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The Bill Gates Disconnect

May 3, 2018

Billionaire Bill gates keeps trying to impose his ideas on American public education in hopes of scaling something.

He has tried breaking larger schools into smaller ones smaller ones— a project that he abandoned.

He has tried teacher effectiveness– and bailed on that one, too.

He has tried funding Common Core— with the expectation that all else (curriculum, testing) would fall in line to “unleash powerful market forces” and create “a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.”

To Gates, K12 education is an experiment, as Gates makes clear in a 2008 interview about mayoral control of schools, or removing control from an elected board and placing it in the hands of a single individual, the mayor:

They have to give us the opportunity for this experimentation.

The cities where our foundation has put the most money in, is where there’s a single person responsible – in New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, the mayor has responsibility for the school system, and so instead of having a committee of people, you have that one person.

And regarding that experimentation, Gates publicly stated in 2013, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade”– a comment to which Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss responded,

Hmmm. Teachers around the country are saddled every single year with teacher evaluation systems that his foundation has funded, based on no record of success and highly questionable “research.” And now Gates says he won’t know if the reforms he is funding will work for another decade. But teachers can lose their jobs now because of reforms he is funding.

In the past he sounded  pretty sure of what he was doing.   In this 2011 oped in The Washington Post, he wrote:

What should policymakers do? One approach is to get more students in front of top teachers by identifying the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take on four or five more students.

Actually, that’s not an approach any educator I know would think is a good idea, but Gates had decided that class size doesn’t really matter.

Now, we have Gates claiming to have tried that class-size stuff, but it didn’t work. So, he has decided to toss $158M in the K12 ring in order to crush some poverty. From the May 03, 2018, Seattle Times:

With an endowment of more than $40 billion, the foundation spends more than $4 billion a year to provide vaccines, fight diseases like malaria and tuberculosis and improve the lives of subsistence farmers in the world’s poorest countries. The foundation’s U.S. spending averages about $500 million a year, mostly devoted to its controversial and largely unsuccessful attempts to improve education.

Some of the lessons learned from that education work were another motivation for the new emphasis on poverty, Desmond-Hellmann said. While the foundation tried to improve education by focusing on issues like class size, testing and curriculum, they kept bumping into barriers from outside the classroom — primarily persistent poverty, she said.

A brief email response from Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters:

Now Gates will spend $158 million over four years to fight poverty– a tiny amount compared with a $40 billion endowment.

Gates focused on class size only to denigrate efforts to reduce class size, to fund bogus studies that claimed to conclude it didn’t matter, or to persuade districts to increase class size.

As noted in this March 2011 Washington Policy article on Gates’ advice to the National Governors Association, he does indeed push for larger class sizes for K12 education:

Mr. Gates challenged the view that reducing class size is the best way to improve student achievement. He pointed out that this view has driven school budget increases for more than 50 years, so that today, U.S. schools have almost twice as many teachers per student as they did in 1960. In 1960 the ratio of students to public school employees was 20 to 1; today that ratio is 8 to 1.

Mr. Gates notes that increased staffing and spending have failed to yield the desired results. Student achievement is roughly the same today as it was in 1960. Mr. Gates observed that we have poured money into proxies for improving education, like smaller class sizes, automatic salary increases based on seniority and a pay bump for earning an advanced degree. None of these expenditures has been shown to improve student learning.

And yet, the kind of school that Gates and his children attended defies all that Gates pumps his billions into for other people’s children. From my book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? (page 156). We begin with a flustered response from gates to Washington Post reporter, Lyndsey Layton, concerning Gates’ motives in promoting Common Core (CCSS) (full transcript here):

Gates: I’m saying, and I’ve, 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….

Gates’ response illustrates the fantastic disconnect between his entire education agenda (larger class sizes, teacher evaluation based upon student test scores, longer school day/year, and, of course, CCSS with its appendaged assessments) and his own education experience. Indeed, from grades 7 through 12, Gates attended the elite, selective-admission Lakeside School in Seattle– one that he notes in a 2005 speech at Lakeside School he valued for reasons one might expect to value a privileged education. For example, Gates valued Lakeside School for its smaller class sizes. Furthermore, he makes no mention of his having been subjected to standardized testing or his teachers having been “held accountable” when he was not applying himself as best he could. gates even admits that he considered deliberately failing the entrance exam (showing that students have their own wills and can use those wills to manipulate testing outcomes) and said that he was allowed to pursue his interest in computers outside of any mandated standards. Gates even recalls being pleased that he had no classes on Fridays.

In short, everything he said tin that 2005 speech regarding what he values about Lakeside directly contradicts the spectrum of so-called education “reforms” into which he pours millions (billions?)– not the least of which is CCSS.

Gates’s children also attended private schools, including Lakeside.

The Gates children.

On April 28, 2018, Business Insider published an article entitled, “Bill Gates is Raising His Children According to a 1970’s “Love and Logic” Formula– Here Are His Top Tips for Grooming Successful Kids.”

Two points of note.

First, “Love and Logic” advocates letting kids fail:

Aside from reining in hot-blooded parent tempers, the love and logic model also stresses the importance of not leaning into rewards for kids, but instead demonstrating unconditional love and admiring kids for who they are, not what they do (or don’t) achieve, like a poor test score or a bad grade.

“Many highly successful people struggled with grades as children,” Fay wrote on his site. “What’s most important is that our children develop good character, curiosity, and problem-solving skills.”

Of course, this begs the question of how one could presume to grade teachers based on immediate student achievement if “many successful people” do not produce stellar grades by the end of the course. “Admiring kids for who they are, not what they do (or don’t) achieve” flies in the rigid, unrealistic, and statistically-invalid face of the test-score-driven reform Gates advocates.

And now, a second noteworthy point from the Business Insider piece on Gates parenting:

The billionaire’s outlandish sense of what constitutes a little money.

From Business Insider:

Gates says the “Love and Logic” method is a far cry from the way he grew up, but he knew he wanted to do things differently with his own kids.

It wasn’t the only way he set boundaries for his children while they were growing up. …  …They will each get about $10 million of their parents fortune as inheritance, a mere fraction of the mogul’s roughly $90 billion net worth.

“We want to strike a balance where they have the freedom to do anything, but not a lot of money showered on them so they could go out and do nothing,” Gates once told TED.

Only give ’em $10M to start. That way, they’ll have to learn to live responsibility.

The Bill Gates Disconnect:

Obvious in his view that a $10 million inheritance does not constitute “a lot of money.”

Obvious time and again in his K12 education experiment.

bill gates  Bill Gates


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. angela summers permalink

    another great piece! Thanks, Mercedes. Even as misguided and misdirected as he is, Gates money has bought him the big seat at the education table. Hopefully articles like yours will end his meal ticket.

  2. I want Gates to teach me that kind of responsibility … Bill Gates, please send me a check for $10 million so I can learn to be responsible too, and please pay the tax on it so I really get $10 million.

  3. Interested in a book that details the reasons that Gates’ ideas don’t work–see the book, Why America’s Public Schools Are the Best Place for Kids: Reality vs. Negative Perceptions.

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  1. Mercedes Schneider: Bill Gates, Hypocrite | Diane Ravitch's blog

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