811 in the collection
How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution
Whether the Common Core will deliver on its promise is an open question.
Tom Loveless, a former Harvard professor who is an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, said the Common Core was "built on a shaky theory." He said he has found no correlation between quality standards and higher student achievement.
"Everyone who developed standards in the past has had a theory that standards will raise achievement, and thatĂ˘€™s not happened," Loveless said.
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.
Common Core's first win
The first victory for Common Core advocates came on a snowy evening in Kentucky in February 2010, when the stateĂ˘€™s top education officials voted unanimously to accept the standards.
"There was no dissent," said Terry Holliday, KentuckyĂ˘€™s education commissioner. "We had punch and cookies to celebrate."
It was not by chance that Kentucky went first.
The state enjoyed a direct connection to the Common Core backers -- Wilhoit, who had made the personal appeal to Bill and Melinda Gates during that pivotal 2008 meeting, is a former Kentucky education commissioner.
Kentucky was also in the market for new standards. Alarmed that as many as 80 percent of community college students were taking remedial classes, lawmakers had recently passed a bill that required Kentucky to write new, better K-12 standards and tests.
"All of our consultants and our college professors had reviewed the Common Core standards, and they really liked them," Holliday said. "And there was no cost. We didn't have any money to do this work, and here we were, able to tap into this national work and get the benefits of the best minds [sic] in the country."
"Without the Gates money," Holliday added, "we wouldn't have been able to do this."
Over time, at least $15 million in Gates money was directed both to the state -- to train teachers in Common Core practices and purchase classroom materials -- and to on-the-ground advocacy and business groups to help build public support.
This Chamber of Commerce strategy is right out of the Business Roundtable playbook,developed in the late 1980ies and described in detail in Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? This business strategy is detailed and intensive; it gets results.
Armed with $476,553 from Gates, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's foundation produced a seven-minute video about the value and impact of the Common Core, a tool kit to guide employers in how to talk about its benefits with their employees, a list of key facts that could be stuffed into paycheck envelopes, and other promotional materials written by consultants.
The tool kit provided a sample e-mail that could be sent to workers describing "some exciting new developments underway in our schools" that "hold great promise for creating a more highly skilled workforce and for giving our students, community and state a better foundation on which to build a strong economic future."
The chamber also recruited a prominent Louisville stockbroker to head a coalition of 75 company executives across the state who lent their names to ads placed in business publications that supported the Common Core.
"The notion that the business community was behind this, those seeds were planted across the state, and that reaped a nice harvest in terms of public opinion," said David Adkisson, president and chief executive of the Kentucky chamber.
The foundation run by the National Education Association received $501,580 in 2013 to help put the Common Core in place in Kentucky.
Gates-backed groups built such strong support for the Common Core that critics, few and far between, were overwhelmed.
"They have so much money to throw around, they can impact the Kentucky Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Education, they can impact both the AFT and the NEA," said Brent McKim, president of the teachers union in Jefferson County, Ky., whose early complaint that the standards were too numerous to be taught well earned him a rebuke by Holliday.
The foundationĂ˘€™s backing was crucial in other states, as well. Starting in 2009, it had begun ramping up its grant-giving to local nonprofit organizations and other Common Core advocates.
The foundation, for instance, gave more than $5 million to the University of North Carolina-affiliated Hunt Institute, led by the stateĂ˘€™s former four-term Democratic governor, Jim Hunt, to advocate for the Common Core in statehouses around the country.
The grant was the instituteĂ˘€™s largest source of income in 2009, more than 10 times the size of its next largest donation.
With the Gates money, the Hunt Institute coordinated more than a dozen organizations Ă˘€” many of them also Gates grantees Ă˘€” including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, National Council of La Raza, the Council of Chief State School Officers, National Governors Association, Achieve and the two national teachers unions.
The Hunt Institute held weekly conference calls between the players that were directed by Stefanie Sanford, who was in charge of policy and advocacy at the Gates Foundation. They talked about which states needed shoring up, the best person to respond to questions or criticisms and who needed to travel to which state capital to testify, according to those familiar with the conversations.
The Hunt Institute spent $437,000 to hire GMMB, a strategic communications firm owned by Jim Margolis, a top Democratic strategist and veteran of both of Obama's presidential campaigns. GMMB conducted polling around standards, developed fact sheets, identified language that would be effective in winning support and prepared talking points, among other efforts.
The groups organized by Hunt developed a "messaging tool kit" that included sample letters to the editor, op-ed pieces that could be tailored to individuals depending on whether they were teachers, parents, business executives or civil rights leaders.
Later in the process, Gates and other foundations would pay for mock legislative hearings for classroom teachers, training educators on how to respond to questions from lawmakers.
The speed of adoption by the states was staggering by normal standards. A process that typically can take five years was collapsed into a matter of months.
"You had dozens of states adopting before the standards even existed, with little or no discussion, coverage or controversy," said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, which has received $4 million from the Gates Foundation since 2007 to study education policy, including the Common Core. "People weren't paying attention. We were in the middle of an economic meltdown and the health-care fight, and states saw a chance to have a crack at a couple of million bucks if they made some promises."
The decision by the Gates Foundation to simultaneously pay for the standards and their promotion is a departure from the way philanthropies typically operate, said Sarah Reckhow, an expert in philanthropy and education policy at Michigan State University.
"Usually, there's a pilot test -- something is tried on a small scale, outside researchers see if it works, and then it's promoted on a broader scale," Reckhow said. "That didn't happen with the Common Core. Instead, they aligned the research with the advocacy. .Ă˘€‰.Ă˘€‰. At the end of the day, it's going to be the states and local districts that pay for this."
Working hand in hand
While the Gates Foundation created the burst of momentum behind the Common Core, the Obama administration picked up the cause and helped push states to act quickly.
There was so much cross-pollination between the foundation and the administration, it is difficult to determine the degree to which one may have influenced the other.
Several top players in Obama's Education Department who shaped the administration's policies came either straight from the Gates Foundation in 2009 or from organizations that received heavy funding from the foundation.
Before becoming education secretary in 2009, Arne Duncan was chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, which received $20 million from Gates to break up several large high schools and create smaller versions, a move aimed at stemming the dropout rate.
As secretary, Duncan named as his chief of staff Margot Rogers, a top Gates official he got to know through that grant. He also hired James Shelton, a program officer at the foundation, to serve first as his head of innovation and most recently as the deputy secretary, responsible for a wide array of federal policy decisions.
Duncan and his team leveraged stimulus money to reward states that adopted common standards.
They created Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion contest for education grants. Under the contest rules, states that adopted high standards stood the best chance of winning. It was a clever way around federal laws that prohibit Washington from interfering in what takes place in classrooms. [emphasis added] It was also a tantalizing incentive for cash-strapped states.
Heading the effort for Duncan was Joanne Weiss, previously the chief operating officer of the Gates-backed NewSchools Venture Fund.
As Race to the Top was being drafted, the administration and the Gates-led effort were in close coordination.
An early version highlighted the Common Core standards by name, saying that states that embraced those specific standards would be better positioned to win federal money. That worried Wilhoit, who feared that some states would consider that unwanted -- and possibly illegal -- interference from Washington. He took up the matter with Weiss.
"I told her to take it out, that we didn't want the federal government involvement," said Wilhoit, who was executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "Those kinds of things cause people to be real suspicious."
The words "Common Core" were deleted.
The administration said states could develop their own "college and career ready" standards, as long as their public universities verified that those standards would prepare high school graduates for college-level work.
Still, most states eyeing Race to the Top money opted for the easiest route and signed onto the Common Core.
The Gates Foundation gave $2.7 million to help 24 states write their Race to the Top application, which ran an average of 300 pages, with as much as 500 pages for an appendix that included Gates-funded research.
Applications for the first round of Race to the Top were due in January 2010, even though the final draft of the Common Core wasn't released until six months later. To get around this, the U.S. Department of Education told states they could apply as long as they promised they would officially adopt standards by August.
On the defensive
Now six years into his quest, Gates finds himself in an uncomfortable place -- countering critics on the left and right who question whether the Common Core will have any impact or negative effects, whether it represents government intrusion, and whether the new policy will benefit technology firms such as Microsoft.
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. Like the good capitalist that he is, Gates ignores the Elephant in the Classroom: POVERTY.
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 .Ă˘€‰.Ă˘€‰. is tiny. It's the lowest in this field than any field of human endeavor. Yet you could argue it should be the highest."
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.
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 countryĂ˘€™s 15,000 school districts.
In February, Microsoft announced that it was joining Pearson, the worldĂ˘€™s largest educational publisher, to load Pearson's Common Core classroom materials on MicrosoftĂ˘€™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. Stephen Krashen comment: SAY WHAT?
"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 .Ă˘€‰.Ă˘€‰. and it's almost outrageous to say otherwise, in my view."
Note: Bill Gates sat down with The Post's Lyndsey Layton in March to defend the Gates Foundation's pervasive presence in education and its support of the Common Core. The full, sometimes tense, interview (27 minutes, 53 seconds)can be accessed Here
For starters, note how Gates insists on separating "politics" from "substance." When he can't answer a reporter's question, he accuses her of bringing "politics" into the discussion.
All education decisions are political, Mr. Gates.
Lyndsey Layton with comments by Ohanian & Krashen
FAIR USE NOTICE
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.