Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Common Core education standards, fueled by Gates money, are encountering some buyers' remorse

The Common Core State Standards, which outline what children at each grade level should learn, have been accepted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, but in recent weeks South Carolina and Oklahoma followed Indiana in dropping the Common Core and others may follow as the debates about the standards and the level of federal involvement continue. Though the movement came from the states, it was adopted by the Obama administration, and Tea Party groups began to oppose the standards, saying the federal government was intruding into an area where states should rule.

How did the movement so quickly gain 45 states and D.C.? In 2008, Gene Wilhoit, executive director of a national group of chief state school officers, and David Coleman, a proponent of the standards movement, persuaded Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates to fund their dream of transforming education. "The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn't just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards," Lyndsey Layton writes for The Washington Post. "With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes."

Gates provided money to big teacher unions like the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association and to business organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and to policy groups on both the right and the left. Gates' money helped influence policy makers and civic leaders, and President Obama supported the idea, Layton reports. States were responding to "a common belief system supported by widespread investments," a former Gates employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Layton. Kentucky adopted the standards before the last draft was even made public.

The transition happened quickly and seamlessly at first, but last summer the opposition picked up, Layton writes. Some teacher groups are saying the Common Core will popularize technology and data, benefiting Microsoft—which Gates said is not true. "These are not political things," he said. "These are where people are trying to apply expertise to say, 'Is this a way of making education better?' Some people may not believe that. Education can change. We can do better."

"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," Layton notes. Education Secretary Arne Duncan financially rewarded states that adopted the standards. The agency created Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion contest whose rules said states that accepted high standards would be more likely to win. Though states were allowed to create "college and career ready" standards, most of them simply signed onto the Common Core so they'd have a better chance of winning, Layton writes.

Now Gates and other Common Core supporters sit in the crossfire of proponents and opponents all debating about and anxiously waiting to see whether the standards will succeed or fail. Gates said, "This is philanthropy. This is trying to make more students have the kind of opportunity I had . . . and it's almost outrageous to say otherwise, in my view." (Read more)

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