Think of it: the richest man in the world poured over $2 billion into the creation of national standards, and he is out on the media-power trail, fighting for their survival. Gates is worried about the pushback against the standards and the testing in a score of states. In some states, the very term “Common Core” has become so toxic that they are called something else, rebranded.
And don’t forget that Gates said not long ago that it would take at least ten years to know whether “this stuff” works. Some people wonder if it is a good idea to turn the nation’s schools upside down while we wait those ten years.
Susan Ohanian here tracks his efforts to save his foundering pet project of the moment. She notes his numerous media appearances and joins it with a speech in which he raised doubts about raising the minimum wage. Why raise the minimum wage when we could have CCSS to solve all problems? Why, once everyone is on the same page, thanks to Bill Gates, everyone will learn the same things at the same rate, and the achievement gap will close. And think of the savings when everyone takes the same tests, online of course, and teachers’ evaluations are firmly anchored to student test scores. That is when schools can fire the weakest teachers, raise the salaries of those that remain, increase class sizes, repeat again next year and every year, and watch for wondrous improvements.
Imagine that: having bought off the U.S. Department of Education, having given millions to almost every “think tank” and advocacy group in DC, he is now on the defensive about his big bet. Why? Because he didn’t buy everyone. He can’t understand why the nation is not singing his praises. Certainly the media fights for his time and presence. And on March 13, he dined with 80 of 100 Senators. Is there anyone other than a head of state who would get this reception? Certainly not a Nobel-prize winner or a celebrated poet.
Gates can’t understand why parents and locals are not fawning over him like everyone else. Why the pushback? He and Arne think it must be the Tea Party. They can’t understand why people like Anthony Cody, Carol Burris, Stephen Krashen, and Susan Ohanian are not on board. He ignores them.
Gates knows he can count on Arne and the President. He knows he can count on Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence, Rick Scott, and the other hard-right governors. They are on his side. He can count on the media to repeat his claim that only the Tea Party opposes CCSS, without wondering why so many hard-right governors are fighting for them. He can count on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. Who knew these corporate titans cared so much about children when they have outsourced so many of their parents’ jobs overseas. Oh, yes, they want the children to be global competitors. Can they really be global competitors with countries that pay workers $5 a day? $20 a day?
Maybe the pushback comes from people who don’t understand that the Common Core is like a standardized electric plug, as Bill Gates told the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards last week. Maybe those parents (they are not billionaires, why does anyone listen to them?) don’t see their children as “human capital” that must be standardized and upgraded. Maybe the opposition comes from people who don’t understand how the federal government took charge of state and local education, thanks to Bush and Obama. Maybe it comes from teachers who think that fiction is no less valuable than informational text. Maybe from kindergarten teachers who think children need play more than math.
Susan Ohanian thinks he is running scared. He is. This is still a democracy. Gates can buy the governors. He can buy organizations. He can buy the Beltway crowd. But he can’t buy the people.