Archives for category: Gates Foundation, Bill Gates

Reactions to the mea culpa of Sue Desmond-Hellman, the CEO of the Gates Foundation, continue to roll in. Sue D-H admitted that “mistakes had been made” in the education arena and promised to listen to teachers. Many who have read the memo think that the foundation still doesn’t understand why its promotion of test-based teacher evaluation is failing or why the Common Core is meeting so much resistance.

Susan Ochshorn hopes that the Gates Foundation will listen to early childhood education professionals.

At the bottom of the totem pole of influence are early childhood teachers. None of these stewards of America’s human capital weighed in on the design of the Common Core standards. They were back-mapped, reaching new heights of absurdity, including history, economic concepts, and civics and government as foundations for two-year-olds’ emergent knowledge.

Most importantly, the standards make a mockery of early childhood’s robust evidence base. Young children learn through exploration, inquiry, hypothesis, and collaboration. Play, the primary engine of human development, has vanished from kindergarten and first-grade classrooms, replaced by worksheets, didactic learning, and increasingly narrow curricula, in keeping with standards’ focus on literacy and math. Policymakers are talking about bringing rigor and the Common Core down to four-year-olds.

If all lives have equal value, the core belief of the Gates Foundation, then our most vulnerable kids must have access to the kind of education enjoyed by those with greater resources: teaching and learning that nurtures creativity and innovation, attuned to the whole child. Too often, they’re subject to rote, passive, and joyless assimilation of knowledge. Collateral damage of your initiative—all in the name of higher test scores.

What if the Gates Foundation undertook a course correction, and put education back in the wheelhouse of educators?

Ochshorn points out that poverty is an enormous barrier to school participation and engagement. She briefly reviews the research base that establishes the harmful effects of poverty (an idea that Gates has derided in the past).

It’s hard, indeed, to be deeply engaged when you’re hungry or homeless—or traumatized by the growing number of adverse childhood experiences that plague our little ones. (As an oncologist, you have a deep understanding of physiological damage.) Moreover, it’s challenging for educators to do their job, no matter how well they’re prepared. The schools in communities of concentrated poverty are segregated institutions starved of investment, places fit for neither children nor teachers.

The results of a recent survey of teachers of the year, conducted by the Council of Chief State School Officers, are illuminating. When asked about the barriers that most affect their students’ academic success, family stress, poverty, and learning and psychological problems topped the list. Anti-poverty initiatives, early learning, and reducing barriers to learning were the teachers’ top picks for investment.

The Gates Foundation has done remarkable work across the globe. How about taking some of your formidable resources and bringing them on home to America’s children and communities?

Here are letters to the editor printed in the Los Angeles Times in reaction to its editorial criticizing the Gates Foundation and other wealthy philanthropists for trying to control the nation’s education agenda.

The theme of the letters is: why don’t people listen to teachers? If Gates had, he would have spent his $3 billion wisely and well. But instead, he squandered it on his own faulty ideas.

As readers know, the Los Angeles a Times published a scathing indictment of Bill Gates and his ill-fated forays into education policymaking. The Times noted Gates’ serial failures, one of which was his naive belief that teachers should be evaluated by the test scores of their students. This idea appealed to his technocratic, data-driven mindset.

Some cheered the Times’ about-face, but Anthony Cody did not. He argues that Los Angeles Times was complicit in some of Gates’ worst ideas, despite the absence of evidence for their likely success. It gave full-throated support to John Deasey when he ran the city’s public schools with a heavy hand and spent profligately on ed technology. While wiser heads were skeptical about Gates’plan to evaluate teachers by test scores, the Times decided to create its own test-based rating system and published the results.

Cody calls for accountability. The line between advocacy and reporting is thin, and he believes the Times’ reporters crossed it. They should have investigated the Gates’ theory, but instead they acted on it, assuming its validity.

Cody writes:

“I have a question related to journalistic integrity. How can the LA Times chastise the Gates Foundation – and their disciple John Deasy, without acknowledging their own embrace of Gatesian reforms? The LA Times did not just report on the issue – they created their very own VAM system, and criticized Los Angeles Unified for not using such a system to weed out “bad teachers” and reward those identified as “effective.” They were active advocates, instrumental in the war on teachers that has been so devastating to morale over the past decade.”

Our friend and regular commenter Laura Chapman, retired educator, reflects on Bill Gayes’ failure in Hillsborough. Accepting his pledge of $100 million drew the district onto a teacher evaluation plan that nearly exhausted the district’s reserve fund, led to the firing of the district superintendent MaryEllen Elia, and was ultimately canceled by Gates and the district after no results.

She wrote a comment about the serial failures of the Gates Foundation:

“This discussion has taken me down memory lane to the public schools I attended. One of these, Hillsborough High School in Tampa Florida, has been rehabbed several times, but it remains a landmark in school architecture from an era when attending and completing “high” school was a major achievement. The website has a curated collection of documents showing the history of the school’s founding and various locations before the current building was built, with magnificent Gothic architecture, refelecting some high aspirations for the experience of going to school. The school has been rehabbed several times, with “moderate”but important attention to preservation. The International Baccalaureate program is thriving, but that seems to have created a school within a school and conflicts among the students and the faculty.

“Then there is the story of what Bill Gates did to the Hillsborough County Schools and the demoralization that his money has created–his demand for pay-for-performance, worship of metrics especially test scores, the wholesale destruction of morale, and now a budget that is busted. Bill Gates did serous damage to a decent school system. For him, there was not an ounce of value to this particular high school. It could have been a big box store.”

This is a remarkable editorial that appears in the Los Angeles Times, of all places. The headline tells a story we did not expect to read on this newspaper’s editorial page:

Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda

Read that again. Slowly.

The editorial recaps the serial failures of the Gates Foundation in education: Small high schools (abandoned); evaluating teachers by test scores (not yet abandoned but clearly a failure, as witnessed by the disasterous, costly experience in Hillsborough County, Florida); Common Core (not abandoned, but facing a massive public rejection).

But it’s not all bad, says the editorial:

It was a remarkable admission for a foundation that had often acted as though it did have all the answers. Today, the Gates Foundation is clearly rethinking its bust-the-walls-down strategy on education — as it should. And so should the politicians and policymakers, from the federal level to the local, who have given the educational wishes of Bill and Melinda Gates and other well-meaning philanthropists and foundations too much sway in recent years over how schools are run.

That’s not to say wealthy reformers have nothing to offer public schools. They’ve funded some outstanding charter schools for low-income students. They’ve helped bring healthcare to schools. They’ve funded arts programs.

This is not the whole story, of course. They have funded a movement to privatize public education, which drains resources and the students the charters want from public schools, leaving them in worse shape for the vast majority of students. And they have insisted on high-stakes testing, thus leading schools to eliminate or curtail their arts programs. As for healthcare in the schools, there should be more of it, but it should not depend on philanthropic largesse. Two children in the Philadelphia public schools died because the school nurses were cut back to only two days a week, and there were no philanthropists filling the gap.

Knowing how destructive the venture philanthropists have been–not only Gates, but also Eli Broad and the Walton Family, and a dozen or two other big philanthropies–one could wish that they would fund healthcare and arts programs, and perhaps experimental schools that demonstrated what public schools with ample resources could accomplish.

Still we must be grateful when the Los Angeles Times writes words like these:

Philanthropists are not generally education experts, and even if they hire scholars and experts, public officials shouldn’t be allowing them to set the policy agenda for the nation’s public schools. The Gates experience teaches once again that educational silver bullets are in short supply and that some educational trends live only a little longer than mayflies.

Allowing Bill Gates or Eli Broad or the Walton Family to set the nation’s education is not only unwise, it is undemocratic. The schools belong to the public, not to the 1%.

Since the editorial mentioned Bill Gates’ devout belief that teachers could be evaluated by the test scores of their students, it is appropriate to recall that the Los Angeles Times was the first newspaper in the nation to publish ratings for teachers based on test scores; it even had hopes of winning a Pulitzer Prize for this ugly intervention by non-educators who thought that teaching could be reduced to a number and splashed in headlines. Let us never forget Rigoberto Ruelas, a fifth-grade teacher who committed suicide shortly after the evaluations were published by the Los Angeles Times, and he was declared by the Times to be among the “least effective” teachers. There followed a heated debate about the methodology used by the Times to rate teachers. That was before the American Statistical Association warned against using test scores to evaluate individual teachers. But the Los Angeles Times was taking Gates’ lead and running with it. It was not worth the life of this good man.

Mercedes Schneider noticed something curious in the reports of the Gates Foundation:


Despite the CEO’s pledge to “double down” in shoving CCSS on unwilling schools and teachers, the Gates Foundation has not handed out a single CCSS grant in 2016.


Oh, also, Sue Desmond-Hellman cites ACT data.  As Peter Greene pointed out in another post, the student who is gifted in music and the humanities is not “college ready” unless she also gets high scores in science. And the brilliant young scientis is not “college ready” unless his test scores in the humanities are equally stellar.


Standardization has downsides.





Martin Levine, writing in NonProfit Quarterly, reviews the latest statement by the President of the Gates Foundation, Sue Desmond-Hellman, and concludes that the foundation is unwilling to learn from its mistakes.


After Bill Gates had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in creating small schools, he abruptly abandoned that idea and moved on, with little reflection.


“The foundation’s lessons learned from this experience did not result in any questioning of their core belief that the answer to building a more equitable society would be found within our public schools. They just shifted their focus to increasing the number of charter schools, creating test-based teacher evaluation systems, improving school and student data management, and setting universal standards through the common core curriculum. Each has struggled, and none appear to have been effective.


“In 2014, the BMGF supported InBloom, an effort to create a national educational data management system, shut down after parents protested the collection and storage in the cloud of data on their children. Various states withdrew their support, and NPQ reported last September on the failure of one of these Gates-funded initiatives, Empowering Effective Teachers.


“Desmond-Hellman has led the foundation as it has invested heavily in the effort to create a national set of learning standards, the Common Core Curriculum. Despite over $300 million in foundation funding, alliances with other large foundations, and strong support from the U.S. Department of Education, the effort has drawn bitter opposition and decreasing support. The strong push that the DoE gave states to implement the Common Core was seen as an unwanted intrusion of federal power into local schools. The use of Common Core to build a testing regimen for students and teachers was seen as disruptive and ineffective. Test data show little impact on bridging the inequity gap in states using Common Core.


“Would not an organization that seeks to be a learning organization want to step back and consider whether their core assumptions are on target in light of their difficult experiences? Perhaps, but not the Gates Foundation. Desmond-Hellmann remains “optimistic that all students can thrive when they are held to high standards. And when educators have clear and consistent expectations of what students should be able to do at the end of each year, the bridge to opportunity opens. The Common Core State Standards help set those expectations.” Not a word about the impact of poverty, or the trauma of community violence, or systemic racism as even small considerations.”


In a display of smugness, the Gates Foundation blames public resistance to the Common Core on the critics, not on their assumptions about school reform.


What the Gates Foundation has thus far demonstrated is the inability to say, “We were wrong.”




Katherine Stewart and Matthew Stewart, parents in the renowned Brookline school district in Massachusetts, are concerned about their school board’s ties to Bill Gates and  other corporate reformers. Katherine Stewart is the author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.”

They write:

“In the ongoing standoff between the Brookline Educators Union and the Brookline School Committee, the School Committee has framed the dispute as one of making do with limited resources and ensuring equity for all students. But in fact, fundamental choices about how we educate our children are also at stake. The teachers are asking for more time to spend with students and more control over their own teaching. The School Committee, on the other hand, appears intent on investing teacher time and town funds in a management system aimed at top-down control of educators through data collection and high-stakes, standardized testing. The differences are not about the value of equity but how best to achieve it….”

The Stewarts go on to detail the connections between at least three members of the board and corporate reform. They implicitly raise the question: Is the board working for the children of Brookline or for Bill Gates and other corporate reformers?



“The Chairman of the School Committee, Susan Wolf Ditkoff, is a partner at The Bridgespan Group, a management consulting firm specializing in the philanthropy sector. Another member, Beth Jackson Stram, is also an associate at the same firm. A third member, Lisa Jackson, operates a consulting company that lists Bridgespan as one of its founders. In 2010, Bridgespan played an instrumental role in bringing Common Core to Massachusetts. The firm was hired to assist the state in its application for Race-to-the-Top funds from the federal government. Bridgespan reportedly received a $500,000 fee for that project, half of which was paid by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation….


“According to its tax filings, the Gates Foundation disbursed more than $5.5 million to The Bridgespan Group between 2010 and 2014. To judge from flattering material posted on its website, Bridgespan is also closely involved with The Broad Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, both of which promote similar education reform agendas. Tax filings from Bridgespan show that Susan Ditkoff’s total compensation in 2014 was just short of $300,000.”


Transparency would be a good start.

Peter Greene read the annual report from the CEO of the Gates Foundation, Sue Desmond-Hellman, and asked himself what the foundation had learned from its multi-zillion dollar investment in changing the nation’s education system. Nothing. They learned nothing. They blame “the system” for the failure of their bad ideas. It never occurs to them to examine whether they were wrong.


Bill Gates is never wrong. Unless he says so. And he hasn’t said so, so he can’t be wrong.


Desmond-Hellman cites a fake statistic to alarm readers. “Only 40 percent of students met three of the four college-readiness standards across English, reading, math, and science.”


Greene writes:



“This is a problem both because the basis for saying that in the first place (a study by test manufacturer ACT– so it’s kind of like a study by Ford Motor Company on whether or not Americans have enough cars) and the implication that you’re not really ready for college unless you have the knowledge base of both a science major and an English major (“Sorry, Chris. We were going to give you a full music scholarship, but your biology scores were too low”).


She writes: “However, I’m optimistic that all students can thrive when they are held to high standards. And when educators have clear and consistent expectations of what students should be able to do at the end of each year, the bridge to opportunity opens. The Common Core State Standards help set those expectations.”


Greene responds:


“So, apparently, nobody ever held students to high standards before (and apparently few people even thought of it). But we’ve discussed the magical power of expectations, and my advice to folks in the private sector remains the same– if expectations of high standards are the key to making every student succeed, then I suggest Microsoft just start hiring people at random and then expecting them to meet high standards. What’s that you say? Only some people can meet those standards, and so “hold to high standards” in industry means “sorting the wheat from the chaff, and only employing the wheat”? If that’s so, then where do we send the students who are chaff in public education?”


Anthony Cody here reviews the annual report of the CEO of the Gates Foundation, Sue Desmond-Hellman, and finds it wanting, specifically its lack of humility and its absence of reflection.


Of course, Gates will “double down” on Common Core, no matter how many educators call for revisions.


But that’s not all. How about some reflection by Gates on the failure of test-based teacher accountability, whether based on “value added” or “student growth”?


How about explaining the debacle in Hillsborough County, Florida, which gave up on the Gates initiative after wasting more than $100 million?


Why no mention of the foundation’s push for charter schools, which replace public schools and divide communities?


Why no candid reflection on the disappointing results of the marketing of more and more technology for the classroom?


All in all, a report that shows a megafoundation incapable or unwilling to review its programs with honesty and integrity.




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