Back in 2000, Bill Gates threw his hat into the ring of “fixing” public education. He spent millions and millions of dollars on an idea to break big high schools into smaller schools. After a few years he abandoned this idea as the test scores of high school students in the smaller schools didn’t climb, as he had hoped.
Next came his support of aligning teacher performance evaluations to student test scores. Not only is this a highly researched and unproven idea, it became one of the conditions for any state applying for Race to the Top funding. In order to qualify, states had to connect teacher performance with student test scores. This, too failed.
Then came Gates’ idea of Common Core Standards. While many states went ahead with the adoption of national curricula standards, test scores did not improve after implementation. This may be, in part, because they were written by non-educators, never piloted, and cost school districts millions to implement; many abandoning millions of dollars worth of textbook series’ adoptions because they didn’t align with the new standards.
This week, Gates announced he is investing $1.7 billion to “bolster public education in the United States.” He made the announcement this week, saying “Education is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging areas we invest in as a foundation,” Business Insider. Perhaps this is because his investments have not been paying off.
Where will the money go this time? Nothing specific was outlined in his announcement. However he hinted the money will be divided like this:
Roughly 60% of the funding will go toward supporting “the development of new curricula and networks of schools that work together to identify local problems and solutions,” Gates said. A large chunk of those problems involve schools that are effectively segregated based on race.
Another 25% will go toward “big bets” — programs that could change public education over the next 10 to 15 years (no further details provided).
And 15% will address the sector of charter schools, which Gates believes are vital for helping kids with moderate to severe learning disabilities receive a high-quality education Business Insider.
First, the development of new curricula. Back in 2014, Sue Desmond-Hellman, Gates Foundation Director said of Common Core Standards, “Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning” (Washington Post).
Creating new curricula did not work the first time, and now Gates wants to spend more money trying again. At what cost (again) to school districts?
Next, programs that could change public education. In 2016 a scathing editorial in the Los Angeles Times called, “Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda” (LA Times). In the editorial,
The Gates Foundation is clearly rethinking its bust-the-walls-down strategy on education — as it should. And so should the politicians and policymakers, from the federal level to the local, who have given the educational wishes of Bill and Melinda Gates and other well-meaning philanthropists and foundations too much sway in recent years over how schools are run (LA Times).
And finally, charter schools. If you are a frequent reader of this blog or any other source for news on public education, you know how that’s going. Charter scandals. More charter scandals. Even more charter scandals… Florida, Michigan, Ohio, New Mexico, Mississippi, Arizona, New Jersey, California, Louisiana, and so many others. Previous blogs I’ve written on charters are here, here, here, and here. Charters rob low-income districts of funding, and run without accountability. Another failed reformer idea.
Mr. Gates is a smart, successful business man. Here are a few questions he and his foundation should consider: What could $1.7 billion buy low-income school districts? Teachers? Technology? Support Services? Books? Professional Development? Modern facilities? Healthcare? Clean water? Parent education? After-school programs?
He’s building a house of cards, but at least it’s with his own money.
These are my reflections for today.
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