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?