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Bill Gates Pulls Back on His K12 Ed Experimentation

November 23, 2019

Billionaire Bill Gates likes to experiment with American K12 education.

He bankrolled the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and pushed “small schools,” and spent millions on measuring teachers using student test scores.

Regarding the failure of Gates-funded education tampering, the January 15, 2019, Fair Observer notes the reality of billionaire removal from any consequences related to its purchased folly:

Because of its wealth, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has no need to apologize for its past mistakes or to feel concerned about its next round of mistakes. The article in The Washington Post sums up the foundation’s historical failures. After so many disappointing results, accompanied by the foundation’s roundly expressed indifference to the negative effects on teachers and learners or on the coherence of public educational policy, we may legitimately ask: Why does it persist in its folly?

Why persist?

Because wealth thinks it knows. Because education entities (both traditional and market-based) continue to take Gates money. Because there exists no mechanism for billionaires to be fined twice the amount of the comprehensive cost of their arrogance-initiated foolishness.

Gates sees its education efforts as (ahem) successful, though there is no confetti-laced celebration here. The message is more muted, though it is certainly no apology, and, as one might expect, includes the next Gates ed fad-focus. From the Gates “Our Work Going Forward” K12 ed page:

We have learned a lot over the years about the challenges of improving student outcomes.

From our work creating small schools to increase high school graduation and college-readiness rates, we saw how small schools could be responsive to their students’ needs. While the results in places like New York City, Los Angeles, and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas were encouraging, we realized that districts were reluctant to scale small schools because of the financial and political costs of closing existing schools and starting new ones.

Our investments in the Measures of Effective Teaching provided important knowledge about how to observe teachers at their craft, rate their performance fairly, and give them actionable feedback. While these insights have been helpful to the field, we saw that differentiating teachers by performance, and in turn by pay scale, wasn’t enough to solve the problem alone.

We were also supportive of Common Core because we believed, and still believe, that all students—no matter where they go to school—should graduate with the skills and knowledge to succeed after high school. Educators and state leaders have spoken on the standards, but we continue to see that teachers need aligned curricula and professional development to fulfill the promise of the standards in their classrooms.

Our next chapter will be driven by a direct focus on schools, because that’s where the action of teaching and learning happens. Excellent schools—led by leaders who focus on continuous improvement grounded in data and evidence—are what help students succeed most.

We will focus our grantmaking on supporting schools in their work to improve student outcomes—particularly for Black, Latino, and low-income students—by partnering with middle and high schools and identifying new approaches that are effective and that could be replicated in other schools.

So. Gates is still at it, this time with a nebulous “direct focus on schools.”

And yet, perhaps Gates has learned a smidge of a lesson. Just a smidge, mind you. (The stove is hot, but I want to touch it, albeit gingerly.)

As of this writing, the Gates Foundation has doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in the form of 476 grants in 2019. Of these, only seven are designated for K12 education, with the bulk of the Gates cash focused on charter schools:

It may be too much to expect Bill Gates to completely exit K12 education. After all, we have been his hobby for years.

But the fewer Gates dollars, the smaller the petri dish.

bill gates

Bill Gates


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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.

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  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    But the fewer Gates dollars, the smaller the petri dish.

    A GREAT Line and perfect pitch.

  2. EXELLENT summation: The fewer the dollars, the smaller the petri dish. Imagine how many die-hard ‘dedicated’ reformers would pull out of the game completely if there were no dollars to be gained.

  3. EXCELLENT summation: The fewer the dollars, the smaller the petri dish. Just imagine how many ‘dedicated-to-the-kids’ reformers would pull out of the game completely if there were not dollars to be gained.

  4. speduktr permalink

    Hey, let him play with charter schools. Then, maybe the rest of us won’t have to pay their CEOs’ salaries with our tax dollars, and maybe the public could get back to funding their public schools. You know, the ones in which we have a voice. When his pet projects fail, it will be the charter schools’ fault (never his!).

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: After Multiple Failures, Why Doesn’t the Gates Foundation Leave K-12 Schools Alone? | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. 2020 Medley #10: Thoughts on Reimagining Public Schools | Live Long and Prosper

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