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Bill Gates: The Most Powerful Man in America?

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A fascinating piece in WaPo recounts “How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution.” Basically, in summer 2008, two education reform evangelists pitched an idea to the richest man on the planet.

After the meeting, weeks passed with no word. Then Wilhoit got a call: Gates was in.

What followed was one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.

Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision between states’ rights and national interests that had undercut every previous effort, dating from the Eisenhower administration.

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

One 2009 study, conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute with a $959,116 Gates grant, described the proposed standards as being “very, very strong” and “clearly superior” to many existing state standards.

Gates money went to state and local groups, as well, to help influence policymakers and civic leaders. And the idea found a major booster in President Obama, whose new administration was populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates. The administration designed a special contest using economic stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards.

The result was astounding: Within just two years of the 2008 Seattle meeting, 45 states and the District of Columbia had fully adopted the Common Core State Standards.

That’s simply astounding.  Put it this way: If the United States Congress had passed a law mandating the exact same standards the day Gates heard the pitch, it’s extremely unlikely that they would be in place today—six years later—much less a mere two years after the fact. The pushback would have been vociferous and we’d have been mired in dozens of court battles. This would have doubtless been a key issue in the last two election cycles. Instead, there’s this has happened almost without notice.

The math standards require students to learn multiple ways to solve problems and explain how they got their answers, while the English standards emphasize nonfiction and expect students to use evidence to back up oral and written arguments. The standards are not a curriculum but skills that students should acquire at each grade. How they are taught and materials used are decisions left to states and school districts.

he standards have become so pervasive that they also quickly spread through private Catholic schools. About 100 of 176 Catholic dioceses have adopted the standards because it is increasingly difficult to buy classroom materials and send teachers to professional development programs that are not influenced by the Common Core, Catholic educators said.

And yet, because of the way education policy is generally decided, the Common Core was instituted in many states without a single vote taken by an elected lawmaker. Kentucky even adopted the standards before the final draft had been made public.

States were responding to a “common belief system supported by widespread investments,” according to one former Gates employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the foundation.

The movement grew so quickly and with so little public notice that opposition was initially almost nonexistent.

Initially.

That started to change last summer, when local tea party groups began protesting what they viewed as the latest intrusion by an overreaching federal government — even though the impetus had come from the states. In some circles, Common Core became known derisively as “Obamacore.”

Since then, anti-Common Core sentiment has intensified, to the extent that it has become a litmus test in the Republican Party ahead of the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination process. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, whose nonprofit Foundation for Excellence in Education has received about $5.2 million from the Gates Foundation since 2010, is one of the Common Core’s most vocal supporters. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who, like Bush, is a potential Republican presidential candidate, led a repeal of the standards in his state. In the past week, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), a former advocate of the standards,signed a law pulling her state out, days after South Carolina’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, did the same.

Some liberals are angry, too, with a few teacher groups questioning Gates’s influence and motives. Critics say Microsoft stands to benefit from the Common Core’s embrace of technology and data — a charge Gates vehemently rejects.

A group calling itself the “Badass Teachers Association,” citing opposition to what it considers market-based education reform, plans a June 26 protest outside the Gates Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle.

I’ve always been an outlier on these issues. Even thirty years ago, when I was much more doctrinaire in my conservatism than today, I was largely anti-federalist.  For that matter, even though I remain reflexively anti-bureaucracy when it comes to education, national standards have always struck me as a no-brainer.

Perhaps because I moved around a lot as a kid growing up in a military family, it never made sense to me to have states and localities create education standards independently. Aside from the desirability of kids in Texas and Connecticut learning a little something about the history of their own states, there’s otherwise no obvious reason why they should approach the teaching of math, science, history, civics, English, or physical education differently.

Further, Gates is right:

“The country as a whole has a huge problem that low-income kids get less good education than suburban kids get,” Gates said. “And that is a huge challenge. . . . Education can get better. Some people may not believe that. Education can change. We can do better.”

“There’s a lot of work that’s gone into making these [standards] good,” Gates continued. “I wish there was a lot of competition, in terms of [other] people who put tens of millions of dollars into how reading and writing could be improved, how math could be improved.”

Referring to opinion polls, he noted that most teachers like the Common Core standards and that those who are most familiar with them are the most positive.

Gates grew irritated in the interview when the political backlash against the standards was mentioned.

“These are not political things,” he said. “These are where people are trying to apply expertise to say, ‘Is this a way of making education better?’ ”

“At the end of the day, I don’t think wanting education to be better is a right-wing or left-wing thing,” Gates said. “We fund people to look into things. We don’t fund people to say, ‘Okay, we’ll pay you this if you say you like the Common Core.’ ”

The extent to which everything is viewed through a partisan political lens is just baffling. I don’t have a strong position on the merits of Common Core per se but absolutely support the idea of a common core.

I’m actually mildly sympathetic to this:

Jay P. Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, says the Gates Foundation’s overall dominance in education policy has subtly muffled dissent.

“Really rich guys can come up with ideas that they think are great, but there is a danger that everyone will tell them they’re great, even if they’re not,” Greene said.

But I’m not sure what the alternative is in the present environment. A naive fool would say that our elected representatives, not guys so rich they don’t care what anyone thinks, should be leading this effort. Alas, that happens only in the movies.

As for Gates:

Gates is disdainful of the rhetoric from opponents. He sees himself as a technocrat trying to foster solutions to a profound social problem — gaping inequalities in U.S. public education — by investing in promising new ideas.

Education lacks research and development, compared with other areas such as medicine and computer science. As a result, there is a paucity of information about methods of instruction that work.

“The guys who search for oil, they spend a lot of money researching new tools,” Gates said. “Medicine — they spend a lot of money finding new tools. Software is a very R and D-oriented industry. The funding, in general, of what works in education . . . is tiny. It’s the lowest in this field than any field of human endeavor. Yet you could argue it should be the highest.”

Of course, what Gates giveth, Gates can taketh away:

Gates is devoting some of his fortune to correct that. Since 1999, the Gates Foundation has spent approximately $3.4 billion on an array of measures to try to improve K-12 public education, with mixed results.

It spent about $650 million on a program to replace large urban high schools with smaller schools, on the theory that students at risk of dropping out would be more likely to stay in schools where they forged closer bonds with teachers and other students. That led to a modest increase in graduation rates, an outcome that underwhelmed Gates and prompted the foundation to pull the plug.

And, naturally, while I have little doubt that Gates is truly acting as a philanthropist here, it doesn’t mean Gates doesn’t stand to see some return on his investment:

Gates has said that one of the benefits of common standards would be to open the classroom to digital learning, making it easier for software developers — including Microsoft — to develop new products for the country’s 15,000 school districts.

In February, Microsoft announced that it was joining Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher, to load Pearson’s Common Core classroom materials on Microsoft’s tablet, the Surface. That product allows Microsoft to compete for school district spending with Apple, whose iPad is the dominant tablet in classrooms.

Gates dismissed any suggestion that he is motivated by self-interest.

“I believe in the Common Core because of its substance and what it will do to improve education,” he said. “And that’s the only reason I believe in the Common Core.”

Bill and Melinda Gates, Obama and Arne Duncan are parents of school-age children, although none of those children attend schools that use the Common Core standards. The Gates and Obama children attend private schools, while Duncan’s children go to public school in Virginia, one of four states that never adopted the Common Core.

Still, Gates said he wants his children to know a “superset” of the Common Core standards — everything in the standards and beyond.

“This is about giving money away,” he said of his support for the standards. “This is philanthropy. This is trying to make sure students have the kind of opportunity I had . . . and it’s almost outrageous to say otherwise, in my view.”

Again, one might wish the process were more directly democratic. Multi-billionaires who could buy every house in Boston without taking out a loan tend not to be overly concerned with public opinion. But, certainly, Gates seems remarkably more adept at managing the process than anyone in Washington.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    OK, that settles it. If the Tea party is against Common Core, I am for it. Truth is,

    I don’t have a strong position on the merits of Common Core per se but absolutely support the idea of a common core.

    Mirrors my own position. It is a no-brainer.

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  2. Tillman says:

    Put it this way: If the United States Congress had passed a law mandating the exact same standards the day Gates heard the pitch, it’s extremely unlikely that they would be in place today—six years later—much less a mere two years after the fact. The pushback would have been vociferous and we’d have been mired in dozens of court battles. This would have doubtless been a key issue in the last two election cycles.

    Well that’s just depressing.

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  3. Another Mike says:

    Bill Gates would be more successful today had he been educated with Common Core. Microsoft would be a more successful company had its employees been educated using Common Core. The space program would have come a decade earlier, and the computer and electronics age would have occurred sooner and be even more advanced had people had the advantage of Common Core. Common Core will be the salvation of this country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  4. LaMont says:

    Although I have always had the impression that Bill Gates is more of a progressive (which I am), I cringe at the idea (or reality) that the rich and powerful in general can shape policy for everyone. And while I agree that having common standards across the country is important, it troubles me that this specific standard has not been (or appear to have been) comprehensively tested before all of our political leaders on both sides began to hold hands and sing We Are Family before the money dump truck altar that is the Gates foundation. I agree with Bill’s own sentiment that education lacks resource and development. So where is the evidence that this common core system is successful? Teacher’s favorable opinion does not apply here. It takes the FDA several years to approve a new drug because the trial and error phase is important before it becomes widely accepted. Yet it only took about two years for common core to get from concept to becoming heavily utilized because of one person’s money. This is scary! Its proof in the putting that money, no matter how well intentioned, poisons policy.

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  5. Another Mike says:

    @LaMont: This is a very well written and thoughtful response. Think how even better it might have been had you had the benefit of Common Core education. Of course, I am being sarcastic, but it is not directed at you. The point is valid. All of us, myself included, would have been so much better educated had we had Common Core. I think most will agree, we need real evidence that Common Core will be a marked improvement before destroying the present system. And it may do more than destroy education, it may psychologically destroy the children.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  6. Matt Bernius says:

    Couple points on common core. Anyone who has taught college (let alone attended it) for the last decade or two is aware of how unprepared most students are for the transition from route textbook learning to advanced learning. The gaps between the general public school education and academically focused private schools is incredibly pronounced.

    The common core — which was initially championed by Republicans and Conservatives — is a great solution to the current problems.

    To @LaMont’s question, the pedagogical methods that make this up have been tested for years. None of this is new.

    The biggest question — and where I think teachers do have a point — is not so much in the curricular requirements (which give a LOT of autonomy to the local districts) as it is the current testing plans.

    The fact is that it’s unrealistic to expect significant improvement in testing results for older students. Or while teachers are learning to implement these new pedagogical methods. Especially given how everyone needs to also understand the actual tests better (including the firms creating the tests).

    Other than with new children, I would argue that testing a should not count against teachers for the first five years of the program. That would give both teachers and students enough time to adjust to the new system. After that, I entirely support holding teachers accountable. Though mechanisms need to be in place to address districts with historically low scoring (as chances are the learning issues are to varying degrees outside the control of the teachers).

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  7. Matt Bernius says:

    @Another Mike:
    One need only look to the successes at most private and charter schools (many of which take in lower income students) which have been teaching in a common core style for years to appreciate the marked difference in approaches. Or the numerous countries outside of the US who use this type of critical thinking and source text approach to teaching,

    Seriously, suggesting that common core pedagogical principles are untested is to ignore scads of evidence on the topic.

    The two biggest issues with the roll out of are testing and implementation in lower income districts where there isn’t strong community support for education. And without a doubt, both can be handled much better than they currently are.

    But the idea that students will somehow be psychologically scarred by being moved away from route textbooks or being forced to learn multiple modes of reading is laughable.

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  8. Matt Bernius says:

    On the entire tablets and that this is all about self-interest on some level, I think Gates own view of himself answers that question:

    He sees himself as a technocrat trying to foster solutions to a profound social problem — gaping inequalities in U.S. public education — by investing in promising new ideas.

    He’s a technocrat, who made his career in software. That’s the way he thinks. And that’s the way he solves problems.

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  9. Moosebreath says:

    @LaMont:

    “Although I have always had the impression that Bill Gates is more of a progressive (which I am), I cringe at the idea (or reality) that the rich and powerful in general can shape policy for everyone”

    Me too. This seems to be the mirror image of the way the Koch brothers have pushed the Keystone XL pipeline into the public spotlight. I don’t like it in either direction.

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  10. Another Mike says:

    @Moosebreath: The Washington Post reporters did not fact check the information proved to them by an advocacy group. Koch Industries states: “Koch Industries has no financial stake in the Keystone pipeline and we are not party to its design or construction. We are not a proposed shipper or customer of oil delivered by this pipeline. We have taken no position on the legislative proposal at issue before Congress and we are not cited in any way in that legislation.”

    It is ridiculous to interject the Koch Brothers into this discussion on Common Core. The information is not only out of place, but it is in error.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    @Another Mike: Nobody is arguing that we’re having trouble educating our most brilliant minds or the sons of the upper middle class. The problem instead is manifold. First and foremost, students at different schools, even in neighboring communities, get vastly different educational opportunities because of resources. Second, those of who are mobile can fall through the cracks, since something may be taught in 7th grade in one district and 8th grade in another and vice-versa. Third, because there are no uniform standards, freshman year of college winds up being remediary at all but the best schools because they have no expectation that students graduating from all schools have a common knowledge base.

    @LaMont: As noted in the post, I don’t disagree. While I view Gates as benign–even good–he’s incredibly powerful. Partly, it’s because he’s built up a strong network of good will over the decades and is just smart as hell. Mostly, though, it’s because he’s got the resources to get things done.

    @Matt Bernius: Concur fully. Gates is decidedly not motivated by money at this point.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. LaMont says:

    @Another Mike:

    I get what you are saying. My first impression on common core is that it is an attempt at reinventing the wheel. We already know what works. The problem is this country’s values shifted over time and resources began to be taken out of education. All a child needs is two things to get a strong and competitive education. Adequate educational funding (so that the children are not learning out of outdated books, competitive teacher salary to get the best teachers and so forth) and strong family support which facilitate in the child’s overall educational experience (which waned especially in urban areas where drugs and the war on drugs devastated the community). Educational funding these days are so sparse that even suburban schools are now feeling the pinch.
    But I digress.
    My daughter who is in the 1st grade goes to a school that has recently incorporated the common core standards. She started at that school from kindergarten and the school would teach the next grade’s material toward the end of the school year. My wife and I love the school as it already challenges my daughter to learn at a pace that exceeds anything I have ever experienced or become aware of. However, for whatever reason, the school decided to switch to these new standards before my daughter’s 1st grade year. As a parent that has to help her with her homework almost every night, my first impression of this new standard (verses what she learned toward the end of kindergarten) is that it is an attempt to push critical thinking skills more than anything else. Now I have no problem with this, and fact I encourage it. However, some of her homework assignments are ridiculous. The average six year old is not yet wired to think the way these standards want them to think. For example, some of my daughter’s simple math homework had to be taught in a way that basically required her to have some basic algebra skills. I thought to myself – it would be easier to just teach her how to solve these problems using the rules of algebra. My daughter had no idea what the work was asking of her mainly because she had not enough fundamental experience with numbers to think so critically. My daughter has two very involved parents. I am an electrical engineer (absolutely love math) and my wife is a stay at home mom. So she is very lucky to have the family support that should help her to navigate around some of her challenges. Now tell me how common core will benefit a child living in a single parent household and that parent has to work two jobs to make ends meet? I don’t know what affect this will ultimately have on my child in the longer run but I do know that my child’s success hinges on my and my wife’s ability to remain extremely involved more so now than ever. How this is intended to work for the masses is beyond me. It is way too early, but this does have a real chance at some unintended consequences – both good and bad.

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  13. LaMont says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Anyone who has taught college (let alone attended it) for the last decade or two is aware of how unprepared most students are for the transition from route textbook learning to advanced learning

    I graduated from a Detroit Public School. The first thing I learned in college was that I did not know a thing. However, I do not think it was because the Detroit public school system did not utilize the common core methods. There were classes that my high school just did not offer. Classes that I was expected to have already had some experience with before attending college. Needless to say I struggled my first couple years but had I gone to a high school with the proper resources I would have done fine throughout my college years. I can see how a solid common core backround could have been very useful when I attended graduate school though.

    I am unaware of what the common core standards are or even what success looks like using this system. And that is very well a part of the problem. Educating people on these matters is just as important.

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  14. Matt Bernius says:

    @LaMont:

    I am unaware of what the common core standards are or even what success looks like using this system.

    And this gets to the fundamental problem here. People are judging the system without any knowledge of it — or even a background in pedagogy. Or they are making blanket statements like “this hasn’t been tested”, when in fact it has, in multiple locations.

    Most of your questions and Mike have been answered countless times. But finding those answers requires work.

    And I do agree that the Obama administration has not done a good enough job of selling the program. Unfortunately, that’s part of a large pattern (see health care, and even the recent prisoner release). It’s been the biggest disappointment for many of us about this administration — they communicated so well during the elections and so poorly during their actual time in office.

    The first thing I learned in college was that I did not know a thing.

    The problem is not that students *know* or *don’t* know anything — its that they enter college fundamentally not knowing how to learn/read/write in advanced method. Most have had limited exposure in working with source documents. Most believe in single interpretations and a linear line of history. Most don’t know how to show their work or build a cohesive argument.

    Some of that has to be cultivated on the college level. But the majority of it can be introduced during k-12. That’s what common core is about.

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  15. LaMont says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Your point is understood. This is what I was getting at when I initially wrote in parenthesis “have not been (or appears to…) comprehensively tested”. In general, people don’t know what they don’t know. I understand that the answers may already be out there. But it means nothing if our political leaders don’t help in the informational/educational process while rolling it out. If money were not the initial influence, maybe they would care enough to educate. Getting back to my original argument, Bill Gates influenced major educational policy in just a couple years by reinforcing the fact that money talks. The outcome of this particular policy could be great but I dread the thought of the new precedent it may have set.

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  16. bill says:

    maybe if the koch brothers come out as being “for” it then there will be more backlash?!

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  17. Matt Bernius says:

    @LaMont:
    Part of the issue facing an administration is the allegation that when they engage in education projects about administration initiatives, they are simply releasing propaganda.

    See for example:
    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/obama_revamps_white_house_communications/

    There was a past OTB article about White House released media packages designed to air as “local news” that’s worth revisiting on this subject.

    Part of the challenge is that its apparently easier for a candidate to get their message out than it is for a sitting president.

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  18. Pinky says:

    The problem with Common Core is that it’s top-down. That’s a good thing, in one sense: it may restore people’s faith in the high school diploma, without which it’s too risky to hire a kid without a degree. But being top-down, it hasn’t had the kinks worked out of it. I’m hopeful that its framework will allow for refinements.

    As to the question in the headline, Gates probably is.

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  19. michael reynolds says:

    I have two kids in school, one public, one private, one an autodidact genius with pitiful work habits, the other dyslexic and dysgraphic and very social. I don’t see Common Core helping either of them in the least.

    I don’t have strong levels of certainty on this, but my instinct is that “common” is the wrong way to go. The beauty of technology is not that it makes it easier for everyone to be on the same page, but that it makes it possible to tailor the educational experience to each individual kid.

    The one kid needs Lindamood-Bell (which did amazing things with her) and the other just needs to be left alone with an internet connection. This feels like much ado about nothing.

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  20. michael reynolds says:

    @bill:

    The Koch brothers are never “for” anything but their own narrow self-interest. They’re conservatives, after all. Me me me, mine mine mine.

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  21. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: We’ve had lots of discussions about the problems with primary and secondary education—outdated curricula, too much focus on sitting there being quiet, the insane homework arms race, etc. And I agree that, ideally, we’d use technology to enable teachers to facilitate learning based on individual student personalities and proclivities.

    Where I want commonality is in learning objectives and timing. That is, 6th grade math should be 6th grade math in Albuquerque, San Bernardino, and Queens and 8th grade history should be the same in Birmingham, Minneapolis, and Portland. A high school diploma should signal colleges that its possessor is ready to begin at a certain point of instruction, having already successfully mattered a wide variety of agreed upon skills.

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  22. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    The problem with that for me is that my daughter will eternally be two years “behind” and my son, if he were freed from the homework, would be three years ahead.

    We assume that age is the essential marker. It’s not. Ability, talent, will, interests all trump age.

    It’s not a race. What’s the hurry? And it’s not synchronized swimming, so why does everyone have to be doing the same thing at precisely the same time?

    This is all about the convenience of parents, not about the benefit to the child. We need to warehouse kids so their folks can go to work. We have randomly decided that they should be warehoused until age 18, so no longer, no shorter. It makes no sense at all for the kids. It’s the kind of nonsense that caused me to drop out after tenth grade – a decision I have never regretted.

    I started writing at age 35, had a huge hit at 40. My stablemate Veronica Roth had a huge hit at 22. Good for her, good for me, and what purpose would possibly be served by yelling at her to slow down and me to hurry up?

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  23. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: That all makes sense to me. My interest in commonality likely stems from having moved around so often and finding it boring to have to sit through a year on something that I already had two years ago at a different school in another state or overseas Army base. My other major bias is that I taught undergraduates for a number of years and found most of them so woefully prepared.

    I’m not overly worried about how we’re training geniuses, in that I figure they’ll ultimately rise to their level unless we just really eff them up. But it’s really amateur hour in primary and secondary schools, owing largely to the fact that every local yokel school board is making it up as they go along.

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  24. Matt Bernius says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I have two kids in school, one public, one private, one an autodidact genius with pitiful work habits, the other dyslexic and dysgraphic and very social. I don’t see Common Core helping either of them in the least.

    The thing is that any curriculum is only as good as the teacher. That said, I’m of the opinion that the Common Core has the potential to better engage with at least your son.

    For your son, the focus on interpretation and avoidance of route learning could interest him more than the current read and regurgitate materials.

    For your daughter, that’s a difficult combination for any child. If I remember, she’s the one who is interested in cooking. Honestly, with her challenges and skill set, a great vocation education/making education might make more sense.

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  25. Matt Bernius says:

    @James Joyner:
    +1 to everything you wrote.

    While I loved teaching freshmen, it also meant accepting that you needed to spend most of the semester teaching basic reading, writing, and thinking skills before you could hope to go into the source material in any depth.

    Which isn’t to say the kids were dumb or couldn’t keep up once properly oriented. It’s just that most couldn’t come close to hitting the ground running.

    It’s one of the entire reason there is an entire cottage industry based around books for freshmen on “transitioning to college learning/writing.”

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  26. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    I was an army brat, too, with the additional wrinkle of three years in French schools. My 4th grade transition was from Rochefort, France to Niceville, Florida. Beat that. You should have just done what I did: pay attention to none of it. Daydream and draw pictures of tanks, and in later years stare at girls until they grew uncomfortable.

    @Matt Bernius:

    Just what my son needs: more critical thinking. I’d strangle him.

    I have searched the country for a genuine high school vocational culinary curriculum. Doesn’t seem to exist. Vo-tech as we used to call it is a barely-disguised dumping ground for kids about to drop out. But we’ve just started working our way through the video courses of the CIA. (The culinary one.) So there’s that.

    I know that in publishing we’re all sort of warily circling Common Core not sure how to respond to it. On the plus side I sold a series for more than I deserved, in part on the theory that we might be able to squeeze it into a CC connection.

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  27. Grewgills says:

    @LaMont:

    The average six year old is not yet wired to think the way these standards want them to think. For example, some of my daughter’s simple math homework had to be taught in a way that basically required her to have some basic algebra skills.

    This is the basic problem I have with common core, the standards for early grades are unrealistic and don’t do a good job of taking into account the level of physical and intellectual development of children that young. It makes little sense to expect children entering first grade to be able to read and write.
    As to the basic algebra, it does make some sense to introduce some concepts early and that can make teaching some basic math easier, but it depends on the ones doing the teaching. All too often people going in to early childhood education are math phobic and don’t do a great job of teaching what numbers are and how they interact.

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  28. MarkedMan says:

    James, I think you are not being fair here in your “both sides politicize” everything. There are people from both political parties that oppose Common Core. But in terms of large organized opposition based on politics rather than academics – that’s the Tea Party and its ilk. And, as per usual, they are completely ignorant about what it is but are already enraged and engaged and telling us all what a bunch of idiots we are because we don’t think like they do.

    Gates was successful (this time) because he came from outside the political spectrum and was viewed as a mega successful businessman by the Republicans. But being realistic, the Republican party long ago gave up on actual governance. They are against things, but not for things. And they are only willing to invest political capital on things that benefit m/billionaires and that have no real impact (school prayer, abortion, etc). So the fact that they allowed Common Core to come to be was a fluke. If they had realized it was not just some rich man’s whim (i.e. that it really could have had an impact) and that Obama was for it, they would have killed it in its cradle.

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  29. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The problem with that for me is that my daughter will eternally be two years “behind” and my son, if he were freed from the homework, would be three years ahead.

    The easiest answer to that seems to be to let her be a year or two behind and let him be 2-3 years ahead. He can graduate early or at least start college coursework when he’s 15-16 like my wife did and when she finishes she will have the tools she needs to go to continue her education in whatever way is best for her.

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  30. Another Mike says:

    @James Joyner: In theory one could think that commonality would be a good thing, but they better get the standards right. It isn’t just one school system or one state messed up, but almost the entire country, if they get common core wrong.
    Another thing I have read and heard is that common core is hard on the smart and gifted kids, because it wants to hold the kids together at the same level. This may stem from an ideological belief to assure equality in educational outcome.

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  31. MarkedMan says:

    One of the Gate’s points that no one has commented on is his comment that basic research is sorely lacking in education. My direct experience is more than 20 years out of date, but years ago I worked on an “e-learning” system. The professor who developed the system concept wrote a paper. I read it and was simply appalled. Her controls were worse than non-existent, they were hopelessly contaminated. Her evidence was based on a half year with a single class of twenty first graders, divided non-randomly into two groups. I thought, ‘my god, if this paper were published it would destroy our product. No one would buy a system based on such poor evidence.’ I reassured myself that no reputable journal would publish it. Wow, was I wrong. Not only was it published, but she was asked to present it in a keynote section where she got no tough questions and a big round of applause. And most of the other ‘research’ fell into a similar range.

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  32. An Interested Party says:

    Seriously, suggesting that common core pedagogical principles are untested is to ignore scads of evidence on the topic.

    Remember, that suggestion comes from the same person who thinks that there have been no serious studies of homosexuality, genetics, and environment…it’s no surprise the thinking is faulty about multiple subjects…

    But, certainly, Gates seems remarkably more adept at managing the process than anyone in Washington.

    Does this surprise anyone? Have one person who is a gifted innovator and has hundreds of millions to spend on whatever he wants and he will almost always do better than anything done in a place with multiple dysfunctional branches of government, intense partisanship, and hundreds of people fighting to stir the same pot…

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  33. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: true, cancer research and black education is all they’re about. freakin narcissists.

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  34. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @LaMont: It’s not supposed to work for the masses. It’s supposed to reinforce the existing social mobility paradigms. Educational reform is never about the bottom half not getting a good education, it’s about the inferior education that the bottom is forcing on the upper half by holding them back. Not everybody can afford to send their kids to Lakeside–the private school Gates graduated from in Seattle–you know. And even if they could, Lakeside doesn’t have enough space to teach them all anyway.

    We have to do something for the haves. It just isn’t fair otherwise.

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  35. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I have searched the country for a genuine high school vocational culinary curriculum. Doesn’t seem to exist. Vo-tech as we used to call it is a barely-disguised dumping ground for kids about to drop out.

    THIS!! Also, for what it is worth, I will agree, as both a teacher and a thinking human being interested in the education of others, that there needs to be “a” common core and sequence of curriculum. As to whether that common core and sequence need to be “The Common Core,” I am more ambivalent. Frankly, my biggest issues with the system are in the math program. For example, I am skeptical about the virtues of enforcing redundancy (in the form of solving problems multiple ways) and the need to be able to narrate the process. I think that these skills will be useful to some students, but I question whether everybody need to know how. But as I said above, I also not convinced that this is about making school “better for everybody.”

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