A billionaire by the name of Tom Perkins recently made headlines with his suggestion that since people like him pay more taxes, they ought to have more political power. His idea to make things more fair? “You don’t get to vote unless you pay $1 in taxes... If you pay $1 million in taxes, you get a million votes.”
Of course other billionaires figured out long ago that there are other ways to gain political control over democratic processes. You do not need direct control over votes if you can access other levers of power. Our education system is in the process of being transformed, and the biggest billionaire in the nation has led the charge for the past decade. But Bill Gates’ project has run into a few bumps in the road recently, so once again he and his wife Melinda have been on the hustings, doing their best to convince us that all is well.
Bill Gates’ latest effort is a column in USA Today commending the Common Core. In the name of debunking myths, Gates promotes falsehoods, such as the assertion that teachers, parents and students participated in the creation of the standards. Creation refers to the origin, the genesis of something. In that regard, we can enter the wayback machine to discover that no, teachers were not involved in the drafting of the standards.
But he really goes into the realm of myth-making when he states this:
These are standards, just like the ones schools have always had; they are not a curriculum. They are a blueprint of what students need to know, but they have nothing to say about how teachers teach that information. It's still up to local educators to select the curriculum. In fact, the standards will give teachers more choices. When every state had its own standards, innovators making new educational software or cutting-edge lesson plans had to make many versions to reach all students. Now, consistent standards will allow more competition and innovation to help teachers do their best work.
An earlier statement by Gates was far more frank regarding his hopes for the Common Core. In 2009, he said “Identifying Common Standards is just the starting point. We’ll only know if this effort has succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards. "
Other efforts in research and advocacy by Mr. Gates and his foundation - and their close allies at the US Department of Education - have aligned teacher evaluations with test scores as well. Thus the idea that these standards “have nothing to say about how teachers teach” is the biggest myth of all. The standards spell out what is to be taught, the curriculum tells you how to teach it, and the tests determine how well you did the job. The educational process has been “aligned” from start to finish, and if you are not with the program, you will soon be out of a job.
Readers of this blog are familiar with the ways in which the Gates Foundation has made use of its billions to press its test and market-driven agenda forward in education.
As recently as last week, Gates-funded “research” was being spun on the witness stand in the Vergara case to argue against teacher seniority protections. In the absence of such protection, senior teachers, who also are more costly, are highly vulnerable.
Gates has also pushed the expansion of charter schools, ignoring the data that shows they have not, as a sector, shown significant advantages over public schools. And Gates has been a major proponent of mayoral control of schools, arguing that when just one person is in charge, change can be made more efficiently.
But once again, the data has not been kind to this experiment, as careful research has revealed that the cities where these reforms were implemented fared worse than those not under the reform regime.
This week, journalist David Sirota uncovered the fact that billionaire John Arnold had donated $3.5 million to PBS as a sponsor of a series promoting “pension reform.” Just as much of what is sold as “education reform” has proved to be a means of undermining and destroying public education, so “pension reform” is emerging as a means of de-funding employee pensions, in spite of the lack of a compelling economic argument to do so.
As a result of this exposure, PBS affiliate WNET has returned the billionaire’s money. But the show, influenced by these millions, will still air. I guess it is a win-win for the billionaire. The show was produced in line with his beliefs, and he gets to keep his money.
Bill Gates has exercised similar influence over myriad organizations in the field of education over the past ten years. The Gates agenda is clear, so if you are looking to fund a non-profit or “research” organization, you know what you need to say and do in order to qualify for funding. Support the inclusion of test scores in teacher evaluations, support the Common Core, and support charter schools. The millions continue to flow to organizations willing to further this agenda. One Gates-funded teacher leadership group even requires its members to sign a pledge in support of these policies.
The thing that has been tricky about this assault on public education and teacher autonomy is that it has not been open or transparent. Nobody from the Gates Foundation would ever say “we want to destroy due process for teachers” or “we hope to undermine teacher autonomy.” The language is all aimed in the other direction. The rhetoric all about how wonderful and essential teachers are, and how they ought to be treated as professionals. Only when you see that they think paying and evaluating teachers based on test scores is the way to accomplish this, does the cognitive dissonance arise.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has announced that Bill Gates will be a keynote speaker at their 2014 Teaching and Learning conference next month. If this speech follows recent patterns, he will praise teachers to the heavens, while downplaying the ways in which reforms he has advanced have undermined our profession.
I went through the process to become National Board certified back in the year 2000, so I am familiar with the standards that the organization is built upon. The National Board has never defined teacher quality on the basis of test scores. Teachers are expected to show how they contributed to student growth, by sharing portfolios and videos where their impact is evident. Standards make it clear that teachers are responsible for skillfully creating classroom community, for treating all students in an equitable manner, for responding to cultural differences, and for collaborating with others to help students learn. Most of these things are not captured by test scores, and are undermined when test scores become central to our work.
The National Board has received several grants from the Gates Foundation n recent years. In 2010, the organization actively participated in the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching project, receiving $1,195,639 to score videos of teaching.
More recently, The National Board received a Gates Foundation grant in the amount of $3,743,337 “to support revision of the National Board certification process.”
Given the way in which Gates Foundation grants have influenced organizations that have received them, I wonder if the revised National Board certification process will include the use of student test scores or Value Added metrics as part of teacher portfolios?
The best teacher leadership, just like journalism or any other endeavor that requires integrity, ought to be independent of the undue influence of corporate sponsors, even those willing to whisper praise in our ears. I hope the National Board guards this independence fiercely.
Update, Feb. 17, 2014, 3 pm EST: Some teachers have begun posting open letters to Bill Gates and/or the National Board in response to this news. Here is one from an NBCT in the state of Oregon.
What do you think? Will the National Board be influenced by Gates Foundation funding?
[Note: Education Week receives funding from the Gates Foundation.]
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