K-12: What Happened to Bill Gates and Common Core?
Bill Gates is among the richest, most successful people on the planet. He enjoyed a lot of victories until he ventured into a dangerous part of town called Education. He squandered a few billion dollars by becoming entangled with a shady character named Common Core.
Since 2010, Gates endured a long, slow defeat, as more people turned against Common Core, and he himself realized that it was not what he had dreamed of.
So how did Bill Gates lose his golden touch?
Gates, computer man and businessman, trusted data neatly arrayed on monitors. Digital tools could give predictability, consistency, and control. Add standards that everyone agreed on. Not only would children learn more efficiently, and be tested and tracked more accurately, but his companies could market educational services by the cubic mile because every school would welcome the same products. Gates could make a new and separate fortune.
So this digital leviathan abruptly became the law of the land. Local control of schools, long an American tradition, was euthanized without mercy. But victory was temporary. Common Core seemed to have one objectionable feature after another.
Surely, we can stipulate that Gates is too smart to be a useful idiot, too patriotic to be a secret leftist trying to destroy the country. So why did he align himself with what many consider blatant malpractice? Was he blinded by predictions of a giant payoff? Or was it a case of trusting the wrong people?
Perhaps Gates, a college dropout, assumed that the professors at the top of the Education Establishment (many of them at his alma mater, Harvard) were smart guys who knew their business. However, these were the same people who had been mismanaging American K-12 for a long time — so much so that McKinsey and Company, the super-consultant, summed up the situation in 2007: "The longer American students remain in public schools, the dumber they get." This is not a track record that a shrewd person would invest in.
There were warning signs from the start. Never mind all the blather about a state-led initiative. Common Core is best understood as a coup d'état, or more exactly a coup d'ecole. This vast, top-to-bottom takeover of American public education was achieved by the old-fashioned tactic of throwing grants (some would say "bribes") at the politicians in charge, state by state, even as Obama lent some dignity to the shenanigans. Obama had just swept into office and was in his honeymoon phase. Common Core was effectively ObamaEd, and nobody wanted to say no to the first black president.
But Bill Gates should have felt some uneasiness. Common Core was untested, unproven, and micromanaged by David Coleman, a man with limited credentials but reliably far to the left. Nobody in the business world launches a big new product without years of research and refinement. Instead, Common Core was wrapped in $1 billion's worth of propaganda and dumped on the country as a fait accompli.
The late, great Siegfried Engelmann, a real educator, was asked what he thought of this approach: "A perfect example of technical nonsense. A sensible organization would rely heavily on data about procedures used to achieve outstanding results; and they would certainly field test the results to assure that the standards resulted in fair, achievable goals. How many of these things did they do? None."
Did Gates realize that Common Core, supposedly a new and higher instruction, incorporates all the dubious ideas from decades prior? New Math and Reform Math were the basis for Common Core Math. Similarly, Whole Language and Balanced Literacy were rolled into Common Core's English Language Arts (jargon for reading). Constructivism, which prevented teachers from teaching, has been undermining American schools for decades. Nothing new and higher about these clunkers.
An earlier generation of Gates's business partners had created so much illiteracy that Rudolf Flesch had to write a book to answer every American's favorite question: "why can't Johnny read?"
Did Bill Gates reflect empathically on the proposals in his billion-dollar baby? Everyone should try to imagine he's eight years old and has to struggle with Common Core every day. The verbiage is convoluted and pompous; at every step, there are absurdly unnecessary steps. Only one way to tie your shoes? Don't be silly. Every student needs to learn at least four or five! Finally, the kids are encumbered by a backpack full of bricks and not much else. One has to suspect that this mumbo-jumbo was never intended to improve education, but to stupefy a generation.
There are hundreds of videos made to show how wonderful Common Core is. Instead, they show the opposite. Here's a single abominable video that can stand for all the others. The title is "Strategies for Addition and Subtraction." Notice the new layer added there. Instead of learning to add, children learn strategies for adding — five of them, no less. Everything will now remain in first gear as children struggle with Regroup or Borrow, Decompose, Cross Number Puzzle, Use or Draw Base Ten Blocks, and Solve Using Money. Think how many hours you can waste debating which strategy to use in each situation.
We have to wonder if Bill Gates performed due diligence, that being the care that a reasonable person exercises to avoid harm to other persons or property. In other words, before putting your business funds to work on anything, you should make yourself an expert. That's what we need in this country: everybody becomes an expert. For sure, nobody should trust the official experts. If Bill Gates had observed that simple rule, he would still have a billion or two he doesn't have now. And the country would have tens of millions of better educated students it doesn't have now.
It's annoying to study Common Core because, it seems to me, it's on the same intellectual level as the food fight in Animal House. Did Gates fly to Hong Kong to buy a new operating system from the local bazaar? Or did he fly to Russia to buy something sinister from the Pavlov Neuro-Disruption Institute? Point is, the resulting curriculum is way overpriced and relentlessly dysfunctional — a pig in a poke that you never stop paying for.
The teacher in the video actually admits that you may find this or that strategy "confusing at first." But that's all right, because Common Core recommends frustration and difficulty. The premise is that students respond to doing things the hard way — exactly the opposite of what's true.
For years, people have tried to sue school systems when their children don't learn to read. It would be helpful if such lawsuits went forward. Next, parents could sue the system for introducing Common Core, which is arguably a fraud designed to lower academic standards. If parents can't succeed with those lawsuits, they can start demanding an IEP (Individual Education Plan) for their children, an IEP that emphatically excludes Common Core.
Trump said he would cancel this preposterous thing, and he should.
Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is Saving K-12: What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them? He deconstructs educational theories and methods at Improve-Education.org.