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The New York Times Magazine on Bill Gates' Latest Education Project

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Readers of the The New York Times Magazine were greeted with a smiling portrait of Bill Gates on the cover of its annual education issue on Sunday.

I'll get to the substance of the the four magazine pieces on education in a moment. I was struck by a post at the "6th Floor: Eavesdropping on the Times Magazine," a blog for inside tidbits on the glossy. "Under Cover: What is Bill Gates Smiling About?" is a chat with photographer Dan Winters about what it's like to shoot a portrait of the billionaire. 

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Winters notes that there are plenty of photos of Gates, but few where he sits for a portrait shot. Asked by the blog how he got Gates to laugh during the shoot, Winters says that besides portraits of his subject being rare, "I'd also never seen a photo of him in a moment of spontaneous laughter."

"I'm not sure what caused it—I think it was some crack about the clothes—but it was really quick," Winters adds in the blog. "There's one frame where he laughs, and in the frame immediately after that, the laugh is already winding down."

Andrew Ross Sorkin, a star business writer at the Times, pens the cover story on Gates' personal support (as opposed to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) for the Big History Project, an effort to introduce in U.S. high schools a new way to teach history as it is connected to other subjects such as biology, chemistry, astronomy, and other fields. It is based on an idea by the Australian educator David Christian.

Sorkin discusses meeting with Gates and Christian in a Manhattan hotel conference room, where Gates "recounted getting a bad grade in an 8th grade geography course.

"They paired me up with a moron, and I realized these people thought I was stupid, and it really pissed me off!" Gates tells Sorkin.

You can read about the Big History Project, which sounds kind of complicated, for yourself. Sorkin's piece also touches on how a big project supported by the Gates Foundation—the Common Core State Standards—has become "something of a third rail in education circles."

Another piece in the education issue is about the educational potential of pre-exams—tests given at the start of a course when students couldn't be expected to know any of the material—which is an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Benedict Carey.

The other two pieces are a photo essay on "The Women of West Point" and a story detailing the battles between New York City education reformer and charter school entrepreneur Eva Moskowitz and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The magazine's education issue seems to be not coincidentally timed to this week's New York Times Schools for Tomorrow conference, which I discussed here.

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