The long shadow of Bill Gates
As the Common Core continues to insinuate its way into public education, its price tag and problems keep mounting. Reasoned opposition among conservatives and liberals, parents, teachers, policymakers, and citizens is also growing.
And with good reason.
Concocted by the same expert cadre that’s brought us every post-1970 education boondoggle, and resting on the same gross unfamiliarity with actual classrooms and students, the arbitrary, biased, technology-laden, assessment-obsessed Common Core is the creature of the Gates Foundation, with entities like the Pearson conglomerate sitting at Mr. Gates’s right hand. Pearson is the largest textbook and education software publisher in the world, as well as the world’s dominant education assessment contractor. Mr. Gates’s connection to the computer and software business is also a matter of public record.
The Common Core amounts to a national curriculum and education system that is wresting control of our schools from communities, parents, and teachers. Prominent supporters of the Common Core, many of whom have connections to Mr. Gates’s foundation and its money, insist that no state has been forced to participate.
You be the judge.
There is little dispute that the Common Core is the expression of Mr. Gates’s agenda for public education. According to one prominent think tank executive, whose organization has itself received millions from Mr. Gates, “It is not unfair to say that the Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education.” While Mr. Gates would doubtless deny charges that he’s the Common Core’s “puppeteer,” he has consistently made clear through his words and his checkbook that he both supports and materially promotes what he describes as a “state-led” movement to install nationwide “common standards.”
Here’s how the “state-led” part worked. Mr. Gates spent over $100 million developing and promoting the Common Core standards. The federal government established a $4.35 billion fund under the heading “Race to the Top,” to which states, many of whom were “facing huge deficits” owing to the recession, could apply competitively for grants ranging as high as $500 million. In order to be successful in obtaining the money, however, states’ applications had to satisfy specific criteria, criteria which amounted to a commitment to adopt the Common Core and other aspects of Mr. Gates’s education agenda.
Mr. Gates even went so far as to select 15 states “he’d like to work with.” These states were each provided a quarter-million dollars to help prepare “sparkling” grant applications that would conform to his requirements, prompting both Education Week and The New York Times to report that the selected 15 had “the best chance to win” the competition and “hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money.” The Times also noted the appointment of key “former Gates Foundation employees” at the Department of Education, including Arne Duncan’s chief of staff and the director of Race to the Top, who later became Mr. Duncan’s new chief of staff. Arne Duncan is President Obama’s secretary of education.
When many of the unselected 35 states complained that “Gates people were involved in helping the department pick winners and losers,” the Gates Foundation offered to provide the same cash assistance to any state willing to “prove they share the foundation’s views about education reform by signing an eight-point checklist.”
This should put to rest any confusion about Mr. Gates’s role in propelling the Common Core juggernaut. In short, in order to win the billions of taxpayer dollars, states had to satisfy Mr. Gates’s requirements.
Eventually, 46 states signed on to the Common Core. They coalesced into two consortia, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Both consortia have contracted with vendors to develop, administer, and score their elaborate Common Core assessments, contracts which will channel annual billions of public dollars to private corporations even as schools are forced by budget constraints to cut teachers and services.
Among their advisers and staff, these consortia do include some representatives from member states’ education bureaucracies, but we’re literally miles away from your local school and school board when it comes to determining what your children will be learning and how they’ll be taught and tested. States themselves as “voluntary” consortium members have surrendered considerable authority over the governance of their schools and the education of their students.
PARCC’s “project management partner,” for example, is Achieve Inc. Achieve has received millions of Gates dollars, was the cosponsor of the 2005 National Education Summit where Mr. Gates delivered the keynote address outlining his plans for America’s schools, and in its own words was active in the “development,” “writing and review” of the Common Core.
Similar Gates interconnections exist within the Smarter Balanced consortium. Smarter Balanced awarded an assessment contract to a vendor in partnership with the Educational Testing Service, which is now headed by David Coleman, the “acknowledged architect” of the Common Core. Coleman devised the Common Core while at the helm of Student Achievement Partners, an enterprise he founded, which received substantial Gates funding.
Both consortia have hired Pearson to oversee the transition to “next-generation” online assessments. Pearson is also in partnership with Gates to develop and market online curricula. In the name of “personalized learning,” Gates furnished $100 million to establish a database of individual students’ personal and school information. Identifying each student by “name, address, and sometimes Social Security number,” the database furnishes details ranging from a student’s hobbies and interests to his test scores and learning disabilities, information which according to the U.S. Department of Education can be distributed without parental consent to “private companies selling educational products and services.” Nine states are thus far participating in this commercial data-mining. Pearson software, already employed in many public school systems, routinely collects this data.
Mr. Gates is intelligent and entrepreneurial. His reign at Microsoft has also demonstrated his capacity for evasion and arrogance. He may, in fact, be acting in what he believes to be the nation’s best interest, even as some of his allies covet the billions in public treasure that will end up in their pockets.
Are we willing to let him determine what our schools should look like and how our children should be educated?
Great wealth conveys power, but it doesn’t make you right. Mr. Gates has deployed his wealth to advance his vision of education and impose his Common Core solution, in Achieve’s words to recast “a radical proposal into a national agenda.” In so doing he has bypassed parents, teachers, school boards, and communities. Except it’s our children and schools he’s doing this to, and it’s we as taxpayers who will be paying the bills.
Sometimes with great wealth comes great generosity. But other times great wealth brings an even greater arrogance. There is no greater arrogance than seizing for yourself the right to ordain what’s best for a nation of other people’s children.
Peter Berger teaches English at Weathersfield School. Poor Elijah would be pleased to answer letters addressed to him in care of the editor.