Reading & Reacting: Bill Gates: ‘It would be great if our education stuff worked but…’

Photo: Bill Gates and his 360

Bill Gates and his 360 – cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Mohammad Jangda

By Valerie Strauss @ The Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet

This headline is undoubtedly arresting. The only thing that is interesting is how long it has taken for Bill Gates to come clean. In some respects, I am actually amazed he did at all. More amazing still, is how many politicians, administrators, and everyday people have bought his dubious edreform line to this point.

It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.

Yet, right out of the mouth of arguably the most influential corporate giant, philanthropist shaping education policy in the country comes that admission.

I am all for experimentation in education and am one of the first to decry a that’s-how-we-have-always-done-it mentality, but trying out unproven methods should be tested in smaller controlled settings. How anyone things that the entirety of public education should be turned into a free-market, test-driven accountability laboratory is quite beyond me. Yet this is the propaganda that has been slicked-up, re-packaged, and marketed like the best products to a public often too willing or too bombarded to avoid believing it.

Fortunately, there a foothold of reason gathering balance and stability, producing a counter message that appeals to people willing to take a moment and think about how humans learn and thrive.

Still, Gates and others have continued to use their fortunes to frame the debate and influence policy. Here Strauss offers some recent history.

Earlier, he had put some $2 billion into forming small schools out of large high schools, on the theory that small schools would better serve students. When the initiative didn’t work out as he hoped, he moved on by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on teacher evaluation systems that in part linked teacher assessments to student standardized test scores, an approach that many assessment experts have warned against.

Yet, as she further explains a whole lot of people, primarily teachers and students, are going to be left to deal with all of the collateral damage that is done along the way. Hopefully, the opposition to the current edreform forces can find an emotional narrative as compelling as the astounding amount of data and research that reckons just how poor and unproven most market-driven edreform hypotheses actually are.

Perhaps the only saving grace of late for K-12 educators is the fact that both Gates and the President seem to be shifting their focus to target higher education. Of course, that has a whole range of potential grim consequences. At least, there is no mythical narrative of how bad our nation’s university system is. It is widely hailed as the envy of the world. It also just happens to be the model for a few up and coming nations that have American business and political leaders a little nervous.

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