Gates Foundation: If At First Common Core Doesn’t Succeed, Try Again!

Former Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates (photo credit: Red Maxwell via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Former Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates (photo credit: Red Maxwell via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is demonstrating its grit, tenacity, and perseverance — character traits much in vogue among the progressive-education set — by refusing to admit defeat in the face of overwhelming odds. On Monday, Gates announced it’s “doubling down” on making the Common Core national standards work in American schools.

Yes, students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have actually been declining since Common Core was fully implemented (see here and here). Yes, college-readiness, as measured by NAEP, is sliding downhill as well. Yes, college math professors are complaining that incoming freshmen are increasingly less prepared for college-level work.

But Bill and Melinda are undeterred. These problems (described in understatement by the NAEP governing board chairman as “worrisome”) shall not derail what the Gateses, as education experts, know in their heart of hearts will work — because it must work. We’ll make it work!

The Gates Foundation has concluded that the problems with Common Core can’t be that the standards consist of “empty skill sets” in English language arts and dumbed-down expectations in math (complete with bizarre methods of computation that were tried, and that failed, in California and elsewhere decades ago). No, just as the only problem with socialism is that it hasn’t been implemented properly, Common Core isn’t working because “we missed an early opportunity to engage educators — especially teachers — but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.”

If only teachers and parents had been “engaged,” Common Core would be soaring to the heavens rather than stuck on the runway. It seems that $2.3 billion doesn’t buy as much engagement as it used to.

What about the Gates claim that students in Kentucky, the earliest adopter of Common Core, are outperforming the national metric for ACT college-readiness benchmarks? That claim is questionable, given that analysts who keep an eagle eye on Kentucky education data, such as Richard Innes of the Bluegrass Institute, have never seen such statistics from ACT. What Mr. Innes does point out is that 1) white students in Kentucky tied for lowest ACT scores in 2015 among those states that test all students with the ACT, and 2) the college-readiness statistics coming out of the Kentucky Department of Education are highly misleading, using “excessively watered down” metrics and declaring students ready who are, according to their GPAs, struggling in college.

The Kentucky data, then, seems a slender reed to bear the weight of the Gates’ optimism about Common Core. Maybe the Foundation has sunk so much money into the national experiment that it just can’t let go.

But this wouldn’t be the first time Bill Gates has experienced abject failure in the education realm. It wasn’t so long ago that he spent over $2 billion on the “small schools project,” under the assumption that breaking up big schools into little ones would improve student achievement. It didn’t. So he transferred his enthusiasm to developing and implementing national standards, certain that this time he had it right. Because he’s smart. Well, rich.

The refusal to accept reality is a common characteristic of megalomaniacs. As Martin Amis wrote of Joseph Stalin, his “personality was warping and crackling in the heat of power. He would not accept reality. He would break it.”

Gates isn’t Stalin, obviously (for one thing, Stalin didn’t have a foundation), but Gates does have an extraordinarily disproportionate amount of power, as well as, apparently, only a tentative grasp of reality. How many children will suffer under his latest delusion before he shrugs his shoulders and looks for a new fad?

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.