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Bill Gates, U.S. Superintendent of Schools

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Few things cause skoolboy to laugh out loud uncontrollably, but this line from a story filed by Elizabeth Green at GothamSchools hit the spot:

As part of its new approach, the Gates Foundation will advocate for the politically thorny goal of national standards — and will aim to write its own standards and its own national test.

Read it again, slowly: The Gates Foundation will develop its own national standards and its own national test.

Does anybody else think this is a really, really bad idea? I'm delighted that the Gates Foundation has realized that throwing money at small schools didn't work, but I'm not prepared to turn over the public's interest in what is to be taught and learned to a private philanthropy, no matter how civic-minded it may be.

Update: Bad form on my part not to acknowledge that the title of this entry comes from an LA Times op-ed written by Diane Ravitch, available here. She deserves all of the credit for coining the phrase. Sorry, Diane!

18 Comments

wow...they are really trying to take the public school system out!

Since I think that national standards and a national test might not be the worst idea, I'm not sure this is either. I wouldn't want students subjected to the standards/test that they come up with, but maybe this can serve as a first step.

I'm not prepared to turn over the public's interest in what is to be taught and learned to a private philanthropy, no matter how civic-minded it may be.

Yet many people feel comfortable in turning the public interest in what is to be taught over to academics and teachers, both of whom have a record on the hit parade of launching fads, failed initiatives, and members of both groups have a history of trying to subvert the process of education into one where social reform is the key value to be taught.

If I had to make a choice between Gates putting up his own money and getting a say in the setting of standards or allowing the education establishment to use taxpayer funds to further their own agendas, I'd clearly prefer to go with the guy who is letting his own money ride on his convictions. If districts don't wish to submit to his standards, they're free to turn down his offer of grant aid. How is that not fair?

Lastly, it's hard to imagine Gates' initiatives being worse than the track record of the professional education establishment. Over time, as the education field has become more professionalized, how has the US fared on PISA? In other words, if we take all of the academic research in education over the last 40 years and factor in the trickle down effect wherein this research finds its way into the curricula used for training our teachers, has the increased training that teachers have received actually led to an improvement in student outcomes?

We need both. His experts are as well schooled as any other group so I'm sure they can come up with something worthwhile. So go ahad Bill and Melinda, have at it.

To this point the feds have been reluctant to develop anything even via state DOE representives. It should be interesting to see if the Obama administration is willing to pursue anything along these lines because he's proven he doesn't care what the NEA thinks (more charters and merit pay for better teachers).

I find it interesting that we just elected a president who wants the government to control and regulate universal healthcare, while, on the other hadn, we watch a private philanthropic group attempt to standardize our education system.

How do you manage to pass judgement so quickly when you haven't read the first syllable of the Gates Foundation effort?

It's the same old story. No one outside the hallowed confines of the educational "establishment" is allowed to put an oar into the education lake (puddle?) without immediate howling from the education "experts."

I'm not prepared to turn over the public's interest in what is to be taught and learned to a private philanthropy, no matter how civic-minded it may be.

Skoolboy, could you elaborate on why the source of funding troubles you?

Why would this be a worse idea than, for example, allowing oil industry lobbyists to help write U.S. energy policy, or the insurance industry drafting health care legislation?

The public's interest on myriad issues has already been outsourced, often to those who are far less civic-minded than the Gates Foundation.

I definitely worry that philanthropy from the Gates Foundation is based on concepts like embrace, extend, extinguish, and that data-driven decision-making will be overlooked to further the goals of Gates Foundation leadership, whatever those may be.

If the Gates Foundation can move along the discussion of national standards, I'm all for it. I don't see it as "outsourcing" as long as we don't just adopt its standards wholesale. Since national standards is such a politically hot topic, if Gates can get us past that, great.

I'm generally ok with this, but I'd like to see what Mozilla has to offer.

Dan:

My primary concern about the role of private philanthropies in the enactment of national policy is their lack of accountability to the public. One could argue that that accountability is manifested in the choice of public, corporate bodies such as states and school districts either to embrace their initiatives or not. But I think there's evidence that the hunger for dollars can trump good judgment when states and districts perceive financial stress, and the Gates Foundation's bully-pulpit is diamond-encrusted.

It's possible that the heightened participation of Bill Gates in the running of the Foundation will shift its internal dynamics in a positive way. He does seem to recognize the limited success of the Foundation's past education initiatives, which is a positive step.

Funny you should nominate Gates the Superintendent of Schools, Paul Abrams of the Huffington Post thinks he should be the US Secretary of Education.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-abrams/lets-get-creative-why-not_b_142378.html

Skoolboy:
Thanks for the clarification. I see your point, and I think it's a good one. I had been thinking (like some other commentators here) "Well, why not let them chip in their ideas? We can take it or leave it. . ." But the specter of a deal--take the program, get the bucks--is disturbing. It might be possible to get the benefit of a Gates-funded project on standards without the cost, if policy makers were wary enough. . .but if it really comes down to big money, it would be hard to judge the Gates program dispassionately.

What we need are non-experts. I hope you get one of those the next time you go to a doctor.

My primary concern about the role of private philanthropies in the enactment of national policy is their lack of accountability to the public.

How responsive was the education establishment to the public's outcry against the implementation of constructivist math and the devastation it caused a generation of students?

What we need are non-experts. I hope you get one of those the next time you go to a doctor.

A physician, acting as an expert, actually improves outcomes for their client. The same can't be said for teachers, when they're acting as experts.

As physicians develop their expertise over time, meaning the sum total of academic and clinical research finding it's way into front-line treatment, patient outcomes get better year after year. As teachers develop their expertise over time, meaning the sum total of academic and clinical research finding it's way into front-line practice, student outcomes remain static or often times get worse year after year.

There are experts who are effective at creating positive outcomes and then there are experts who are effective at creating no beneficial change, or actually making things worse. Listening to the former, who have a track record to bolster their credibility, makes sense, while listening to the latter, who have a track record of failure, makes no sense at all.

Larger donors funneled through social enterprises and tactical foundations would be promising. www.buzzfund.com as an example provides donors an opportunity to shape performance through merit based scholarships, while policy is left to the instituions and governing bodies.

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