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No Need to “Imagine”: Bill Gates Interferes with Education.

May 6, 2020

On May 05, 2020, New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced vague plans to work with billionaire education interference, Bill Gates, to “reimagine” education. From the Daily Gazette:

“It’s not just about reopening schools,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “When we are reopening schools, let’s open a better school and let’s open a smarter education system.”

Cuomo said the state would work with the Gates Foundation “to convene experts and develop a blueprint to reimagine education in the new normal,” but didn’t specify how that process would work or who would be involved.

Cuomo decided not to turn to his own state ed department, which is doing what a state ed department should in the face of this crisis, forming its own task force to be comprised of local stakeholders.

Bill Gates is no local stakeholder. Bill Gates is a an unaffected purse who is able to shrug off as unpleasant and disappointing any and all highly disruptive and destructive outcomes of his funded whims.

bill gates shrug

Bill Gates

Let us consider a few of those billionaire, money-toss whims.

In 2013, I wrote about Gates’ “small schools” initiative in the early 2000s. By 2006, the thrill was gone– which means Gates pulled out and left districts in a lurch. From my March 15, 2013, post, “Tom Vander Ark and the Business of Education”:

As John Roddy tells it, Milwaukee was turned upside down with the small schools experiment and then abandoned mid-project. I will offer only part of his story here, though the entire article is an insightful read:

It should have been a happy occasion.

Tom Vander Ark, the executive director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, had come to town in the summer of 2003 to finalize the details of a prestigious $17 million grant to create 50 new small high schools in Milwaukee. The foundation had been impressed with the wide variety of schools in the city, and the seemingly unanimous commitment of public and private school leaders to the new project. Optimism was high, both in Milwaukee and across the nation, that the fabled wealth of Bill Gates could help accomplish change in the thorny field of education.

But as Dan Grego drove Vander Ark back to General Mitchell International Airport, he was struck by his passenger’s reserve. Grego, a 30-year veteran of alternative education, had been chosen to lead the initiative in Milwaukee. He had fond hopes of ending the longtime war between public education and voucher advocates, and radically altering the traditional organizational model for high schools. He found himself waiting for something momentous, some words of wisdom from Vander Ark, a former business executive and former school superintendent who was now running this new national education project. But between the monotonous whining and whooshing of the I-94 traffic, Vander Ark wasn’t saying much.

Finally, just as he was leaving the car, he offered a rather ambiguous benediction. “I guess,” Vander Ark said with a chuckle, “you just got yourself in for a helluva five years.”

Grego was taken aback. “It felt a little chilling,” he recalls. …

Today, some seven years later, the extraordinary $2 billion initiative — which created 2,600 new small schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia — has been ditched by Gates and his foundation.School districts across the nation were left disrupted, with some charging that Gates had abandoned the successful good schools he created and Gates citing statistics showing the project failed. Gates has now moved on to funding a completely different approach involving teacher education, and Vander Ark no longer works with the foundation.

Tom Vander Ark is a businessman. Gates is a businessman.  If one business venture is failing, move on to the next. So what if it hurts people?

Gates offers no reparations for those he leaves hanging. He doesn’t need to, for he answers to no one.

“Gates has now moved on to funding a completely different approach involving teacher education….”

About that Gates shift to teacher education: In 2009, Hillsborough County Schools (Florida) won what appeared to be a $100M grant for “empowering effective teachers.” However, in 2015, the Gates Foundation left Hillsborough County Schools hanging after paying only $80M because Gates had “a change in philosophy.” From my September 23, 2015, post, “Hillsborough County Schools Loses Both Gates Money and Financial Reserves”:

In November 2009, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the Hillsborough County (Florida) Public Schools a $100 million grant as part of its “Empowering Effective Teachers” effort. …

On September 21, 2015, the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Gates Foundation has only paid $80 million of the $100 million.

The Gates Foundation maintains that it did not agree for certain to fund the entire $100 million:

…Records indicate the relationship between Gates and the district has had some bumps.

Late in the process, the foundation rejected several of the district’s funding requests for Empowering Effective Teachers, which involves evaluating teachers using specially trained peers and bumping their pay with the idea that it would boost student performance.

“Each of the proposals were robustly outlined and presented,” a district report said.

But Gates officials responded by pointing to language in the original agreement saying the foundation had promised “up to” $100 million, not necessarily the whole amount, according to the report.

The district picked up the unpaid costs. …

Much of the disagreement [about funding the entire $100 million] amounted to a change in Gates’ philosophy, Brown said. “After a few years of research,” she said, “they believed there was not enough of a connection between performance bonuses and greater student achievement.”

And then there’s Common Core.

Bill Gates has been a (the?) critical financial force behind the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) because he wants to bring education “to scale” (“scale is good for free market education”).

In June 2014, Washington Post journalist Lyndsey Layton informed America about Gates’ bankrolling CCSS at the request of CCSS key players (who were not teachers):

The pair of education advocates had a big idea, a new approach to transform every public-school classroom in America. By early 2008, many of the nation’s top politicians and education leaders had lined up in support.

But that wasn’t enough. The duo needed money — tens of millions of dollars, at least — and they needed a champion who could overcome the politics that had thwarted every previous attempt to institute national standards.

So they turned to the richest man in the world.

On a summer day in 2008, Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist for the standards movement, spent hours in Bill Gates’s sleek headquarters near Seattle, trying to persuade him and his wife, Melinda, to turn their idea into reality.

In April 2014, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) interviewed Gates so that he could “explain” CCSS. From my April 27, 2014, post, “Video: Bill Gates ‘Explains’ Common Core”:

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. …

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).

Bill Gates paid millions to billions to scale CCSS because Bill Gates wants to scale what influences American education. With CCSS, there was no “pilot,” which in 2017 Gates said was one of his “guiding principles.” Gates went straight to CCSS scale and was in for the funding in 2008, two years before CCSS even existed. (For a deep dive on CCSS history/creation, see my book, Common Core Dilemma.)

Gates wanted CCSS for sameness— “electrical socket” sameness, as Gates said in 2014:

We don’t have 50 different kinds of electrical sockets—we have just one. And that standard unleashed all kinds of innovation that improved lives. The same thing will happen with consistent standards for what students should know.

Sooo, if American public schools have CCSS/electrical-socket (??) sameness, that will lead to innovation because Bill Gates Says So.

Gates money financed the political push that is CCSS, all for the sake of “unleashing powerful market forces” (which I do not support but which it did not even do, by the way. Just ask Pearson.)

So now, NY gov Cuomo is turning to Gates to “reimagine” education for NY in the midst of a pandemic. Why? Not based on Gates’ stellar history of funding ideas that improve American public education. Gates funds his preferences, his whims, and those whims have produced failure after failure. But Gates is a billionaire, and that is the qualifying factor for Bringing in Gates.

But know this, Andrew Cuomo: Bill Gates bails on his one-time funding priorities once he decides they aren’t going the way he would like, and New York could well be stuck with salvaging this “reimagination” using its own funding.

Know also that Gates is drawn to “sameness” ideas he thinks can be Brought to Scale and will push those ideas for the sake of the market. Parents and teachers know this full well from CCSS. Moreover, they are all too familiar with Gates’ record of purchased interference, and that is why you are already facing “backlash,” as the May 05, 2020, Daily Gazette documents:

Cuomo’s announcement, though, was widely panned by litany of teachers, parents and education advocates.

“Remote learning, in any form, will never replace the important personal connection between teachers and their students that is built in the classroom and is a critical part of the teaching and learning process,” New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said in a statement responding to the governor’s remarks. “If we want to reimagine education, let’s start with addressing the need for social workers, mental health counselors, school nurses, enriching courses, advanced courses and smaller class sizes in school districts across the state.” …

Jasmine Gripper, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, an organization that advocates for education equity, said Cuomo and the Gates Foundation both “have a history of pushing privatization and agendas that have the potential to destroy public schools.”

“This collaboration raises a red flag and real questions about what shape our ‘reimagined’ public schools will take post-pandemic, and whether they will be recognizable as public schools at all,” Gripper said. “We need to reimagine schools with smaller class sizes, where children will be able to thrive in a classroom environment that is safe and nurturing.”

Too, NYC Public School Parents blog carried this May 05, 2020, letter signed by the New York State Allies for Public Education, Class Size Matters, and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy:

May 5, 2020

To Governor Cuomo: 

As educators, parents and school board members, we were appalled to hear that you will be working with the Gates Foundation on “reimagining” our schools following the Covid crisis.  Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have promoted one failed educational initiative after another, causing huge disaffection in districts throughout the state. 

Whether that be the high-handed push by the Gates Foundation for the invalid Common Core standards, unreliable teacher evaluation linked to test scores, or privacy-violating data-collection via the corporation known as inBloom Inc., the education of our children has been repeatedly put at risk by their non-evidence based “solutions”, which were implemented without parent input and despite significant public opposition.  As you recall, these policies also sparked a huge opt-out movement across the state, with more than twenty percent of eligible students refusing to take the state exams. 

We urge you instead to listen to parents and teachers rather than allow the Gates Foundation to implement their damaging education agenda once again.  Since the schools were shut down in mid-March, our understanding of the profound deficiencies of screen-based instruction has only grown. The use of education tech may have its place, but only as an ancillary to in-person learning, not as its replacement.  

Along with many other parents and educators, we strongly oppose enabling the Gates Foundation to influence the direction of education in the state by expanding the use of ed tech.  

Instead, we ask that you fund our schools sufficiently and equitably, to allow for the smaller classes, school counselors, and other critical services that our children will need more than ever before, given the myriad losses they have experienced this year. 

There’s nothing to “imagine” here.

Bill Gates’s efforts do not improve education, and he has the record to prove it.

bill gates

Bill Gates


My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!


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  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Yes. The record is clear and you have helped to make it so. I hope that NY is spared more of Gates’ failed experiments. Note also that he Gates is the public face of the Foundation and that Melinda rarely does anything on education except approve of his proojects. Gates wants to be acknowledged as a “public intellectual” and expert on education when he is not. He is thrilled with the publicity that
    Cuomo has brought to him.

    • Christine Langhoff permalink

      Kind of like Jeffrey Epstein, another wealthy man who wished to be known as a public intellectual. Gates was photographed with Epstein during a dinner at the latter’s New York townhouse. Gates embarked on the friendship after Epstein’s convictions.

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