Bill Gates Is Too Trusting
A few years ago, Bill Gates, with his business success, super-brain, and billion-dollar checkbook, jumped into education. We expected spectacular results. In fact, Gates had the same effect on our public education system that everyone else has had: not much.
Gates announced that small schools were the key. He spent millions persuading school districts to divide their big schools. Didn't help. Next he seemed all over the board: new assessments, better teachers, more tracking of data, Common Core Curriculum.
Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm pretty sure that Bill Gates did not have any spectacular success in education. I puzzled over this for a year. How could it be?
Finally, I realized that there is only one possible answer. Gates made exactly the same mistake everyone else makes: he foolishly supposed that the Education Establishment was his partner, his friend, his ally, in a sincere campaign to improve public schools.
With all due respect, Bill Gates, how could you be so naive?
These people have spent the last hundred years trying to transform public schools their way. Joan Dunn, in her wonderful book Retreat From Learning, perfectly described, all the way back in 1954, what the progressive educators were about: "They want very much to get everybody into school, and when they succeed in doing just that, they are at a loss to know what to do with the students. The evidence of their own senses tells them that it does not work. So they call for bigger schools, better teachers, more desks, and more vitamins in the lunches. They blame everything but their formula." Alas, these clueless commissars show no signs of correcting course now.
I'm worried that Bill was fooled by the advanced degrees, the self-importance, the tweed jackets, the endlessly mutating jargon, the academic grandeur we might see at Columbia's Teachers College.
In short, Bill Gates trusted these people. He actually thought, when he had a meeting with them, that they were interested in the same goals he was pursuing. Working together, they would surely score a grand success.
Well, the Education Establishment has seen busybody do-gooders come and go for a century. These elite educators are the permanent ruling class of education and probably don't give a damn what Bill Gates has to say on any subject. They want to humor him, co-opt him, take his grant money, and go right on teaching as little as possible in the public schools. This odd approach, once called progressive education, is now more often called "social justice."
All anyone has to do is look closely at the reading pedagogy (Whole Word), and you know it can't work. Look at the math pedagogy (Reform Math), and you know it doesn't work. Look at all the other gimmicks -- constructivism, prior knowledge, multiculturalism, and the rest -- and you know they won't work.
Correction: possibly Bill Gates himself did not know. Perhaps he has consultants advising him, people from the Education Establishment, and they didn't know or won't tell him that sight-words are killing America, that Reform Math is scatterbrained, and so on through the whole dreary catalog of counterproductive theories and methods. If those alleged experts concealed the truth, they should be sued for fraud. (Here's a safe maxim: trust only those who have been principals of distinguished private schools.)
Now for the good news. It would be easy for Bill Gates to save America.
I would like to describe how to do it. Gates creates and publishes sensible materials to replace the official nonsense now used in public school classrooms. A few million dollars here, a few more over there, and he could transform the place.
He joins forces with Singapore Math, Saxon Math, and such and creates something called American Math (or Gates Math), and gives it cheaply to the country. He goes into partnership with the people who created the five best phonics programs, and together they create Gates Reading. With regard to knowledge in general -- the names of the states, where Japan is on a map -- there is so much exciting possibility now with digital. Schools can teach everything over and over, in delightful, fun ways, so that finally, when children reach the end of high school, they will actually be educated and ready to go to college. Simply team up with the most innovative people and show Khan Academy how it's done.
Point is, Bill Gates, you can't expect the Education Establishment to budge an inch. They are an ideological cult and won't willingly change. They will not help you if they can avoid it. So forget about them. Offer superior textbooks and curricula to the parents of America. They will be so grateful. America will prefer your curricula, because nobody could prefer the stuff used now. You thought otherwise only because you were too trusting.
You would soon take over the whole education market. If you're too successful, you can give the money back to your partners or to scholarship funds. Perhaps better, put the money into creating super-schools from the ground up.
Well, the details don't matter. What matters is saving the country. This, we can have no doubt, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can do in a walk. Dump the dumb stuff. Instead, use phonics, real math, direct instruction, fact-filled courses, and knowledge-based goals. Costs will drop. Results will soar. Oh, happy days.
Bruce Deitrick Price deconstructs theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org.