton: …. That’s kind of a pertinent question that a lot of people who, uh, who  don’t know you … are wondering, and I would just like some response….
G: …. I hope I can make this clear, I believe in the Common Core because of its substance and what it will do to improve education, and that’s the only reason I believe in the Common Core. And I have no, you know, this is giving money away. This is philanthropy. This is trying to make sure students have the kind of opportunity I had. You, you’ve, there is nothing, uh, it’s so, almost… outrageous to say otherwise in my view.

Well, Diane Ravitch points out on her blog that Microsoft does in fact have business interests in the Common Core. This is not to say that that is what sparked or drove Gates’ personal interest in the initiative; he has said he supports the standards because he thinks they will improve public education, and it seems fair to believe him when he says that is his motivation (whether or not the premise is actually true).

Still the fact remains that Microsoft is hoping to make some money from the implementation of the Core in classrooms. Here, on the Microsoft Web site, is a page titled “Tech Essentials for Testing Success” with details about what schools will need to give new Common Core-aligned exams on computers. One piece of advice goes like this:

For many schools, time is running out. In a report issued by Smarter Balanced in 2012, it found that 56.1 percent of K–12 schools reporting were still running on aging Windows XP, which had an end of service (EOS) date of April 8, 2014. In the face of this looming cutoff of support, it’s recommended by IT professionals to migrate to the new Windows as soon as possible.

I asked Microsoft about this and this is the statement, from a company spokesman:

“Microsoft has an established record of working with educators to provide solutions for teachers and students, that long predates and is little affected by the Common Core standards. Microsoft’s education efforts include technology, professional development, content and community for teachers, and a wide range of device and curriculum partnerships, all of which play a part in modernizing education and helping prepare students for college and careers.”