William Henry Gates, III of Seattle, Washington is normally thought of as a very bright man. After all he built one of the most successful enterprises in recorded history and in turn became the world’s richest man with a net worth of $79.2 billion according to Forbes Magazine from June 2014.
So why would a smart businessman try to hoodwink America with the educational abomination called “The Common Core State Standards Initiative”? It comes down to a strange blend of major-league hubris born of stupendous wealth plus an activist wife,Melinda French Gates. The former is now numb to the concept of spending too much, and the latter with no money of her own treats Bill’s fortune as monopoly money, whoopee! Together they have teamed up to become a juggernaut philanthropic spending machine spending Bill’s fortune with reckless abandonment, the end result to date is a couple of well-heeled nincompoops in the wheel house. A telling example of their zeal to spend is the $600 million poured into a small school initiative that was unsuccessful – Bill Gates unceremoniously pulled the plug on this idea, causing $600 million to go down the drain. So, problem number 1 for being a certified nincompoop is too much money equals too much power and influence.
Problem number 2 for Bill Gates is his lack of expertise on educational policy, he is after all a college drop-out. So when Mr. Gates was approached by two high powered educational bureaucrats – (Gene Wilhoit – Head of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington D.C. and David Coleman, the president of the College Board), who sought a corporate hero to bankroll the process of creating a set of national standards, Bill Gates said yes, and like Mighty Mouse, Bill opened the proverbial window and shouted,
“‘Here I come to save the day!’
That means that (Mighty Bill) is on the way.
Yes sir when there is a wrong to right
(Mighty Bill) will join the fight…”
This impulse to save the day is symptomatic of flat out arrogance by Mr. and Mrs. Gates. Since when do they know what is best for the nation’s school Children – overriding parental and local control of public education? Even if one accepts the altruistic profile that Bill presents to the public, his vast wealth does not necessary mean he knows what he is doing. In fact there is no filter, what Bill and Melinda want they simply purchase. This time they purchased the national common core standards for more than $1 billion and counting since 2009.
Even though the federal government is expressly forbidden to direct school curriculum President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan concocted the cockamamie “Race to the Top” Stimulus scheme trying to avoid explicit federal law. The “Race to the Top” stimulus provision did the trick and enticed 45 states to sign on and adopt the Common Core Standards within two years. States like Kentucky were so giddy that they signed on prior to the standards even being completed. These 45 states were also given a waiver (bribe) by the president to skip the No Child Left Behind mandates. So much money was passed around by the Gates Duo that the American people were completely hoodwinked by their elected officials who signed on to Common Core often without a formal vote – in most cases it was simply a vote of the State Board of Education, a group of appointed officials – most governors like Florida’s Rick Scott said just give us the money. The Race to the Top funds totaled more than $4 billion.
There is a side to Bill Gates that doesn’t get much national coverage and that is the side of ruthless capitalist – Bill did not become the world’s richest man by being a choir boy. This was the thinking of “friend” and competitor Steve Jobs:
“Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas,” Jobs is quoted as saying in Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs.
In 1998 Bill Gates lost a federal court case (the United States v. Microsoft, 253 F.3d 34)that concluded that he was guilty of tying or bundling products together to thwart competition – that is he was found guilty of “predatory strategies”
As to Common Core being a money maker for Bill Gates, one can safely conclude that there is at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. Michael P. Mazenko put it this way in an article on Salon.com from July 7, 2014.
The under reported story about Common Core is the millions of dollars to be made in developing and selling educational materials and assessments linked to the new standards. Despite claims by Common Core advocates that standards are not curriculum, school districts are realizing they need to spend money on new materials and training to meet the new expectations of the standards, especially if schools are required to use standardized assessments to measure student growth and teacher accountability.
The Boston Think-tank Pioneer Institute also highlighted the cost of transitioning the nation’s curriculum to the new standards as follows:
Common Core’s problems, however, extend beyond academic deficiencies. No estimate was ever performed to determine what it would cost to implement the new standards. In 2011, Pioneer Institute commissioned the first independent, comprehensive cost study, which showed that transitioning states to the new standards will be $16.7 billion, more than triple the amount of the federal Race to the Top inducements. Massive technology upgrades, training and support, together with the purchase of new textbooks and instructional materials, and professional development account for most of the expense.
Of course, the ultimate irony is that Bill Gates would not have blossomed intellectually with common core. A liberal arts education at the Lakeside Day School fired his creative juices to envision the idea of a computer software program for home computers. It is also true that Mr. and Mrs. Gates’s three children, daughters Jennifer, and Phoebe, and son Rory will be protected from attending the common core Seattle public schools. It is certainly understandable if parents of modest means hold a grudge against hypocrisy.
The speed and current success of implementing common core will be studied at Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania, the nation’s oldest collegiate business school, yet the Gates’ Juggernaut will also be studied at the prestigious Teachers College of Columbia University, for what not to do in forming a national policy for education. Students are not widgets and the most important factor in a child’s education is his parents. Team Gates ignored the parents and the classroom teacher. Teachers’ would have been delighted to speak to Bill and Melinda – especially regarding what is actually happening in today’s classroom.
Is it any wonder that concerned citizens from the right and the left are up in arms? My advice for Mr. and Mrs. Gates is to pull the plug on this fatally flawed product and chalk it up to a field test. Next time do it right and talk to the teachers and the parents. A more reasonable approach is to go state by state. I recommend starting with California. It’s just two states away from Washington State and if you can fix public education in California, you can fix it anywhere.
Geoffrey G. Fisher is a federally designated Highly Qualified state-certified history teacher living in southwest Florida. He holds a BA in History from the University of Connecticut and a MA in Public Policy from Trinity College in Hartford, CT. In addition to teaching he is a former elected education official and speechwriter.