Kindly Wrong

Earlier this week, I wrote about an interview that Gwen Ifill conducted with Bill and Melinda Gates on the PBS NewsHour. She did another interview the same day with Bill and Melinda Gates at the Gates Foundation Education Forum. At both interviews, Bill and Melinda Gates said much of the same thing with much of the same attitudes.

I would like to share with you three reader/viewer comments about those interviews.

  1. Peter Greene, a teacher from Pennsylvania, wrote a biting satire about the interview at the Gates Foundation. He begins by writing…….

   “It’s been fifteen years since we started trying to beat public education into submission with giant stacks of money, and it turns out that it’s a hell of a lot harder than curing major diseases. Turns out teachers are not nearly as compliant as bacteria. Who knew? ”   Continue reading at his blog called Curmudgucation. 

2. Jackie, an English teacher from Connecticut, commented about the PBS NewsHour interview. She summed up Bill Gates in two words, two words that make me smile about the power of words because her choice of words to describe Bill Gates is so perfect. Jackie wrote:  “Bill Gates seemed kindly wrong. Melinda Gates was flagrantly misinforming and arrogant. Gah.”

3. Steven Singer, another teacher from Pennsylvania,  wrote the following comment about the Bill and Melinda Gates interview at the Gates Foundation:

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

These three responses to the interviews reminded me, once again, why I love being a teacher and a teacher of teachers:  I get to hang around with the best people. Most of the teachers I have worked with for my whole professional life are bright, funny, well-read, caring about kids, sophisticatedly literate, and living on the highest plane of dedication. They are critical thinkers. They love ideas.  They love being engaged with other people, especially the students they teach. They inspire me. They make me walk taller.

Too bad that Bill and Melinda Gates and Arnie Duncan and David Coleman and the president I campaigned for didn’t bring the teachers I know or any of the millions of good teachers around the country into the discussion of what makes a good education. If they had, we would have standards and ways to approach learning that we could speak about with pride.

Instead, we have standards and testing that harm kids. And we have disrespect for who we teachers are and what we do.

At worst, it is a unified attempt to destroy public education by those who can profit from doing so. At best, it is all kindly wrong.

Money Talks

At first, I felt empathy for Bill and Melinda Gates as they spoke about the Common Core in an interview with Gwen Ifill on the PBS NewsHour.  I always feel for people who are talking publicly about something about which they know very little.  I then reminded myself that these two people who know so little are actually in charge, almost single-handedly, of American education. That is profoundly wrong. Children and adolescents are entitled to the best education their society can provide. And in a democracy, it is unconscionable for the wealthy few to decide what that education will be.

Please watch this 9:54 minute interview with Bill and Melinda Gates:

  1. Bill Gates says the Common Core sets high standards, but the Common Core Standards are not high. The Common Core Standards are judged to be harmful and developmentally inappropriate by the most respected early childhood professionals in the country. The math Common Core Standards prepare students for math at the community college level and do not equip students with the high school math to set them on the path for STEM careers. The Common Core English Standards require a pedagogy, popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s but now discredited.  The National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse the Common Core. The Common Core is the antithesis of what we know, from John Dewey and many others who have studied the learning process, about how human beings learn because those standards do not teach students to create meaning and construct knowledge.
  2. Bill Gates said that the Common Core Standards “have gotten the K-12 progression down”, but the Common Core Standards have not done that. The standards are not based on the cognitive, social, and psychological development of children and adolescents and do not address how children and adolescents learn. Both are required for a K-12 progression.
  3. Bill Gates said the Common Core Standards will help students who move from one state to another state, but those standards do not help those students. Standards are not curriculum. Just because using adverbial clauses is part of a Grade 9-10 standard does not mean that it will be taught on the same day or even the same year in Florida and in Massachusetts. There are 188 skills for 9th and 10th graders and no schedule for when they are taught within those two years. To have uniformity of instruction, there would have to be a national curriculum with daily, scripted lessons used in every state at the same time. And that is against the law.
  4. Melinda Gates said that the Common Core Standards eliminate the need of remediation at the community college level, but the Common Core Standards does not eliminate the need for remediation. Standards alone never create achievement even when achievement is based on the low bar of standardized tests.  According to the Brookings Institute,” the CCSS (Common Core) will have little or no effect on student achievement”. The Brookings Institute report provides data that demonstrates that students in states that adopted the Common Core Standards did not do any better than students in states that did not adopt the Common Core, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest and most respected national assessment of what U.S. students know and can do.
  5. Melinda Gates said that the Common Core Standards were approved by the governors and state commissioners of eduction, but no governor or state commissioner approved the Common Core Standards. Governors and commissioners voted to adopt a set of standards a year before the Common Core committee convened to write the standards. They had no idea what those standards would be so it is not true to say that governors and commissioners decided that the Common Core Standards were better, higher, or lovelier than the standards the states already had.
  6. Melinda  Gates said that the governors and commissioners of education voted for the Common Core Standards because they knew it was the right thing to do, but doing the right thing was not their goal. They voted for undetermined standards in order to avoid financial sanctions from the federal government for not having 100% proficiency (an impossible goal) as specified by No Child Left Behind.
  7. Melissa Gates said teachers believe in the Common Core, but teachers increasingly oppose the Common Core. In fact, the more teachers work with the Common Core, the less they like it, the less they think it’s the right thing.
  8. Melinda Gates said teaching the Common Core makes teachers “step up their game”, but teaching the Common Core requires very little of teachers.  Teaching the Common Core drains the life out of teachers. Teachers do not need to think critically, plan thoughtfully, and design assessments to evaluate their the students’ growth and achievement. Teaching the Common Core also does not give teachers those rewarding moments in which the they see their students in love with learning and motivated to stretch themselves as far as they can because the learning environment is so inviting.
  9. Bill and Melinda Gates equate assessments of learning with standardized tests. The two are not the same. Not even close. Every educator knows the difference between real achievement and standardized test scores.  Bill and Melinda Gates must know that too because they send their children to a private school which neither teaches the Common Core nor assesses students with standardized tests.
  10. Bill and Melinda Gates said the best part of their work in education was seeing great teachers at work, but they didn’t ask one teacher to be part of creating standards for  K-12 education.  How great do they really think teachers are? I would bet, in their work of fighting ebola and finding cures for AIDS, they asked medical people to play key roles. Teachers, K-12 curriculum directors, college professors, and researchers who are knowledgeable about how children and adolescents learn could have created excellent  standards for education, but Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t ask them.

Bottom line: Money talks. Even when it doesn’t know what it’s talking about.