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Media: What The Post Gets Wrong About Gates & Common Core (Plus Reactions Roundup)

 Yau Hoong Tang FlickrThere's a long piece about the Common Core in the Washington Post you should probably read -- but be forewarned that the view of events and the causal chain that's cobbled together in the piece isn't entirely accurate or fairly contextualized (and differs from other accounts of what happened and why).

Basically, the Post's piece makes the claim that Bill Gates was behind the Common Core's rapid spread over the past few years. Indeed, the headline claims that Gates "pulled off" the Common Core, like it was a heist or a grift. 

"The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes." Both left and right -- Diane Ravitch and NRO's Stanley Kurtz  -- are already calling for Congressional hearings.

Gates' support is clear, and no doubt played a role.  There are some fascinating tidbits about that process in the piece.  But let's be clear: the idea for common national standards and tests goes back a long long way before Gates (and David Coleman), the spread of the Common Core in recent years wasn't merely a function of Gates' enthusiasm and largess, and the myth of the all-powerful billionaire is just that. 

The idea for common standards has been around for a while, and has always had a lot of appeal. Gates wouldn't have been able to get very far if he'd picked up a new idea, or one that didn't already have the appeal. This is a key point that foundation critics tend to ignore or downplay -- that foundations can only get "their" ideas to spread if they're ones that have some broader appeal -- and that public funding is often much larger than what even the largest philanthropist can provide.

 "Seems weird to start the story with a pitch to a foundation, and then act as if everything after that point is foundation-driven," notes NACSA's Alex Medler (on Facebook).  "The breadth of groups and leaders pursuing this is treated as if it was purely caused by the availability of funding and no one had ever discussed standards before."

Authorship aside, the spread of Common Core isn't inarguably a function of Gates' support, either.  Other elements that were just as instrumental include the $800 billion Stimulus bill that included Race to the Top and the folks on the Hill who got that done.  (Plus Schnur, according to some.) 

Note that Race to the Top and the Stimulus included a slew of other elements that are arguably have had just as significant an impact on public education -- removal of charter school caps, for example, and billions to help districts avoid laying off teachers.  How did those provisions get into law, and who pushed for/paid for them?  There's money and influence behind pretty much everything that gets done, from health care reform to tax policy -- much more than Gates spent cheerleading for Common Core, in many cases. 

Even EdWeek's generally mild Mark Walsh notes the "somewhat conspiratorial tones in the piece," in particular the unspoken accusations that Gates money bought positive research from nonprofit think tanks and was in part motivated by financial self interest.  

Would the Common Core have spread as far as fast without Gates money?  Probably not.  But the same can be said for Race to the Top  that created a massive federal incentive for states to get on board. Pinning the Common Core on Bill Gates -- not to speak of pinning his support on financial self-interest -- seems misleading and inaccurate to me, even if you don't like the standards or how they were implemented.

No response/reaction yet from the Gates Foundation, according to NPR's Anya Kamenetz.  Reactions roundup: Time for Congress to Investigate Bill Gates’ Role in Common Core (Diane Ravitch); Time For Congressional Hearings On Common Core (National Review Online); The Washington Post's 'Tense' Talk With Bill Gates on Common Core (EdWeek); Wash Post On Gates & Common Core, 5 Reactions (Eduwonk(.

Previous posts: The Myth Of The All-Powerful BillionairesSteve Brill on the HotSeatSchnur Leaves New Leaders To Join Obama Campaign.

 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.