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The Billl and Melinda Gates Foundation Guide to Getting Aligned

Publication Date: 2014-11-06

An article titled Teaching to the Common Core by Design Not Accident was published in Phi Delta Kappan and made available April 6, 2012 in Education Week, listed as a content partner.

Education Week offers this subhead: "The Gates Foundation's substantial investment in developing the Common Core State Standards now depends on translating big ideas into practices that teachers can and will use."

Education Week Editor's Note: A grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helps support Education Week's coverage of K-12 business and innovation.


by Susan Ohanian


Indeed, sir, if your metaphor stink, I will stop my nose; or against any manâs metaphor. Prithee, get thee further.

William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well, Act V, Scene II


I find it illuminating to examine the stinking metaphors used by functionaries at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to describe what teachers do. First, hereâs how the director of education and the deputy director, College-Ready Work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation open their 2012 disposition:

After years of hard work by state leaders, educators, and other advocates, the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics are final, and 45 states and the District of Columbia have officially adopted them.

Final. Got that? Final. Is there anything final about learning? Anything final about good teaching?

But onward to the metaphors. The authors' favorite metaphor is tools, which they use twenty-one times in their presentation:

⢠as classroom teachers and as state and district administrators, we knew we wanted to invest in really well-designed tools and supports

⢠We funded projects that included the design of new tools to help teachers enact the standards in their classrooms

⢠We also have partnerships to help disseminate Common Core aligned tools and practices to educators

⢠We've been working with designers, subject-matter specialists, education leaders, and most importantly, classroom teachers to develop, field test, and refine tools

⢠Most of the tools being developed follow the same basic structure

⢠tools that were flexible, slender, and able to slip into a teacherâs instruction

⢠we wanted teachers as cocreators and codesigners of these tools

⢠we wanted the tools we developed to evolve and improve over time

⢠Teachers love the tools. . . . the idea is that you can just plug and play with different topics.

And so on. Think about what a tool is: "an implement, such as a hammer, saw, or file, for performing or facilitating mechanical operations." The tools described by the Gates Foundation operatives come loaded into software for mechanical operations in classrooms. They actually call it personalizing education. Any time you see the word personalize used by an educationist these days you know that computer delivery of curriculum is involved.

Heed David J. Blackerâs warning in his fine book, The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame: Just because Bill Gates is filthy rich doesn't mean there's a technical solution out there somewhere for delivering learning to classrooms. Blacker terms this an atavistic form of magical thinking. It is also predatory, a twenty-first century technological iteration of the old Distar mantra: You can't trust the teacher to teach so find a way to bypass the teacher.

When the Gates Foundation authors switch metaphors in their essay, things gets worse:

⢠The literacy templates provide a common framework and language for teachers, while allowing them to paint in the details based on their own context, content field, knowledge, and experience

⢠math tasks are more like vitamin shots that teachers can insert in their curriculum

⢠Think of it like printmaking. A printmaker starts by carving a linoleum block. Then, she does the first print, steps back, assesses what she likes and doesn't like about the pattern, and adjusts the carving accordingly.

⢠Each template (there are currently 29) includes a prompt that allows teachers to fill in the blanks with their choice of texts to be read, content to be addressed, and writing to be produced.

⢠The formative assessment is almost like a biopsy that can help diagnose a problem

(emphasis added in all)

Whew! Teaching as injecting vitamins, carving--and recarving--a linoleum block, painting-by-numbers, and (almost) conducting a biopsy. One-size-fits all. All teachers can (and must) plug in. The authors supply the reason: In particular, we wanted to give teachers a good starting place to prepare for the new assessments. Well, of course. All along, the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Common Core State (sic) Standards has been a sideshow to the main event: the national test.

Remember Rose in Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist? The queen of standards, Rose had a kitchen that was so completely alphabetized, you'd find the allspice next to the ant poison. Rose can't mail off her brother's manuscript until she buys nine-by-twelve envelopes: "All we've got left is ten-by-thirteen. It's terrible when things don't fit precisely. They get all out of alignment."

Out of alignment. Common core pushers have taken alignment to new depths of exactitude. They seem determined to eliminate the fact that teaching is a passion as well as a daily grind; it is a craft more affirmed and enriched by mystery than by certainty. As JRR Tolkien once observed, "Not all those who wander are lost." Nor do they need a map or Standards for walking. There is no magic elixir--no pedagogical Guaranteed To Pass® emissions test formula --for pouring into children.


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