Home > Uncategorized > What If… The Gates Foundation Could Hit a Re-Set Button? Would We Have a “Common Core”?

What If… The Gates Foundation Could Hit a Re-Set Button? Would We Have a “Common Core”?

May 24, 2016

The Gates Foundation’s CEO Sue Desmond-Hellman recently wrote a “letter” providing an update on the foundation’s various initiatives titled “What If…” This is one of the opening paragraphs of the letter:

For more than 15 years, the Gates Foundation has been imagining what’s possible. Our belief that all lives have equal value guides everything we do to eradicate poverty and increase opportunity for the people we serve.

Unlike many critics of education reform, I believe Bill Gates sincerely believes all lives have equal value on a global scale, and is doing everything possible to make that so. While his critics rightly chastise him for his overreach on public education in America (more on that ahead), it is hard to chastise him for his efforts to end disease in third world countries where poverty is FAR worse than anything we encounter in the US… and I fear we neglect the effects of that poverty at our peril.

In her overview of the Gates Foundation’s work in public education, Ms. Desmond-Hellman acknowledges the Foundation did a poor job on the roll-out of the Common Core. She writes:

…we’re facing the fact that it is a real struggle to make system-wide change.

Deep and deliberate engagement is essential to success. Rigorous standards and high expectations are meaningless if teachers aren’t equipped to help students meet them.

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.

The letter describes one state where they believe they did the roll-out of the Common Core right: Kentucky, where the percent of students meeting three out of four ACT benchmarks for college readiness  has increased from 27 percent to 33 percent students since 2011. Moving forward, the Foundation is taking steps to “... increase the capacity of educators across the country to seek, develop, and demand high-quality, aligned instructional materials.”

My biggest problem with the Gates initiatives is that they seem to believe that metrics like “…meeting three out of four ACT benchmarks for college readiness” are the ultimate goal of K-12 education and that a “Common Core” delineated in 12 discrete levels is the best means of achieving that ultimate goal. In doing so they are reinforcing the notion that public education needs to take place in 12 years, that there is a one-size-fits-all curriculum that can be completed in a fixed time frame if only the right algorithm can be found.  Unfortunately there is no singular algorithm that works for all students and there is no iron law of intellectual development that indicates learning of “Core Content” occurs over a 13 year period between ages five and eighteen. There ARE algorithmic solutions to medical problems, to infrastructure problems, and to limiting the use of tobacco… but not for learning “Core Content”.

So here’s my “What if…”: What if the Gates Foundation funded initiatives that replaced the traditional twelve years of schooling with an individualized constructivist format where students are guided by adults to learn and master content that they find interesting and compelling? What if the Gates Foundation developed metrics that neither prepared students for college or for careers but prepared them for life? What if the Gates Foundation invited teachers who work in high poverty schools to tell them what they need to reach their students? I don’t think a “Common Core” would be at the top of their list… nor do I think assessments based on that “Common Core” would appear either. What if the Gates Foundation took time to find out the answer to THAT question first?

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