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Thompson: The Gates Foundation's "Other" Big Overreach

GatesIn How Bill Gates Pulled Off the Swift Common Core Revolution, The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton explains that two men met with Bill Gates in 2008 and asked for his support of rigorous national standards.

After a brief discussion within the Gates Foundation, a full court press in favor of Common Core was launched. This was done in spite the social science research questioning whether better standards were likely to improve schools. 

The foundation funded “almost every consequential education group,” as Diane Ravitch aptly put it, in their efforts to promote the standards.  The standard step of conducting pilot studies before such a major innovation was skipped. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan used the Race to the Top grant process as leverage to advance Common Core. Within two years, Gates’s preferred policy was adopted by almost every state in the nation.

Where have we seen this story before?

Steve Brill’s Class Warfare explains that Gates met with two men in 2007. They pushed their pet theory about value-added teacher evaluations.

Before launching their “teacher quality” initiative, the Gates Foundation took ten months to deliberate but, according to Brill’s telling, the discussion seemed to focus on politics. Brill gives little reason to believe that Gates studied the large body of social science that argued against his preferred theory. Pilot projects were started, but the foundation did not wait for the results before pushing its hypothesis. Arne Duncan had staffed his department with former Gates insiders and he used the RttT to pressure most states into adopting value-added evaluations.

Now, of course, there is a revolt against both expensive gambles.  Next year, a train wreck seems inevitable as the two contradictory policies are implemented at the same time. I hope edu-philanthropists learn their lessons and we don't read such a sad story a third time.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.  


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