Education Opinion

Bill Gates: Impervious to Being Wrong

By Justin Baeder — March 08, 2011 2 min read
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Guest post from Steve Peha


There’s an amazing piece of writing by Richard Rothstein that came out yesterday. It is a simple repudiation of comments made by Bill Gates in a recent WaPo op-ed.

But this is not the usual “I’m right and you’re wrong” thing. Gates made huge factual errors in his statements, errors so obvious they could have been checked by an intern.

Gates undoubtedly knows he made the errors. Most people who know even a little about education stats and economics know he made the errors.

But to him this is irrelevant.

His style is to put forth “a winning idea” (one he knows will appeal to his audience) and then push it through via force of personality and “rank”. This has been his style since he was a teenager. And it certainly was how he ran Microsoft.

Did it matter than Zune lost millions? Not at all. MS would simply stop making music players or make another one. Xbox lost hundreds of millions, and could afford to do so, until finally it turned profitable many years into production. For a long time, Microsoft only had three profitable products: Windows, Office, and Flight Simulator.

But none of the other hundreds of product failures (remember Microsoft Bob?) did anything to hurt Microsoft at all.

The same thing applies here with Gates’ involvement in education. Nothing he says, right or wrong, will diminish his influence. And he knows this as well as anyone. So he can say whatever he wants.

The challenge for education reform is whether anyone will say what’s actually true. Richard Rothstein can usually be counted on in this regard. But he’s not rich or famous. He works for a liberal think tank.

Most of what has happened recently in education reform is based on Gates-style supposition. Arne Duncan does a lot of this, too—they have similar personalities.

The challenge for those of us who work in schools is to counter with better ideas of our own. That’s where we’ve made our mistakes. We can’t count on researchers and think tank authorities to have any effect at all on people like Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, or Arne Duncan. We need some people of our own, people with the same tenacity, wealth, and power. Gates, Broad, Dell, and Walton shouldn’t be the only multi-millionaire voices in the argument. And multi-million-dollar TFA shouldn’t be the only non-profit voice.

Somehow, we have to find wealthy and powerful people who see education from where you sit or from where I consult. But for some reason, this hasn’t happened.


Justin’s note: Rothstein’s rebuttal “Fact-Challenged Policy” is indeed worth reading, as usual.

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