In Pursuit of Truth: Bill Gates & Education Reform

Education reform leaders like Bill Gates have disrupted our public schools without considering how their plans disturb the education of children and upset the lives of families. Repeatedly, political and philanthropic leaders force change on our schools without any meaningful open exchange of ideas with parents and educators.

They are in control of education policy. Education policy controls how our public dollars are spent. How our money is spent does matter. Policy — coming down from above — matters. The education reform oligarchs driving their agenda into our laws are the ones ultimately governing our schools.

So it behooves us to look closer at Mr. Bill Gates’ perspective.

Bill Gates’ Views On Public Education Compared To My Perspective — As Just A Parent

Mr. Gates…

From what Mr. Gates said, he sees the philanthropic role as being “to shake things up” and fund pilot programs. He says he sees philanthropy as having a “super-narrow role” because the reality is that the public is footing most of the costs.

But what Gates sees as a primary role for philanthropists I saw, beginning in the mid to late 90’s, as a primary problem.

No one had clarified the concept of what exactly a “pilot program” meant.

In this case, the use of the word “pilot” means that children serve as a “trial unit for experimentation.” … The big question becomes: how many were set up for future failures because of pilots gone wrong? From Education’s Missing Ingredient: What Parents Can Tell Educators

The people piloting failed programs didn’t send in cleanup crews. There were no “Super Fund Site” signs going up at my neighborhood schools. But if a person thinks that little learning is actually going on in schools before they step in, they might consider any harm done as insignificant. That may be the case with Mr. Gates.

“K to 12 is partly about babysitting the kids so the parents can do other things.” Source: The Hill, 2010

Wow! Really!?! And I thought that educated mothers around the world wanted their children to get a good education. I believe that is the major reason parents send children to school.

Parents want their children to enter classrooms where the teachers are happy about doing their job and they are enabled to do it well. … Parents want to have a say in how and what their child is taught. From The Crucial Voice of the People: Education’s Missing Ingredient, 2nd edition

So how do we view the school improvement problem?

Bill Gates believes “The key problem is political will.”

What I believe can’t be so simply stated. I believe in “the political principle” as an ideal that politics has failed at miserably.

The political principle is the belief that when decisions are made affecting you or your possessions, you should have a role, a voice in the process of that decision-making. …

And time and again, politics has proven itself to be an irresponsible driver of educational progress.

That quote is based on statistical analysis of the rigor of standards and their lack of correlation to student achievement.

And while standards-driven, outcome-based education reform was not Bill Gates’ brainchild, he has become the political and financial driver of the movement. He believes “that stronger standards will help more students live up to their potential.”

For decades, the faith in setting standards as a reform is what politicians and much of the nation agreed to spend education reform dollars on — “ever – higher” standards and the tests to determine achievement outcomes. On this topic, I believe in the historical evidence uncovered through my own research and the facts provided by people a whole lot smarter than I.

But ignoring all that, federal and state policies cemented the idea that standards are the necessary first step in education reform without considering the historical and statistical evidence demonstrating that the standards/outcome-based theory is incorrect.

So when did Bill Gates jump into the education reform arena? Exactly? Well, that’s hard to pin down but what is important to know is that by 2006, Mr. Gates had become the most influential person in education reform policy in America.

What probably matters more is who influenced the influencer?

Here’s a brief look at a few major players…

  • 1986 National Governors Association (NGA) meeting, Chaired by then Governor Lamar Alexander, Marc Tucker (from Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy) made his case for “the necessary revolution in school policy” (p82)
  • 1989 Marc Tucker (National Center on Education and the Economy – NCEE) reached out to President H. W. Bush promoting the restructuring of schools, setting of national goals, and focusing on workforce training “To Secure Our Future: The Federal Role in Education.”
  • 1990 Tucker’s NCEE publication “America’s Choice” continued the push for benchmarked standards in order for the U.S.A. to remain competitive in the global economy. Marc Tucker clearly urged leaders to focus on output measures at the Task Force on Education Workshop chaired by then Governor Bill Clinton (Tucker minute 33:30).
  • 1992 Marc Tucker penned his infamous “Dear Hillary Letter” that became part of Congressional Record (p353) submitted by Representative Bob Schaffer in 1998. (Here is an easier to read copy.)

With political figures including Bill and Hillary Clinton on board with the Outcome-Based Education Reform Movement and then Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander cheering the first federal funding earmarked for World Class Standards/Academic Achievement Tests (p93), the federal role in education expanded.

  • 1996 The Education Summit brought together governors and business with education and community leaders. Their mission: To start a national effort to establish high academic standards, assessments, accountability and improve the use of school technology as a tool to reach high standards. As the story goes, this meeting gave birth to Achieve, Inc.
  • 1997 Lamar Alexander & Bill Gates address the NGA Lamar Alexander mused about how it could be that, after all the years of trying, with the governors “leading the charge” and pouring money into “their plan,” charters and standards had not improved education. Alexander’s answer: “We have been too timid.”
  • Bill Gates talked about “digital nervous systems” able to improve the quality and efficiency of public services and provide citizens with access to more knowledge in the “Information Age.”

Bill Gates Steps In — Officially

1999 Gates co-founds the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Among many other things, they provided funding for Achieve, Inc.

The Gates Foundation became a continuing financial supporter of Marc Tucker’s projects at NCEE.

2001President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law.

2005 Bill Gates co-chaired the National Education Summit on High Schools. Gates emphasizedthere is crisisour schools are obsolete—and a new design is required.

Influence & The Gates Foundation Agenda

One author put it this way…

The Gates agenda is an intellectual cousin of the Bush Administration’s 2002 No Child Left Behind law.

In 2006, with Bill Gates viewed as more influential in education policy that President Bush, the only two government institutions on equal footing with the Gates Foundation were the U.S. Department of Education and Congress…..NOW?

Some players have changed. Who governs is the question.

For Gates to amplify his philanthropic influence, all he needed to do was gain control of Congress and the U.S. Department of Education. … With Marc Tucker as one collaborator, education leaders were trained and placed in the U.S. and many State Departments of Education.

Influencing Congress? It only requires the multiplication of think tanks, organizations and their lobbying efforts.

Now, if you look back at the video clip at the top of this blog (minute 3:18), Mr. Gates chuckles about philanthropy being “so big we could take” over.

  • 2006 The Data Quality Campaign Launched at the Data Summit — supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The campaign promoted their “ten essential elements” of a longitudinal data system, which included the ability to match student records between the Pre-K and post-secondary systems.
  • 2009 Bill Gates explained at the National Conference of State Legislatures that a thorough data collection system is the best way to track student success. And people, like Parkway, Ohio school board member, Ryan Thompson believe…

“It would be very hard to identify a particular student.”

You be the judge. The following screen shots come directly from documents about data collection and sharing pilot programs put in place simultaneously with Common Core Standards. 

SOURCE Department of Labor: It clearly states (middle of 2nd paragraph), “Ultimately, databases developed through WDQI should be linked to education data at the individual level.”

The years between 2009 and 2014, the Common Core years, created murky waters in the swamp.

Exactly when and how the Workforce Data Quality Initiative (WDQI) arose is probably a story for another time. What is important to know is that real concerns exist for all citizens, particularly for parents wanting to protect their children’s data.

Is the Department of Education addressing parent concerns? How about Congress?

The bill before Congress known as the “Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking” (FEPA, H.R.4174) was pushed through the House without debate. The foundation it puts in place is a mega federal database without mention of education data — but that is the plan. Next up will be the College Transparency Act (CTA) which overturns the ban on a federal student record system.

This is the Gates agenda. But go back and read the Dear Hillary Letter. This is the Marc Tucker plan. Is this America’s choice?

“It is not unfair to say that the Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education.” Michael Petrilli

To date, leaders have brushed citizen concerns aside and done what they want. That leaves me wondering; is it too late to regain control of schools through civil disobedience? Will that work against an oligarchy?

One thing is certain; our representatives are driving policy while under the influence.

The Education Reform Oligarchy & Stiff Accountability

Who convinced a nation that we should put “stiff accountability” in place without first ensuring that all schools and children had the necessary resources to achieve the excellence in education we demand of them? It was “them,” the rulers; not we, the People.

The education reform oligarchy marketed “accountability,” tied their sales pitch to freedom of choice, used statistics to the point of outright trickery, and suppressed the truth.

They set a game plan and methodically stuck to it.

They shifted our focus from what was set by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — better educating teachers and counselors, providing sufficient instructional materials, ensuring students are supported, and engaging parents and the community —to— stiff accountability for student outcomes as judged by standardized test scores. And they took aim at teachers…from the start.

Hired to do public opinion polling by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy under the direction of Marc Tucker, Mr. Lou Harris explained his findings at the 1986 National Governor’s Association (NGA) meeting.

“…people are convinced the heart of the matter lies in what is done about teachers.…

Of course, this means, in turn, new ground rules for teachers…such as, paying teachers by a new bottom line, …and finally, finally, at last, paying teachers competitive salaries on a level, for example, with accountants.

But then with these upside inducements must also go stiff, stiff accountability, such as annual reporting of school-wide student performance,… and this is the key one — allowing parents the chance to choose which public school to send their kids to as a device to reward schools that are successful.

…this means a new compact in education, a trade-off, if you will, between higher
 salaries and more autonomy for teachers on the one hand, in exchange for higher standards and accountability for teachers measured, in what: in terms of student performance. This is basic.”

There’s your basis for No Child Left Behind — in 1986. Mind you, it’s a theory… the outcome-based theory! Did it work? Did we get the results we sought?

Their focus was not on the unequal inputs that are inherent in a public school system the size and magnitude of our U.S. system. Their focus was not on our high level of poverty and the pockets of community decay that has been allowed to grow and fester. Instead, this group of politicians and think-tankers focused on “stiff, stiff accountability” in exchange for more pay.

They did it! We got a federal accountability system based on student performance but without elevating the teaching profession as a whole. Duped? You bet we were. Where is the accountability for that? Who is answerable for ignoring the needs of teachers and the desire of parents?hal-johnson-quote-we-feel-a-little-bit-like-weve-been-duped

You teachers…listen up…. jump those hoops, not because you are a professional doing your job but for the monetary reward. Worship the almighty dollar just like the oligarchy. It’s how they see things in their world…. these people who own and rule the world. This all made sense to them, well, not all of them.

Not everyone attending the 1986 NGA meeting agreed with the theory of outcome-based accountability.

Mrs. Mary Futrell, then head of the National Education Association, spoke out in favor of a different approach…

“We believe the primary responsibility of an accountability system or an evaluation system, it should be for professional growth. To help the teachers do a better job. We have a real concern that as we look at school-based or school performance or student performance, that we will try to tie teachers’ pay to that, even though there is no research to support it.”

Research? The agenda of the oligarchy was never backed by good research and still isn’t…29 more years later! Research and the dissenting voices have been ignored repeatedly. In this game, both are left on the sidelines.

The outcome-based political agenda moved steadily forward while the focus on inputs and real improvements took a back seat.

By the 1989 NGA annual meeting, President George H. W. Bush (41st president, 1989-93) had entered the picture and had been invited to speak.

“To have reform, excellence in achievement must be recognized and rewarded.

To have reform, federal dollars should be targeted to those most in need.

To have reform, we need flexibility and choice, choice for parents, choice for schools in their selection of teachers and principals.

And finally, the essence of reform is accountability in education and reward for those schools that show progress.”

The essence of reform is accountability — not improving schools to the point where all our schools are of high quality?

At that same gathering, then Governor Bill Clinton expressed,

“I support, as I think you know, your education position. I’m for accountability, choice, alternative certification.”

And by 1991, we had Lamar Alexander, a very strong player on the reform team, positioned at the D.C. front-line as the secretary of education.

“Alexander has also put together a new education agenda that includes a controversial proposal for instituting national achievement tests and more emphasis on adult learning and training for the work force. ”

New agenda? More adult training, just like better pay for teachers?

“His Better Schools program for the state [TN] included a new merit pay system for teachers, tougher standards for students and more emphasis on science, computers and mathematics.”

Then in 1996, the first Education Summit gathered together the governors with business and education leaders.

“Their mission: To start a national effort to establish high academic standards, assessment and accountability and improve the use of school technology as a tool to reach high standards.”

The gift that keeps on giving or taking?

The gift that keeps on giving or taking?

Education and the economy were wed in an unholy matrimony that put the quality of education for public school children at risk while putting a bundle of public dollars in a relatively small group of private pockets. This marriage also produced Achieve as “an external, independent, non-governmental” organization for moving the main agenda forward.

“All students should graduate from high school ready for college, careers, and citizenship.”

As we now know, the focus on citizenship didn’t happen. (For the research, scroll down to “In life” section of this blog.) Just like with teacher pay and more focus on adult training, we were duped again. They dangled carrots and we bit.

Throughout all these years, it was reported that the public supported “accountability.” There’s nothing wrong with that. But, did the public realize that it was always an accountability package that put the American education system up for sale?

The oligarchy’s plan always feed the education-industrial complex. William (Bill) Bennett, who went from being President Reagan’s second secretary of education to being a co-founder of K-12, Inc. in 1999, typifies how being politically powerful leads to profits and doesn’t require producing the promised results.

“As K12 Inc. notes in its annual report, ‘most of (its) revenues depend on per pupil funding amounts and payment formulas” from government contracts for virtual public charter schools and “blended schools'(combining online with traditional instruction) among other products. In 2014, K12 Inc. took in $919.6 million from its business.”

And all of the political maneuvering and manipulation of the public over these past decades opened the door further for the oligarchy to use ESEA (No Child Left Behind) as a way to forever (or maybe not) change the focus of the law from supports for children of low-income families and improvement of educational quality for all children —to—“accountability, flexibility, and choice.”

Enter Mr. Obama: He never promised anything that strayed too far from the NCLB goals. And the politics of neoliberalism (scroll to definition in this blog) has doomed him to repeat and amplify the mistakes of the past. The toxicity of D.C. politics is killing public education.

From Democrats for Education Reform - They say they are an "organization that cultivates and supports leaders ...who champion America’s public schoolchildren." Others beg to differ.

From Democrats for Education Reform – They say they are an “organization that cultivates and supports leaders …who champion America’s public schoolchildren.” Others beg to differ.

Education reform is their game and their message has been successfully framed. Data and disaggregation of it isn’t the problem. Who controls the data is.

Parents, you aren’t really players; you are targets of their messaging. And you are pawns. You need to get off the sidelines and into the action — and play responsibly. To do so, you need the truth.

What is missing is the truth.

In roughly 30 years, we have not been able to break away from Mr. Marc Tucker’s vision and plan for America’s education/workforce development system. This is the same man who now proposes that we can “fix” the accountability system by eliminating the power of local boards and putting us all under the thumb of State control (yes, with a capital “S”).

The country bought into the outcome-based theory of education reform. We experimented. Now, can’t we see the results?

Civil rights groups that support test-based federal accountability must face the facts.

Civil rights groups that support test-based federal accountability must face the facts.

“…a return to levels of integration last seen during the Johnson administration.”

Separate schools are inherently unequal which is why federal education law must focus on providing quality inputs while only monitoring outcomes for continuous improvement purposes.

The gains we made in narrowing the achievement gap, after the implementation of the 1965 ESEA, have slowed considerably since 2004. Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 11.15.33 AM

 

If we wanted equal educational opportunity, we are faltering.

 

 

If we wanted an accountability system that closes down neighborhood schools, fires teachers, and lowers the standards for entry to the teaching profession through alternative certification and emergency measures to fill needed teaching positions, we are there.

If we finally want to do the right thing for every child in our public schools right now, we have to kill No Child Left Behind, ditch the theory it was based on, and go back to a system that did produce results.

NCLB will be replaced, but, will the new law really be based on what we learned from this 30 year still-living experiment in outcome-based reform? Since Senator Lamar Alexander had a hand in developing the game plan from the beginning, he should be able to provide answers. Isn’t that what stiff accountability demands? Answers.