3 min read

Over four years ago I cautioned critics of the Common Core to take a deep breath, not because their criticisms weren’t valid, but because the Common Core, like almost all educational reforms, was doomed to failure.

It had all the earmarks of an educational “fad” that sweeps over our learning horizons, a storm that excites reformers and shipwrecks students. Educational reform in this country evinces no signs of “progress,” if by that we mean constant improvement. It’s much more cyclical: the articulation of a dream, the sad realization of its failure, and the rearticulation in a new dream.

The dreamer, however, is never chastened.

And so Bill Gates has let it be known that his great philanthropic enterprise to remake American education—to leverage his enormous resources to bend government to his will—has not gone exactly the way he wanted, but the failure can best be attributed to not trying hard enough.

Gates and his foundation is now doubling-down on its Common Core project by making it about more than just “benchmarks” and making it about “content” – the very thing critics feared all along.

The original Common Core plan emerged from legitimate concerns, as do most reforms: worry that students aren’t learning what they ought. But under the fig-leaf of “measurable outcomes” and “benchmarking” was erected a whole system of learning that emphasized “economic competition,” STEM success, “skills to succeed in the workplace,” and facility in “technology.”

These were exactly the sorts of “performance metrics” one would expect from someone who runs the largest tech company in the world.

Despite the fact that Gates in his latest speech acknowledges failure to achieve most of these objectives, and disingenuously fails to acknowledge that everything he has tried heretofore were unproven innovations,[1] he adapts the largely risible language of “best practices” to suggest implementation of a new set of programs that will be “transformative” and secure “the economic future and competitiveness of the United States.”

On the plus side, Gates realizes that the large-scale transformation he envisions will require greater attentiveness to “locally-driven solutions identified by networks of schools.”

The statement evinces some realization that what might work well in some places might not work well in others. But the new-found sensitivity to locale is more than offset by the insistence on “data-driven continuous learning” (and who will store, manage, and mine this data, one wonders, if not large-scale tech companies, such as the one owned by Bill Gates?), “evidence-based interventions,” and the insistence on using “data to drive continuous improvement.” This data will provide us with shocking revelations, such as the data in Chicago that revealed students who attend class, complete courses, accumulate credits, and receive higher grades are more likely to graduate.

If this is not a tautology, it’s damned close.

Gates’ new investments will focus primarily on developing curricula, the nub of the debate four years ago when the defenders of the Common Core studiously insisted that it was about benchmarking and not content. It was a spurious argument then, because one cannot talk seriously about measures without talking about what is being measured. Even though the original Common Core had no pilot programs, as Gates disingenuously denies, Gates now touts their ability to go “from pilot to wide-scale usage.”

Local autonomy will be a stopgap at best.

Gates is tellingly coy about the new curricula. He singles out Louisiana for having created a “marketplace of preferred professional development service providers,” but anyone who has been involved with such “providers” is well aware of the money grab they are engaged in, as well as providing products that are designed to bypass teacher expertise and skill rather than enhance it.

I experienced this first-hand when dealing with the Department of Education’s “Teaching American History” program.

While teachers and students receive short shrift in Gates’ educational vision, parents receive none at all. Judging by his latest speech, parents have no role to play in the education of children, and no say over what students are to be taught. This is consistent with Gates view that the purpose of education is economic competitiveness and technological savvy. In one telling passage Gates mentions there are “promising developments in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and behavioral economics” but neglects the overwhelming evidence that technology of the sort he provides is rewiring our brains, and not to the better.

No wonder parents are absent in his world. They might insist on things such as reading for pleasure, the formation of character, the defense of civilization, immersion in classics, piety within a tradition, and learning for the joy of it – the very things that have no cash value in Gates’ educational universe.

Parents who care about those things have opted out of the school system being leveraged and controlled by persons like Gates. They have decided there is a rich heritage they should pass on to their children, that a life well-lived is more important than economic productivity, and that enriching character matters more than economic wealth. Pity that children in our public schools won’t get the same care; rather, they will be exploited in an “evolving” system that serves entrenched interests but not the students.

[1] Although he does offer some specious data suggesting “progress.”

Photo credit: OnInnovation via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

13 thoughts on “Gates admits Common Core failure, then doubles down on it”

  1. Will Buckley says:

    Mike Avila
    “Nobody ever tried to “force” Common Core standards on anyone. That’s another myth perpetrated by extreme right-wing propagandists. After all, we must punish all good deeds, right?”

    You are so sadly mistaken, it is not a myth, and it is in no way a good deed. As a father and an elementary teacher, let me tell you it is real, it is about money, and it is awful.

  2. DestroyedEd says:

    If we want equality we need to get pupils who have IQ 85 to perform identically to those with an IQ of 115. This attitude goes back to the pre-Soviet communist ideas of John Dewey and the Columbia Teachers College he created.

  3. Michael says:

    U.S. education is LOCALLY controlled. HOWEVER, locals have always turned to publishers for content and to this day fail to engage in influencing publishers about content desired.
    Compare with customers influencing products at Amazon.

  4. Melissa Murray says:

    This is wrong. Parents need to have a say so their children’s education. When did we elect Bill Gates to decide anything? As it is, parents are tired of the indoctrination children are receiveing.

  5. Rhonda says:

    I am an elementary teacher that teaches a “mash-up” of Common Core and old school when it comes to math, especially. I would love to go work with Bill Gates to help with the Locale aspect on his program. Being in the trenches now as I currently teach 3rd graders and I know that the western side of the US is different than the east or even the North vs the South. Literature, both informational and literary, are taught completely different in the south than in the North, East or West. I would love to help Mr Gates as we need federal funding to get what every school needs to teach these new programs. We all need good solid programs that will engage our students. And due to the fact of TV, video games and movies, we have to be vigilant about new curriculum. We need a program that works across the district/county/state. Something that will help students grow, become interested in and become engaged in learning the new concepts.

  6. Kathleen burnett says:

    Mike avila you are sadly ignorant of the facts. Common core WAS shoved down evetuines throats and it’s a ridiculous idea! Not a good deed merely an attempt at more power

  7. Anita M Claiborne says:

    @Mike Avila you are quite mistaken. First it is not the education systems job to teach children how to behave. That job belongs to parents. These teachers are dealing with a tremendous lack of parenting. I feel sorry for them. Most can barely do their job because they have been turned into babysitters of unruly children. Secondly, Common Core was adopted in every school district. The disturbing issue and one that should be watched very closely and fought to rhe death is the plan to remove parents roles in the education of our children. @Mike’s Daddy I feel the way kids are taught now is so much harder. I sit with my kids doing homework and am completely lost most of the time. I do find it very helpful though to teach them the old ways when they seem to not get it. Sometimes they understand the old ways better than the new. As long as they get the correct answer. I have had to explain to several teachers though because they don’t understand when they review the “show your work” aspect, that my kids weren’t getting it so I showed them another way to get where they need to be. I have found most teachers are fine with it.

  8. tina says:

    Instead of spending million on teaching subjects. We need to find a way to teach respect. Myself like when I was in school. Swat and usually it only took one time. With out respect from all of the children in schools. One will cause kaos trouble distractions that will impact everyone in class. Imagine half a class that doesn’t have respect or even no what it is.
    Spend the money on teaching that to our kids.

  9. Mike's Daddy says:

    Mike Avila, what? Seriously, what? My kids do not have a choice in what they are taught in school. Common Core is forced onto them and they are not learning math how I or my wife were taught. As for your “Right-Wing” comment, Gates and most of the education system are quite left leaning. If you have some facts to back up your statement, by all means, post away. Otherwise, just wait until you have kids and try to help them with math the way it was taught as opposed to the common core system.

  10. Mike Avila says:

    Nobody ever tried to “force” Common Core standards on anyone. That’s another myth perpetrated by extreme right-wing propagandists. After all, we must punish all good deeds, right?

  11. Bright eyes.. clever mind says:

    Bill gates is an idiot..
    Spend his money on reinventing the wheel!!

  12. RONALD PEASE says:


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