More Gates Money Is Coming Down the Pike

Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Bill Gates during his speech at the Council of the Great City Schools in Cleveland, OH yesterday said that he plans to spend another $1.7 Billion on more education initiatives in public schools.

As we have reflected on our work and spoken with educators over the last few years, we have identified a few key insights that will shape our work and investments going forward.

Teachers need better curricula and professional development aligned with the Common Core. And we see that they benefit the most from professional development when they are working with colleagues to tackle the real problems confronting their students.

Schools that track indicators of student progress — like test scores, attendance, suspensions, and grades and credit accumulation – improved high school graduation and college success rates.

And last, schools are the unit of change in the effort to increase student achievement and they face common challenges – like inadequate curricular systems and insufficient support for students as they move between middle school, high school and college. And they need better strategies to develop students’ social and emotional skills. But solutions to these problems will only endure if they are aligned with the unique needs of each student and the district’s broader strategy for change.

So, what does this mean for our work with you and others?

First, although we will no longer invest directly in new initiatives based on teacher evaluations and ratings, we will continue to gather data on the impact of these systems and encourage the use of these systems to improve instruction at the local level.

Second, we will focus on locally-driven solutions identified by networks of schools, and support their efforts to use data-driven continuous learning and evidence-based interventions to improve student achievement.

Third, we are increasing our commitment to develop curricula and professional development aligned to state standards.

Fourth, we will continue to support the development of high-quality charter schools.

There is some great learning coming from charters, but because there is other philanthropic money going to them, we will focus more of our work with charters on developing new tools and strategies for students with special needs.

Finally, we will expand investments in innovative research to accelerate progress for underserved students.

Overall, we expect to invest close to $1.7 billion in U.S. public education over the next five years.

We anticipate that about 60 percent of this will eventually support the development of new curricula and networks of schools that work together to identify local problems and solutions . . . and use data to drive continuous improvement.

So, they’re doubling down on Common Core to develop curriculum because the lack of aligned curriculum and professional development was the problem with Common Core. *Cough*

Then of course… data collection, data collection, data collection. Look at how he describes the school networks he plans to fund.

Over the next several years, we will support about 30 of these networks, and will start initially with high needs schools and districts in 6 to 8 states. Each network will be backed by a team of education experts skilled in continuous improvement, coaching, and data collection and analysis.

As if schools are not doing enough data collection on students.

So Gates will inflict “We the People” with another round of education spending that will inevitably drive education policy in areas that receive the funds. As we’ve seen with Common Core, his teacher evaluation efforts, and other Gates pet projects, this will be a waste of money as well.

Jeb Bush Back to Pushing Failed Education Agenda

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Rested from his presidential bid, Jeb Bush is back in the saddle and ready to ride. But he’s apparently headed back into the canyon where his troops were destroyed the first time around. He doesn’t seem to have learned much from painful experience.

What led to his previous ambush was his support for the noxious Common Core national standards. He pushed Common Core as founder of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), a think tank generously funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which underwrote much of the marketing of Common Core. Having left ExcelinEd to run for President, he’s now back as chairman – peddling the same ideas, although with more discreet terminology.

Bush explains his preferred policies in a recent essay in National Review Online. After reciting the usual statistics about American students’ mediocre performance on certain international tests, he expresses concern about whether they will “have the skills to compete in the 21st-century job market.” Everyone is in favor of job skills, but Bush’s statements illustrate his continued adherence to the education-as-workforce-development model embodied in Common Core. If there is another point to education (such as teaching students to value truth, goodness, and beauty, and to cultivate academic knowledge rather than empty “skills” – with the side effect that they will become good employees), we don’t hear it from Mr. Bush.

What about Common Core? Bush has learned enough to avoid that toxic phrase, but he continues to push the concept through code language. He insists on “standards aligned with college expectations,” i.e., the “college- and career-ready” Common Core. Apparently he missed the recent ACT report showing that college professors say Common Core doesn’t prepare students for college, and reports of declining college-readiness scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Common Core promoters seem to suffer from unfortunate timing, publishing their paeans to the standards immediately after the latest wave of bad news.

The rest of Bush’s description of the ideal model of 21st-century education confirms he’s still besotted with Common Core. Bear in mind that Common Core is merely Outcome-Based Education (OBE) 2.0, which means the focus of the standards is teaching less academic content knowledge and more “mastery” of “skills.” OBE has been renamed “competency-based education” (CBE), and Bush’s foundation is a huge proponent. A key part of Common Core/CBE is use of invasive personalized technology to continually “assess student mastery of coursework throughout the year,” which is exactly what Bush argues for in his essay.

This brings us to another aspect of his education prescription that should trouble parents. Bush’s ExcelinEd is a true believer in the transformative effect of so-called digital learning. This concept extends far beyond the example he gives (accessing an online AP course that’s unavailable at a particular school) and enters the realm of recording extraordinarily sensitive psychological data about a student’s attitudes, dispositions, and mindsets. Given that federal student-privacy law has been gutted, and that the corporations benefitting from this data employ platoons of lobbyists to make sure states don’t restrict their access to it, parents are rightly alarmed by this casual approach to measuring and exploiting the workings of their children’s brains. If Bush understands this concern, he doesn’t mention it (perhaps because ExcelinEd’s donors include the aforementioned technology corporations).

Bush also pushes for a wide array of school choice, with “portability” of tax dollars so that the money follows the child. One could argue for or against this idea, but Bush doesn’t acknowledge the most dangerous drawback that must be addressed before any such plan is launched: that when tax money follows a child, it’s inevitable that government regulations will follow as well.

The imposition of government regulation on private schools or even homeschools that receive taxpayer funding would be accomplished in the name of “accountability.” How can we give the taxpayers’ money to private schools, the argument goes, without requiring those schools to do things our way and report the data we want reported? Anything else would be irresponsible.

We see how this has worked in states such as Indiana, whose voucher program requires private schools that accept voucher students to administer the state Common Core-aligned assessment – and therefore to teach Common Core. In this regard some choice programs are less dangerous than others, but to advocate all of them with no mention of the creeping-regulation problem is . . . irresponsible.

So Bush is back in his natural environment of education foundations pushing the agendas of wealthy donors. Based on his first missive since his return, parents will likely ignore him now as they did during his campaign.

Gates Foundation CEO: We Underestimated Resources Needed for Common Core

Sue Desmond-Hellmann speaks with young students at White Center Heights Elementary School in Seattle, WA on January 5, 2015.

Sue Desmond-Hellmann speaks with young students at White Center Heights Elementary School in Seattle, WA.
Photo source: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the CEO of the Gates Foundation, in letter published on the Foundation’s website noted that the Foundation underestimated the amount of resources that would be needed to implement Common Core.

Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.

This has been a challenging lesson for us to absorb, but we take it to heart. The mission of improving education in America is both vast and complicated, and the Gates Foundation doesn’t have all the answers.

But every tough lesson only reinforces our commitment to teachers and student success.

All teachers and students should have access to learning materials of the highest quality. But far too many districts report that identifying or developing Common Core-aligned materials is a challenge, meaning that teachers spend their time adapting or creating curriculum, developing lessons, and searching for supplemental materials.

One of the best parts of my job is getting to hear from educators. And no one knows teaching like teachers. So, we’re doubling down on our efforts to make sure teachers have what they need to make the most of their unique capabilities.

Digital content and tools that provide support for lesson planning – including LearnZillion, Better Lesson, and EngageNY – are providing millions of teachers with an increasingly attractive alternative to traditional textbooks.

We’re supporting a partnership with EdReports.org, the Consumer Reports of K-12 curriculum, to provide free and open-access teacher-led reviews and evidence on instructional materials. This will increase the capacity of educators across the country to seek, develop, and demand high-quality, aligned instructional materials.

I agree that they missed an early opportunity with teachers and parents. That opportunity existed BEFORE the standards were rammed down our throats. They still are not admitting failure with the Common Core rollout and point to Kentucky as an indicator of success.

Yes, Kentucky with it’s widening achievement gap between black and white students. What this letter shows me is the continued tone deafness of a foundation started by a man who thinks he can, with his vast resources, shape American education into his image. Complicit governors and the Obama administration proved that he could. One thing I can agree with Desmond-Hellmann on – the Gates Foundation doesn’t have all the answers not even close.

Gates-Funded Group Targets Catholic Organization Over Common Core

Gates foundationThe Cardinal Newman Society reports that they are being targeted by a Gates-funded lobbying group over their “Catholic is our Core” initiative.

They write:

Sara Pruzin, a state operations associate for the Council for a Strong America (CSA) and former communications intern for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, unwittingly contacted a Cardinal Newman Society leader to rally Catholic support for the Common Core.  She sent an email on August 28 to Dr. Daniel Guernsey, director of the Newman Society’s K-12 Education Programs, at his office at Ave Maria University in Florida, asking him to consider writing op-eds and letters to the editor in support of the Common Core.

“We are concerned about the strident attacks coming from parts of the Catholic community, which we believe are inaccurate and meant more to divide than to inform,” Pruzin wrote.  “We feel that it is important to respond to the negative statements about the Common Core, rather than let them go unanswered.”

Pruzin later confirmed that her criticisms were aimed at The Cardinal Newman Society, and her email was part of a major effort to build support among Catholic educators.  She said the Gates Foundation grantee has reached out to about 50 Catholic educators and leaders, including superintendents in a dozen states and officials at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA)—which is also a recipient of Gates funding to promote the Common Core.

CSA received $1.7 million from the Gates Foundation in July 2013 “to educate and engage stakeholders about the Common Core and teacher development through a range of communications activities”.  These have included rallying retired military officers, police officers, business leaders and others to advocate Common Core in many states.

But the Council’s new initiative moves from the realm of public policy to the Catholic Church, which has sponsored or inspired education that significantly outperforms public schools.  Catholic schools have none of the pressures for reform and are ineligible for the federal funding that motivated many state superintendents to embrace the Common Core.

Read the rest.

Engaging in public policy debates is one thing, but to target a group because they started a “Catholic Is Our Core” Initiative for Catholic schools is absolutely over the top.  This isn’t the only time Gates has meddled with Catholic education.  Gates has provided funding for the National Catholic Education Association.  Catholic schools which have promoted classical education for years and years have a solid track record for producing high-performing students.  It just seems like Gates wants to wipe out competition that would make Common Core look even worse than it already does.

The Common Core Needs Unicorns and Rainbows

I had to shake my head reading a piece by Stephanie Simon at Politico entitled “Moms winning the Common Core war.”  The first statement that jumped out at me.

But in a series of strategy sessions in recent months, top promoters of the standards have concluded they’re losing the broader public debate — and need to devise better PR.

Hello Bill Gates, Fordham Institute, David Coleman, Jeb Bush, et al… your problem isn’t your PR.  Your problem is subpar standards.

How tone deaf can one be?

So how to tackle the problem?  More Gates money!!!!!

So, backed with fresh funding from philanthropic supporters, including a $10.3 million grant awarded in May from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, supporters are gearing up for a major reboot of the Common Core campaign.

“We’ve been fighting emotion with talking points, and it doesn’t work,” said Mike Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute, a leading supporter of the standards. “There’s got to be a way to get more emotional with our arguments if we want to win this thing. That means we have a lot more work to do.”

I’m trying to picture how being more emotional will work for them.  Maybe they can have rallies with businessmen from the Chamber of Commerce holding signs saying “Test Our Children,” “We Need More Rigor,” “I Need My Employees to be College and Career Ready,” or “High Stakes Testing is the Answer.”

I’m sure that’ll work.

Maybe Bill Gates can shed some tears during his next interview.

Perhaps they can resort to the argument “it’s for the children” and have video of kids in different states of intellectual atrophy pleading for “more rigorous standards.”

They better set up a 1-800 line for all of the calls that are sure to pour in.

But I digress, Simon shares the steps.

Step 1 – “Get Americans angry about the current state of public education.”

News flash we already are, and we don’t see Common Core as the answer.

Step 2 – “Get voters excited about the prospects of change.”

Share teacher testimonies… have students share about how the Common Core has changed their life.

Good luck finding those students.

Advocates answer to this “war” is not better standards, but better propaganda.

Then social media… advocates are jealous – “why can’t we have our own trending hashtag on Twitter?”

And in lockstep with Petrilli another advocate says they need a heart message.

“The Common Core message so far has been a head message. We’ve done a good job talking about facts and figures. But we need to move 18 inches south and start talking about a heart message,” said Wes Farno, executive director of the Higher State Standards Partnership, a coalition supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.

What facts and figures?  That is one of the primary problems with the Common Core is that it lacks data and evidence!

They just need better talking points!

Indeed, some of the talking points crafted to win over Republican lawmakers seemed likely to backfire with moms and dads, such as when Billy Canary, president of the Business Council of Alabama, referred to children as “the product created by our education system” and said businesses need schools to start turning out better product.

They need better websites!

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is working on an animated website that will pay homage to the playful spirit of children and link the Common Core to that kind of creativity. Vice President Cheryl Oldham boasts that there won’t be a single data point on the site; it’s designed to prompt a visceral, not an intellectual, response.

They need better star power!

The pro-Common Core side lacks the star power of the opposition, which has been boosted not just by Beck and Malkin but by comedians like Stephen Colbert and Louis C.K. Former NBA star Isiah Thomas wrote an op-ed supporting the standards, and foundations set up by the actress Eva Longoria and singer John Legend helped fund a pro-Common Core TV ad that ran on Fox News this spring, but none of the three has taken on a highly visible role.

I know what they really need are pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows.  Put that on a website and then promote it with the hashtag #UnicornsLoveCommonCore.  Perhaps have the Care Bears do a PSA that’ll turn this thing around.  I’m sure of it, I mean you have millions of Gates money poured into this.  How could it possibly fail?

Gates Funding Mainstream Education Reporting

NBC News' Education coverage is bought and paid for by Bill Gates. Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

NBC News’ Education coverage is bought and paid for by Bill Gates.
Photo credit: World Economic Forum (CC-By-SA 2.0)

A friend shared with me this NBC News article on my Facebook wall.  It discussed the #CanISee conference that was held in Austin, TX last month.  It was titled “Meet America’s Most Hardcore Common Core Moms.”

While I think most would consider that as a compliment, I’m not sure that the article’s author, Nona Willis Aronowitz, intended it that way.  After calling the conservative element of the Stop Common Core movement as a “small, but vocal faction on the right.”  She said the repeals in Republican states of Indiana (no mention of rebrand), Oklahoma and South Carolina being due to “pressure from small groups of local activists.”

Do you really think politicians will do anything they don’t want to do if they perceive the group pressuring them is small?

She cites a “recent” Gallup poll that is almost a year old.  More than 33% of the population know about the Common Core.  Why not mention the poll that was taken last month that shows support for the Common Core plummeting with parents of school-aged kids?  Parents are learning more about the Common Core, and the more they learn the less they like it.

She then wrote this:

Austin’s #CanISee conference —as in, “Can I see what my children are learning?”— is a who’s-who of the far-right movement that some peg as fringe, but nevertheless gets results….

For the mostly female, mostly older, all-white crowd, Common Core is more than an attack on states’ rights; it’s an affront to Christian, conservative values. These mothers and grandmothers see a campaign against Common Core as an extension of protecting the nuclear family.

Let’s keep in mind that the demographics of the conference is not an accurate sampling of the movement.  She then interviews a couple of University of Texas professors who are supposed to be the “voice of reason” in the piece I suppose.

It’s garbage.

Frankly here is all you need to know about Aronowitz’s piece at the end you see this:

Education coverage for NBCNews.com is supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. NBC News retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

Sure they do.  NBC News’ ratings must be so poor they need the cash infusion from Gates to stay afloat.  Can’t they see the conflict of interest this represents?  They just threw what journalistic integrity they did have (admittedly they didn’t have much there to begin with) and threw it out the window.

This begs the question – how long has this been going on?

McLaughlin’s Common Core Poll Was Propaganda, Not News

public-pollingBelow is a guest article written submitted by Judi Caler, a mom, grandma, and activist from Nevada City, CA.

McLaughlin’s Common Core Poll Was Propaganda, Not News:  Why didn’t the Media Say So?

By Judi Caler

During the first week in May, the media reported the results of a poll conducted by Republican pollster John McLaughlin. The poll identified Republican primary voters and “swing” or undecided voters. An initial basic question (#9) seeking voter views on Common Core generated a mixed reaction to the Common Core standards (35% approval; 33% disapproval; 32% don’t know). McLaughlin claimed support soared to a two-thirds majority for Common Core when it was explained in “simple, neutral” language; previously uninformed voters end up supporting the standards.

The Collaborative for Student Success was identified as the organization that commissioned and funded the poll. Since the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is listed as a partner in this organization and has invested hundreds of millions of tax-exempt dollars promoting Common Core across the U.S., one wonders why the media didn’t analyze the poll for objectivity, instead of reporting its results as news.

The question that generated the two-thirds figure was the following (#12): “Common Core is a set of standards in Math and English which state what a child should know in both subjects by the end of each grade of school they complete…Knowing this, do you approve or disapprove of the Common Core State Standards?” The question incorporated a generic definition of “learning standards;” the definition was not specific to Common Core. Yet, thinking they had new information, voters almost doubled their approval of Common Core. Careful reporters would have been able to tell us that this poll is more about how to use trick questions to sway poll findings than voters’ opinion of Common Core.

Twenty-one hypothetical questions incorporating mostly misleading information were asked in an attempt to raise the approval rating for Common Core. Over 70% of these questions were prefaced with: “If you knew the following statements about Common Core Standards were true, would (you be) more likely or less likely to support (the standards)?” Most of the statements were irrelevant, the opinion of sources paid to promote Common Core (for example, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute), and/or false (for example, that Common Core’s standards were rigorous and internationally benchmarked, or that the project was state-led). One wonders if the questions were designed to find out what false talking points would be the most useful to propagate in the future as well as to inflate the approval rating on the poll. http://mclaughlinonline.com/pols/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/NATL-CSS-TOPLINE-4-14-14.pdf

Later questions asked voters to choose whether they now approve or disapprove of Common Core (#34) and whether they are now more or less likely to vote for a candidate who supports Common Core (#35). “Now” apparently means after assimilating promotional, misleading, or false information!

McLaughlin had a very political message to offer Republican candidates, who have been the most vocal against Common Core. He suggested that they steer clear of anti-Common Core remarks in seeking election or risk losing Republican and swing voters.

However, McLaughlin could have offered a very different message based on his poll results. Figures were reversed on the three questions with true information about Common Core regarding data mining (#33), teaching to the test (# 25), and the special interests that bribed the states to accept Common Core (#28). These questions averaged 58% against and 29% pro Common Core. On misleading questions, the numbers were 58% pro and 27% against Common Core.

He could easily have concluded that when TRUE information is given to voters, they are more likely to be AGAINST Common Core. In fact, this is exactly what a similar and more recent University of Connecticut poll found using straightforward questions. The more people knew about the standards, the less likely they were to support Common Core.

Interestingly, in a real election held on April 22, 2014, one week after the poll was conducted and before McLaughin’s results were released, businessman Curt Clawson, a candidate in Florida’s 19th Congressional District Republican primary where Common Core was an issue scored a decisive victory in a field of four Republican candidates. He was the most vocal candidate against Common Core and is expected to win in the general election. His main rival was Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, the choice of GOP establishment/Common Core proponent Jeb Bush.

The media missed the elephant in the room: that the groundswell of spontaneous grassroots resistance all over the country is educating the public to the truth about Common Core. What the media is now missing is that this groundswell has motivated people and/or organizations with vested interests in Common Core to attempt to silence Republican candidates speaking out against Common Core by using survey research to manipulate, not inform.

Editorials on Common Core Worth Mentioning

newspaper-deal1Usually most newspaper editorials are barely worthy of lining bird cages, but I wanted to point out three editorials I recently read on the Common Core that can be elevated beyond that status.

The Ft. Wayne (IN) News-Sentinel  recently published (and I love the headline) “Federalism is still the best way to approach education.”

Yes, yes it is.  Here is an excerpt:

Participating in the 2013 Education Nation Summit in New York City this week, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear had to spend a lot of time defending what their states aren’t doing. Pence tried to explain why Indiana isn’t forging ahead with Common Core academic standards that have been adopted by 47 states. Beshear was questioned about Kentucky’s decision not to adopt charter school legislation when most of the other states have.

As it happens, we agree with Pence more than we do with Beshear. Common Core standards may not be the best, and they would erode state control, so a pause to examine them is certainly in order. But charter schools are an effective way to give students and parents more choice without going all the way to a voucher system that funnels public money into private schools.

But that’s beside the point, which is that despite the centralization of almost everything in the last few decades, states still have some ability to experiment with their education programs to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And that learning process can be sped along by watching what other states are doing – and not doing – in their own experiments.

The Racine (WI) Journal Times: “Legislators are right to keep an eye on Common Core.”  Not everything in this op/ed is favorable or an item I would wholeheartedly agree with (they think national standards could be a good thing – I disagree).  They show concern about the one-size-fits-all track the Common Core could take (we would argue – will take):

One of the major financial supporters of the initiative has been The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Bill Gates has been quoted saying, “Identifying common standards is just the starting point. We’ll only know if this effort has succeeded when the curriculum and tests are aligned to these standards.”

That is where it gets concerning.

To educate students, it’s important to try to individualize lessons. That could mean one year a teacher uses football or basketball statistics to help get students interested in multiplication and division. Similarly, in various parts of the country, different literature may have played a key role in the area and should be taught, whereas it’s not as important for another part of the country.

It’s absolutely imperative that teachers are given that flexibility to determine how best to teach their students. And if students surpass expectations one year, teachers should be able to teach lessons from the next grade level if the students are ready.

In general we don’t know if the new standards are good or bad. There is a lot of conflicting information being released right now on the new program.

The Nashua (NH) Telegraph wrote “Common Core Might Not Matter.”

The fact that nearly all states have adopted the Common Core standards ought to be a red flag, because you rarely see that kind of national consensus on anything that doesn’t involve giving away “free” money. That, we suspect, may account for why educators are pushing so hard for their boards to adopt Common Core; doing so can improve the chances of getting Department of Education grants under the “Race to the Top” program. Money colors judgment, and that’s a lousy reason to let the federal government into our classrooms more than they already are.

Critics of Common Core have been strident in their opposition, but there’s no question they are passionate and well-intentioned and stridency doesn’t necessarily equal wrong. In fact, the people who oversee our schools would do well to consider that at least some of the criticisms of Common Core may be valid.

The concept that local boards of education hold any real sway over what gets taught in schools went out the classroom window years ago. It is, in fact, a myth.

But that doesn’t mean local boards should hastily rubber-stamp the Common Core standards, either. If they’re going to approve them, they should take their time, examine them with a critical eye and adapt them as much as possible to create the best possible outcomes.

Have you read any good editorials lately?