The Very Persistent Delusions of Billionaire-Edureformers

Billionaire-Edureformer extraordinaire Bill Gates “sat in a gray easy chair” at Clemson University’s Tillman Hall (yes, that Tillman Hall) to pontificate once more on education reform.

Gates soothed the crowd by explaining “that if they get frustrated at the lack of change in American education policy, they should ‘go into a charter school’ to see quality change,” reported Nathaniel Cary.

And, on que, “Gates defended the Common Core,” and of course, “innovation,” before tossing out his old standby: “Improving the quality of teachers across the country is the only way to close the gap for all students, an initiative his foundation supports [read: ‘purchases’], he said.”

Delusion 1: Gates has financed and perpetuated the same accountability policies started in the early 1980s. If there is a “lack of change” in education (and there is), it is very much at Gates’s feet (or enormous wallet).

Delusion 2: School choice, including charter schools and public school choice, has resulted in outcomes that are indistinguishable from traditional public schools, as I detailed in 2010, and as the Center for Public Education concludes in this October 2015 analysis:

In general, we find that school choices work for some students sometimes, are worse for some students sometimes, and are usually no better or worse than traditional public schools. We hope that this report will inform the ongoing conversation about the efficacy of school choice in the nation’s efforts to assure every child is prepared for college, careers and citizenship.

Delusion 3: After thirty-plus years of education accountability driven by ever-new standards and ever-new high-stakes testing, what does the research reveal?:

There is, for example, no evidence that states within the U.S. score higher or lower on the NAEP based on the rigor of their state standards. Similarly, international test data show no pronounced test score advantage on the basis of the presence or absence of national standards. Further, the wave of high-stakes testing associated with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has resulted in the “dumbing down” and narrowing of the curriculum….

As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself.

Delusion 4: What do we know about teacher quality and its impact on student achievement—or, is teacher quality the “only way” to close the gap? Teacher quality, in fact, is less significant than “unexplained”:

But in the big picture, roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error). In other words, though precise estimates vary, the preponderance of evidence shows that achievement differences between students are overwhelmingly attributable to factors outside of schools and classrooms (see Hanushek et al. 1998;Rockoff 2003; Goldhaber et al. 1999; Rowan et al. 2002; Nye et al. 2004).

With apologies to George Saunders, Gates lounging comfortably in a state university building named for a murderous racist while spouting what at best are misrepresentations and at worst out-and-out lies about education reform is just another example of the very persistent delusions of billionaire-edureformers.

3 comments

  1. Lloyd Lofthouse

    There is historical evidence that explains why Bill Gates continues to use his money and the power and influence it buys to destroy community based, transparent, non-profit, democratic controlled public education and turn it over to mostly fraudulent, inferior, opaque, autocratic, for profit corporate Charter schools, school vouchers and e-education.

    #1 – “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” Lord Acton

    #2 – “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam” by Barbara W Tuchman

    Drawing on a comprehensive array of examples, from Montezuma’s senseless surrender of his empire in 1520 to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Barbara W. Tuchman defines folly as the pursuit by government of policies contrary to their own interests, despite the availability of feasible alternatives. In brilliant detail, Tuchman illuminates four decisive turning points in history that illustrate the very heights of folly: the Trojan War, the breakup of the Holy See provoked by the Renaissance popes, the loss of the American colonies by Britain’s George III, and the United States’ own persistent mistakes in Vietnam. Throughout The March of Folly, Tuchman’s incomparable talent for animating the people, places, and events of history is on spectacular display.

    One day in the future an author will write a non-fiction, scholarly work that documents in detail the folly of Bill Gates and his cabal of oligarchs who follow his lead, Eli Broad, the Walton family, the Koch brothers and those Hedge Fund billionaires who support Eva so they can destroy the labor unions and loot public sector pension funds in addition to profiting off corporate charters.

    It will probably be self-published by an American or traditionally published by a European or by an author in China in about 30 to 50 years.

  2. Jon Lubar

    Then there’s this explanation, jocular to be sure, but uncomfortably close to the truth except that it does not include the part played by corrupt politicians unless you substitute them for the directors.

    “In the beginning was the plan.

    And then came the assumptions.

    And the assumptions were without form.

    And the plan was without substance.

    And darkness was upon the face of the workers.

    And they spoke among themselves saying,

    “It is a crock of shit and it stinketh.”

    And the workers went unto their supervisors and said,

    “It is a pale of dung and none may abide the odor thereof.”

    And the supervisor went unto their managers and said,

    “It is a container of excrement and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it.”

    And the managers went unto their directors, saying,

    “It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.”

    And the directors spoke among themselves, saying to one another,

    “It contains that which aids plant growth and it is very strong.”

    And the directors went unto the vice presidents, saying unto them,

    “It promotes growth and is very powerful.”

    And the vice presidents went unto the president, saying unto him,

    “The new plan will promote the growth and vigor of the company, with powerful effects.”

    And the president looked upon the plan and saw that it was good.

    And the plan became policy.

    This is how shit happens.”

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