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Gates Chief Acknowledges Common-Core Missteps

In a letter posted today on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's website, chief executive officer Sue Desmond-Hellmann acknowledged that the group had made some miscalculations regarding implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

The Gates Foundation has backed the common standards, which more than 40 states are now implementing, since their conception. Over the last seven years, the math and reading standards have faced political backlash as well as objections from educators who disagreed with their content. Teachers around the country also complained that they lacked the instructional materials and professional development necessary to use the standards effectively in their classrooms. K-12_Dealmaking.gif

The uproar was most fervent in places where student scores on the common-core tests were being linked to teachers' evaluations.

In the letter, Desmond-Hellmann wrote: "Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators—particularly teachersbut also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning."

She called this a "challenging lesson for us to absorb."  

The letter goes on to say that all teachers need access to high-quality materials. "But far too many districts report that identifying or developing common core-aligned materials is a challenge, meaning that teachers spend their time adapting or creating curriculum, developing lessons, and searching for supplemental materials," she wrote.

Recent research backs this up. A nationally representative study by the RAND Corporation found that nearly all math and language arts teachers in common-core states are at least somewhat reliant on materials they've developed or selected themselves.  And a study from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University indicated that about three-quarters of teachers use common-core materials created by themselves or their district colleagues at least once a week. 

According to Desmond-Hellmann, the foundation is now "doubling down on our efforts to make sure teachers have what they need to make the most of their unique capabilities."

She cited the group's support of websites providing free digital content aligned to the common core, including Better Lesson, EngageNY, and LearnZillion. She also mentioned a partnership with EdReports.org, a website that aims to be the Consumer Reports of K-12 common-core curricula (see more on the EdReports textbook reviews, as well as the controversy surrounding them, here, here, and here). 

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