While I was supposedly taking a break from blogging, the biggest story of the Christmas break appeared in Fortune and reverberated in blogs and on Twitter. It demonstrates how little business leaders know about public education and why they should spend their time creating jobs in this country and sticking to what they know.


The Fortune article is a fascinating account that begins with a dinner in 2014 between Bill Gates and Charles Koch of the infamous Koch brothers. Gates thought he could persuade Koch to drop his opposition to the Common Core standards. Koch was not interested. He told Bill to call someone in his office. Fail! Only a billionaire could tell off another billionaire like that.


The article shows something that it doesn’t mean to show. Businessmen know nothing about education. Neither does the writer. The article repeats every well-worn cliché about our “failing” schools and about how the Common Core standards will raise our test scores to the top of the world.


Let’s state a simple fact: there is NO EVIDENCE that Common Core will improve education or test scores. It was launched in 2010. It has been tested in many states, and test scores have collapsed. Why the stubborn insistence that it will raise American test scores compared to the rest of the world or prepare all students for college and career? There is no evidence for this stubborn belief. If businessmen acted this way in their own corporations, every one of their products would be untested. Their gasoline would cause engines to explode, their buildings would collapse, their software would be fraught with bugs, and their hardware would melt. And they wouldn’t understand why. They would keep insisting that we have to keep doing the same things over and over. At least their customers would have a choice, unlike American parents and children, who are forced to endure Common Core despite their protests.


First, our schools are NOT failing. Test scores on the NAEP are at their highest point ever, for all groups of students, including whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Scores on NAEP rose steadily since the 1970s until NCLB went into effect; then the rate of gains slowed. But in 2015, the NAEP scores went flat or declined, when the full force of NCLB , Race to the Top, and Common Core converged. Repeat, our schools are NOT failing, but our policymakers have rained chaos and disruption on them since 2001.


Second, we have heard this claim about “our failing schools” since 1983, when the Reagan-era report “A Nation at Risk” was published to moaning and groaning. We have been warned again and again that the schools were harming our economy. Yet our economy has grown since 1983. The biggest harm to our economy has come not from our schools but from major corporations outsourcing jobs to other countries where labor is cheaper, not better.


Third, the article repeats the same tired litany about our terrible international scores, but those scores prove nothing, zero, zilch. Our nation has had low international scores since 1964, when the first international test was given, and those scores had no effect upon the economy. In fact, our economy has surpassed those nations with higher scores on TIMSS and PISA. The scores of 15-year-olds on standardized tests do not predict the future.


Fourth, there is no evidence whatever that the Common Core standards will improve education. None. It has been tried nowhere before it was imposed. Which of these businessmen would adopt a product without finding out how it works?


Fifth, it is absolutely false that there is no way to compare state academic performance without the Common Core tests. Remember NAEP? It compares states by test scores and disaggregates the scores by race, gender, disability status, free-lunch status, and other dimensions. It reports regularly on achievement gaps.


The best thing in the article is this quote from Bill Gates:


The Gates Foundation would help bankroll virtually every aspect of Common Core’s development, promotion, and implementation. “This is like having a common electrical system,” Gates told the Wall Street Journal in 2011. “It just makes sense to me.”


Yes, if children were toasters, they could be plugged into a common electrical outlet. If every teacher was a robot or was replaced by a computer, every child would get exactly the same lessons. Gates said the same thing to the National Board for Professional Standards. Why not have a common script for every teacher and every classroom in the nation? Children are not electrical appliances. Each is a unique person. Teachers think; they have minds and ideas independent of the script.


This article demonstrates why American business leaders are in the dark when it comes to education. Why don’t they demand that all American children get the same education they want for their own children? That would be real reform.