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Video: Bill Gates “Explains” Common Core

April 27, 2014

In the following six-minute video at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in March 2014, Bill Gates demonstrates his privileged view of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Gates has contributed over $4.3 million to AEI, with over $1 million in 2012 for “exploring the challenges of Common Core,” among other issues, so it is only fitting that AEI should promulgate Gates’ CCSS opinions.



Allow me to counter Gates’ billionaire view with my hundredaire reality.

Gates opens with CCSS as “not a curriculum” and that CCSS does not “tell teachers how to teach.” Nevertheless, according to his 2009 speech to legislators, Gates anticipates that CCSS will lead to curriculum and assessments that set teachers at the mercy of “market forces”:

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better. [Emphasis added.]

Moving on.

In his selling of CCSS, Gates proposes that “ordering” of standards has been a “problem.” Ordering of standards has nothing to do with the standards themselves. Moreover, at this point in his explanation, Gates assumes that “sameness”– all states’ having the same standards– automatically translates into “better.”

A reminder that Gates views reform as an experiment that “they have to give us”– not the least of which is CCSS, which Gates has spent billions to fund.

Back to Gates’ AEI CCSS “explanation”:

Gates next tries to connect “the size of textbooks” with the US’ “now” having low scores on international tests. In truth, the US has never scored well on international tests, and yet we have remained a world power. Thus, the US’ scoring low “now” is old news. At this point, Gates praises Massachusetts’ international test scores but does not bother to explain why he assumes that Massachusetts’ standards automatically and directly translated into high test scores. Gates also fails to account for pushing CCSS onto Massachusetts if he deems Massachusetts a model for suitable standards.

His earlier statements on the importance of standards “ordering” apparently forgotten, Gates next assumes that “better” standards produce “better” test scores; however, he does not account for the utter lack of alignment between states’ national test scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and the widely-swallowed Fordham Institute ratings of state standards.

And now, for the Gates version of CCSS creation:

In his attempt to explain the creating of CCSS, Gates slips up and says “a bunch of teachers” questioned the size of textbooks and the standards but quickly catches himself and says “governors” (time 2:35). He seems unsure about which group initiated CCSS: “I think it was the National Governors Association said, said, ‘We ought to get together all of this.”

And then he lies: “A bunch of teachers met with a bunch of experts. So in reading and writing and math, these knowledge levels were written down” (time 2:50). Gates makes it sound like “a bunch of teachers” developed CCSS. Furthermore, Gates never explains his distinction between “teachers” and “experts.” I have documented in detail that “teachers” were not the central decision makers for CCSS (see here and here and here).

Gates is having chronology problems. He states, “These knowledge levels were written down. And at some point 46 states had, uh, adopted that…” (time 2:55).

In June 2009, NGA had announced that “46 states” had already “signed on” for CCSS, one month prior to NGA’s announcing the first CCSS work group in July 2009.

At time 4:35, Gates insists that the federal government does not “dictate” CCSS participation: “States can opt in; they can opt out. As they do this, they should look at this ‘status quo,’ which is poor. Uh, they should look and find something that is high, high achievement, that’s got quality, and… if they have two that they are comparing, they ought to probably pick something in common….”

Again with the assumption that “common” is better. This idea connects with the Fordham Institute push to have states with standards that Fordham rated as equal to or better than CCSS still choose CCSS.

It is easier to “unleash” those “powerful market forces” to a standardized US education system.

As for the US Department of Education’s not “dictating” CCSS: Consider the recent plight of Washington state when it refused to “comply” with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) dictum of grading teachers using student test scores: US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan withdrew Washington’s NCLB waiverWashington state responded by saying it would not be intimidated into obeying the federal government on matters of state education policy.

Indiana, the first state to “abandon” CCSS, has curiously decided not to return to its former standards, though the CCSS-promoting Fordham Institute rated Indiana’s former standards as equal or superior to CCSS. (Fordham’s Mike Petrilli tried to talk Indiana into “going common,” just as Gates stated as the way to go.)

Instead, the “new” Indiana standards resemble CCSS.

Is Indiana afraid of what Arne might do?

Yet Bill assures us that states have a choice– and that “choice” should be for the “new status quo”: CCSS.

Why “common”?

Bill tells us why. It has nothing to do with students or teachers:

“You get more free market competition. Scale is good for free market competition. Individual state regulatory capture is not good for competition” (time 5:05).

There it is. Bill wants to experiment with “market forces,” and he wants to do so with your life and mine.

Not with his life. Not with the lives of his children.

At the end of his speech, Gates notes that whatever states decide regarding CCSS “is fine,” though he cautions that “it does affect the quality of your (??) teaching” (time 5:40).

And how, Bill. And how.

  1. I find his idea that “common” is superior interesting and chilling—that implies that we should all have the same moral, religious and political beliefs/balues so we’d all be common. Should we also look exactly like Bill Gates, his wife and family? That way, there would be a standard “common” for race and looks. Anyone who doesn’t fit, well, what do we do with them?

    Isn’t that what Hitler did when he had millions executed who didn’t fit what he thought was common (and superior)?

    This is dangerous thinking and doubly so coming from the richest man on earth who is one of President Obama’s partners in making America common by creating a cloned, standardized system of education where parents and teachers would have no say at all. And what common turned out to be would be defined by Bill Gates, because he paid for it.

    • Great point, Lloyd

      These “standards” are common, certainly, as in base, vulgar, received, ordinary, pedestrian

    • Mary Scalzi permalink

      I loved the first paragraph of Lloyd Lofthouse’s reply. I actually laughed out loud. I have said this to myself a thousand times–“what? are we all supposed to be the same, on the same date, etc. have we lost our minds as a human race?” But, hearing Lloyd say “should we also look exactly like Bill Gates and his family?” Well, that just sends the whole idea right where it needs to go. So funny, if it weren’t so frightening to see so many jumping on that bus…

    • Annie Phillips permalink

      You hit the nail on the head Lloyd Lofthouse!

  2. Again and again, Mercedes, you knock it out of the park. I was wondering if you might not ask Diane to run (or rerun) “The Golden Goose State Standards and Then Some.” It’s really important that people understand who paid to have these “standards” created and why. You write so many great pieces, but that one is key.

  3. Another interesting part of this is that Bill defines standards as a “list of what kids are supposed to know” at each grade level. But the CC$$ in ELA is not a list of knowledge, unless one uses that term knowledge very loosely. It is a list of abstractly formulated skills. Hirsch created a list of knowledge for each grade level. It’s called the Core Knowledge Sequence. And it’s ENTIRELY DIFFERENT FROM the CC$$. If the CC$$ skills bullet list for ELA were concretely framed–if these were operationalized descriptions of procedural knowledge (knowledge of how), then one could reasonably use the term “knowledge” to refer to them, but then, of course, that whole other area of knowledge–world knowledge, or knowledge of what–the kind of thing treated in Hirsch’s list–would still be absent.

    It’s amazing to me how shallow the thinking that went into the CC$$ was. These guys didn’t bother to think about this stuff at the most fundamental level–at the level of the categorical conceptualization of what a “standard” should look like for each item in each domain.

    This work was heedless and sloppy. And now it’s been foisted on the entire country. David Coleman’s amateurish bullet list.

    • “Bill defines standards as a ‘list of what kids are supposed to know’ at each grade level.”

      But how can this be achieved when kids do not all grow up in the same environment with equal and supportive parents?

      For the Gates’ “list” of standards to work, every child would have to grow up in a similar “common” environment with parents who love reading, value reading, start reading to and with their child by at least age three and support teachers every step of the way from pre-school to graduation from high school and beyond.

      No parent could be abusive, a drug addict, an alcoholic, a chronic gambler, illiterate and every family would have to earn a livable wage—no poverty in the U.S.

      In addition, every parent would have to attend parent conferences with their children’s teachers and keep an eye on grades so if any grade fell below a C, one or more parents would call ASAP the same day and schedule an appointment with the teacher to find out why and what they could do to fix that since failing grades are usually caused by children who don’t pay attention, hate to read, don’t work in class, have lousy diets, don’t get enough sleep, watch too much TV, don’t cooperate, cause disruptions, don’t ask questions and seldom if ever read outside of class or do homework.

      In fact, studies show that if children don’t read outside of school for pleasure at last a half hour daily, they will not keep up with children who do and their literacy level will fall behind and so will their learning and grades.

      The greatest teacher can’t force a child to learn.

      For the Gates’ “list” to work every child would have to arrive at school equally eager and wiling to learn what teachers teach, and every parent would have to consider Amy Chua, the author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” as a role model and not a villain.

    • Laura H. Chapman permalink

      Gates is a no-nothing on matters of education. This another proof, and certainly worth recycling with your notes.
      On the CCSSS and curriculum….A version of Hirsch’s Core Knowledge was produced on something like plasticized flash cards, grade by grade, sold at Walmart for a time. Question on one side, best answer on the other side. That was a card version of the long lists of topics and exemplars in the Core Knowledge program, recently rebranded by Hirsch to be marketed as suitable for the CCSS.
      Hirsch believed that if you taught about ancient Egypt in grade one or two, there was no need to “go back” to that content. The curriculum had too much redundancy in his view, and it was insufficiently factual–as in remembering names of famous people, important events and their dates, important places and changes in the place names of important places, and so on. He thought students in Grade 5 should be introduced to an iconic 1950s art history survey course, abridged from THE major college text of that era by H.W. Janson.
      Warts and all, his view of “cultural literacy” was far better informed than the CCSS, comprised of 1,620 standards if you include parts a-e, with no supporting rationale except a paper-thin and fraudulent view of one-size-fits all standards for entry into college and any career.
      We are all drowning in standards developed with no regard for the fact that students are not and will never be omniscient, and that no reasonably coherent curriculum can be fashioned from all of them without a massive triage. Ohio had 3,303 standards on the books last year, before the new arts the new science standards were released.

      • Warts and all, his view of “cultural literacy” was far better informed than the CCSS, comprised of 1,620 standards if you include parts a-e, with no supporting rationale except a paper-thin and fraudulent view of one-size-fits all standards for entry into college and any career.


  4. ColoMom permalink

    Mercedes, thank you for this post. In one short blog you have documented / sourced everything from NGA’s chronology conundrum, to Gates’ 2.3 Billion, to standards vs curriculum, to “powerful market forces”, to FedEd, to “teachers wrote the standards”….I could go on….
    Absolutely brilliant as always. Thanks for your tireless research and countless time spent. You make such a difference!

  5. Hannah permalink

    And then here are the teachers, in the trenches, working with children who often do not have their basic needs met. Looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the learning that one does in school is near the top of the hierarchy (self-actualizing)… and what teachers are trying to get through the thick skulls of those in power is that we’re dealing with populations of children who don’t have physiological, safety, love/belonging nor esteem needs met. So yes, let’s all be common… Bill, pass around your bank account to everyone so that we all have a common share of the wealth, and can fulfill our basic needs like you… then let’s discuss what self-actualizing we can do. (sarcasm alert)

  6. VermontTeacher permalink

    Who believes him when he says that the CCSS do not prescribe a national curriculum? The new high-stakes tests are based on the standards. What is assessed is what is taught. Am I missing something here? Can people not connect the dots? Why are curriculum directors telling us to revise our assignments to look more like the SBAC performance tasks if this is not mandating changes in the curriculum?

  7. Reblogged this on Sustainable Education Transformation and commented:
    The inimitable Mercedes Schneider has become expert at unraveling connections between various education “reformers.” In this post she uses a video of a speech Gates gives to the American Enterprise Institute as a jumping off point to demonstrate how Common Core is really about “unleashing free markets” more than any sort of evidence based way to improve education for kids.

  8. Sheila Stark permalink

    “a bunch of teachers met with a bunch of experts”????? Cry me a river. So first of all, there was ONE teacher on any of the standards development for CC. Gates is flat-out lying. Secondly, who are “experts”, if not the teachers? I want to regurgitate.

  9. Let me remind Mr. Gates how he got to where he is….by the guidance of many educators…who used to be trusted to do their jobs….

  10. Lisa Smith permalink

    Maybe my Econ background is weak, but as I understand the “free” market, the standardization allows production on a large scale, shutting out the smaller, innovative, responsive publishers. He is trying to say it opens up opportunity to these smaller companies, but it runs them out of business. Multiple state standards would allow small companies to thrive in a niche, gradually expanding into other, competitive markets.

  11. 34,000 New York children refused to take the ELA state tests. Many more will choose to refuse the math, especially now that principals and educators are speaking up. Watch and spread the video. Parents have a right to refuse!

  12. Andrea Lancer permalink

    While listening to Bill Gates, my eyes wandered to a video piece titled 15-year old Connects the Dots About the Dangers of Common Core. It is 35 minutes long but it is amazing. Don’t miss the last section where he follows the money.

  13. Linda Bricker permalink

    Thank you for the research.

    When state politicians join the parasitic education deformers, they suck the life blood from the towns and cities of our nation. Tax money spent on expensive tests and curriculum, is revenue lost to local businesses and governments. The enrichment of bi-coastal tech moguls and hedge fund owners, with the money we worked hard for and earmarked for teaching, is a national disgrace. The hollow promise of jobs by billionaires who have rigged the system, taking away hope, should be dismissed.
    We can rebuild communities by keeping dollars local, defeating the Koch’s and ALEC.

  14. @5:05…..I don’t think he knows what a “free market is” he should have said crony capitalism there…and is GOOD FOR my pocketbook. When looking into PEARSON, they test, they own curriculum companies, ya, there is NO free market here folks.

  15. Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns and commented:
    Mercedes Schneider nails CCSS, AEI and the #GatesEffect…don’t lie to yourself about this toxic combo not having anything to do with higher ed. It’s coming for us too.…

  16. Seriously? I’m absolutely amazed by the distance you and many of these commenters have “Missed this Point” Holy cow! I have goosebumps from embarrassment after reading these comments.

    .. just saying.

    • Glenn, you do not have my permission to use the comments section of my blog as your own de facto blog against me.

      Thus, I cut most of your extensive comment.

      I posted yesterday’s extensive comment criticizing my writing to another of my posts, and that is it.

      You may briefly state your criticisms and link to your own blog posts.

      Note that I still reserve the right to censor your comments on my blog.

  17. Apologies for propagating a meme that wasn’t true (and misquoting it as well)

    Just found this information:

    This meme is doing the rounds again and I’m afraid that it’s simply not true. It’s the sorry product of not understanding what wealth actually is.

    Bill Gates Is Richer Than 140 Nations

    Or on another site, that if Gates were an independent nation he would be the 37 th richest on the planet.

    The starting point for the comparison is of course the Forbes 400, right here at this magazine:

    Bill Gates is the richest American for the 20th year in a row and has reclaimed the title of world’s richest person from Mexico’s Carlos Slim with a net worth of $72 billion.

    From there the leap is made over to the list of countries by GDP and if we count the number of countries with a GDP less than the wealth of Bill Gates we can, depending upon exactly which list compiled by which means, count 140 countries that are poorer than Bill Gates. Hurrah! and so a meme is born.

    However, as the Bleeding Heart Libertarians point out, this isn’t actually correct.

    First, it’s a mistake to compare Gates’s total wealth to countries’ GDP. That would be like comparing Gates’s total wealth to Warren Buffet’s income this year. The relevant comparison is Gates’s total wealth to various countries’ total wealth (however you want to measure that).

  18. You put money at the forefront of values this is what you get. Bill gates wants us to produce faceless mono-personility grouping, otherwise, slaves…taking away individual standards and uniqueness from families and kids so as to create a generation of programmed laborers/human resources ( human resources means usable and indispensable by the way). The value of the human mind is watered down to a labor force and economics. I haven’t heard or seen any emphasis of the child as a spiritual, social and unique being who needs individual challenge and nurture according to his/her natural abilities discovered/displayed. I see schools now looking like an assembly line for robots.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Bill Gates “explains” Common Core | Dolphin
  2. Who Crowned Bill Gates the Emperor of Education? | Crazy Normal - the Classroom Exposé
  3. Incompetent Pearson “Wins” PARCC Contract. Big Surprise #stopcommoncore | Stop Common Core Illinois
  4. INEP: ligações perigosas | AVALIAÇÃO EDUCACIONAL – Blog do Freitas
  5. Schneider Reviews a 6-Minute Video Starring Bill Gates | Diane Ravitch's blog
  6. Educational Policy Information
  7. Why Would WaPo Wait Three Months to Release a Bill Gates Interview? - Dr. Rich Swier
  8. | Stop Common Core in Michigan
  9. Bill Gates funded the Seattle Times “Education Lab” | Seattle Education
  10. Seattle Times’ Gates-funded Education Lab Blog Experiment - Dr. Rich Swier
  11. Bill Gates Grant to “Further Hardwire the Common Core Curriculum”? - Dr. Rich Swier
  12. Student Exercises First Amendment Rights: ‘Ask Any Kid. We All Hate Common Core’ | Missouri Education Watchdog
  13. The Bill Gates Disconnect | deutsch29
  14. No Need to “Imagine”: Bill Gates Interferes with Education. | deutsch29
  15. Bill Gates Is Still Dabbling in Common Core | deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider's Blog

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