In a remarkable job of reporting, Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post describes the creation of the Common Core standards. Two men–Gene Wilhoit and David Coleman–went to see Bill Gates in 2008 to ask him to underwrite national standards. He agreed, and within two years, the standards were written and adopted by almost every state in the nation.
This is the closest thing to an educational coup in the history of the United States. Our education system is made up of about 14,000 local school districts; most education policy is set at the state level. But Bill Gates was able to underwrite a swift revolution. It happened so quickly that there was very little debate or discussion. Almost every consequential education group was funded by the Gates Foundation to study or promote the Common Core standards. Whereas most businesses would conduct pilot testing of a major new product, there was no pilot testing of the Common Core. These national standards were written with minimal public awareness or participation, and at least one state–Kentucky–adopted them before the final draft was finished.
What made the Gates’ coup possible was the close relationship between the Gates Foundation and the Obama administration. When the administration launched its Race to the Top competition, it issued a list of things that states had to do to be eligible for a share of $4.35 billion. One was to agree to adopt “college and career ready standards.” Administration officials, Layton writes, originally planned to specify that states had to adopt the Common Core, still not yet finished, but were warned to use the term “college and career ready,” to avoid the appearance of imposing the Common Core (which was their intent). Leave aside for the moment the fact that it is illegal for any federal official to attempt to direct, control, or influence curriculum or instruction.
Never before has one man had the wealth, the political connections, and the grand ambition to buy American education. But Bill Gates did it.