Gates Can’t Buy National Standards — But Will Sure Try



Everyone involved in education policy understands that the Gates Foundation is the octopus with many arms (and even more dollars) pushing the national standards and assessment movement forward.  In a recent report in the Lowell Sun we learn:

The Gates Foundation since January 2008 has awarded more than $35 million to the Council of Chief School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the two main organizations charged with drafting and promoting common standards.

In the run-up to his recommendation, [MA school chief] Chester told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that he would base his decision on analysis being done by his staff, as well as independent reports prepared by three state and national education research firms — Achieve, Inc., The Fordham Institute, and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.

Achieve, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based education-reform organization, received $12.6 million from the Gates Foundation in February 2008, according to data provided to the Washington Post by the foundation.

The Fordham Institute has accepted more than $1.4 million from the Gates Foundation, including nearly $960,000 to conduct Common Core reviews.

Checker Finn, the head of the Fordham Foundation, oddly felt the need to tell Business Week in their profile of the Gates push for national standards that: “The Gates folks are well aware of our independence and, I think, incorruptibility.”

This sounds like Nixon declaring that he is not a crook.  If it’s true, there is usually no need to announce it.

I’ve long argued that in education policy debates we should focus on the merits of the arguments rather than the motives of the people involved in the argument.  Whatever Fordham’s motives I think their arguments have to be addressed and I have done so here, among other places.

But let me go further.  I strongly doubt that Gates money has had any serious effect on Fordham’s stance on national standards.  Fordham has always been in support of the idea, although it has often opposed specific proposals for standards that it thought were counter-productive.  Gates decided to pour a mountain of money on Fordham because Fordham was already on board for the idea of national standards.  The money would just help improve the efficacy of Fordham to advocate the view they already held.  There was the danger that Fordham would have opposed the specific national standards backed by Gates, but Fordham has decided that these are good enough standards for them.  Of course, Fordham may still change its mind (and is known for strategic reversals on policies, such as NCLB), but I have no doubt that Fordham is completely sincere in its support for national standards and assessment.

I just think they are wrong.

3 Responses to Gates Can’t Buy National Standards — But Will Sure Try

  1. […] Gates Can't Buy National Standards — But Will Sure Try « Jay P … […]

  2. Daniel Earley says:

    What strikes me as most ironic is that of all people, Bill Gates himself could somehow overlook the one “national standard” that lifted him precisely to his station in life, and which perpetually hones and pushes upward not just himself, but his rivals.

    Which standard? That of equal opportunity to the full brunt of unfettered accountability to the end-user — a standard that never sleeps, never relents, never accepts excuses, and never needs rewriting in order “catch up” to yet another standard.

    Other than tinkering on the margins with charters, the fact that he still hasn’t starkly compared the sheltered world of public education to the adult world of Microsoft vs. Google vs. Apple, that is, punishment by customer rejection and unbuffered public embarrassment — astounds me.

    Afer all, has he truly forgotten why he made XP and 7 so much better than ME and Vista? And why is IE9 beta looking so good today? Did a government standard accomplish this? Has he really forgotten that he raises his own standards just to thrive? That he gladly innovates to stay on top? Are there no mirrors in his home?

    Of all people, Bill Gates, who should know better than anyone, could awaken public education out of its cocooned teenage bedroom adorned with posters of its own heros — the echo chamber that perpetuates its adolescence. Rather than suggest yet another parent, he could crank up the penetrating spotlight of adulthood with the one lasting standard that never slips into obsolescence — the adult standard of full market-accountability in the real world where he and the rest of us live, adapt and quickly improve to avoid being replaced.

    And no, the wattage of mere charters is not enough. The true standard is the unrestricted arena where he built his own name: a fully empowered end-user with open competition shining in every state.

  3. […] are much more skeptical.  They have weighed in on the issue AGAINST national standards here, here, here, and especially here.  Their position can best be summarized with these remarks from Jay Greene: […]

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