Why Bill Gates Defends the Common Core & Other Top 2014 Posts

In 2014, there were 100 new posts added to the Art of Teaching Science blog, as shown in the graphic below. I’ve made links to the top five posts for 2014.  As you can see, our examination of the how the Gates Foundation has used its billions to influence the Common Core State Standards was in the most-viewed category.  The reduction in funding also has had a marked influence on the research.  And speaking of research, too many educators, especially at the top (Sec. A. Duncan) believe there is research to support the use of Value Added Models to evaluate teacher performance.  And gaining momentum is the absurdity of following graduates of teacher education institutions to track the test scores of the K-12 students they teach.  The U.S. Department of Education will propose this regulations next year.  You can read about this here on Diane Ravitch’s blog and comment here.

In fifth place was post I wrote about the advantages and disadvantages of the theory of plate tectonics and the theory of gravity in response to politicians who want to promote “critical thinking” by imposing their will on teachers and insisting that they critically look at the theory of evolution, origins of life, global warming, and climate change.

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Figure 1. 2014 Distribution of blog posts on the Art of Teaching Science


Why Bill Gates Defends the Common Core.  At a national conference, Gates said he was concerned with people who oppose implementing the Common Core State Standards. We explore why in this post.

Why Are Scientists Abandoning Their Research.  A survey was sent to 67,454 researchers holding grants from the National Institute of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF). Results and implications are discussed.

Top 20 Organizations Receiving Common Core Grants from the Gates Foundation. In this post, I report on those organizations that were funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to make the Common Core State Standards a reality.  The Council of Chief State School Officers leads the pack. But it looks like the Common Core is running into a brick wall.

The Absurdity of Teacher Evaluation Systems.  An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution got my gander up about teacher evaluation systems. I vent here.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Plate Tectonics Theory & the Theory of Gravity. When politicians enter the arena of education and curriculum, and especially fields such as science, the are on a slippery slope. If, however, they simply want the facts (on climate change or global warming) taught in science class, they might go here.

Thank you for visiting my blog in 2014.

Happy New Year.

The Mischief of Standardized Teaching & Learning

The conservative world-view is at the root of educational reform, not only in the United States, but in most countries around the world.  This world-view has set in motion the reform of education based on a common set of standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability metrics that demoralize not only students and their families, but the educators who families regard as significant others in the lives of their children.

The Mischief of Standardized Teaching & Learning is a new eBook that is available on Amazon Kindle.  For readers on my blog, the book can be downloaded free from December 21 – 24, 2014.

Figure 1. The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning.  Free download from December 21 - 24, 2014
Figure 1. The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning. Free download from December 21 – 24, 2014

This eBook explores how these educational reforms, which are rooted in authoritarianism, have damaged public education with its canopy of a Common Core, high-stakes tests, and market based tactics which are nothing but hooey.

These reforms have largely been funded by non-educators, and very rich people, who think that because they made a success in the business community, then their ideas should be accepted by public education.

The Gates Foundation has invested more than $3 billion into standards development & test-based reform.  Did you know that since 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (technically founded in 2000) has made over 4,000 grants in its US Program, one of the major categories of funding for the Gates Foundation?  The 4,000 grants were distributed among 16 categories such as College-Ready Education, Community Grants, Postsecondary Success, Global Policy & Advocacy, etc.  About 2,000 of these grants were made to carry out the Common Core State Standards, the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, and support technology that would increase the surveillance of students, parents and teachers to create sets of “big data” that can be mined by private companies to seek out customers and clients for their products.

Corporate Spray

Lets think of corporate standardized education reform as a kind of “spray” whose mist and slag has covered public education killing creativity, innovation, and spontaneity. This corporate designed “standardized” spray is analogous to DDT spray which was used as an agricultural insecticide, to control malaria and typhus among civilians and troops,  and as contact poison against several arthropods.  The academic formulation of the corporate spray mechanisms is planned violence with very little intellectual , moral, and emotional basis.

For example, from 1940 – 1972, 1.3 billion pounds of DDT were released into U.S. communities indiscriminately.  In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (Library Copy) explained how the release of DDT into the environment caused havoc and great harm to the affected ecosystems, as well as human health.  Even though the bio-chemical industry tried to subvert Carson’s work, she was eventually vindicated of the criticisms being leveled by this industry, and the US Congress went on to pass legislation banning DDT.   Later the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established.  Carson had started the environmental movement, and many leading ecologists and environmentalists from around the world looked to her work as an inspiration.

Rachel Carson, in the word’s of Mark Hamilton, one of Carson’s biographers,  was a “gentle subversive.”

There is a vanguard of gentile (and not-so-gentile) subversives who are leading the way to uncover and expose the damage that is being done to educational ecosystems, as well as  student  health (social, emotional, intellectual) by the standardized, test-centered and market-oriented reform that is spreading like a virus with global implications.  This vanguard is composed of educators who offer different accounts of what teaching and learning is about.  They are leading an effort to challenge the current reform movement.

And  just over the past two years, we’ve witnessed the movement to get states to vote against the use the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), to support parents who choose to opt their children out of high stakes test and support back lash against the U. S. Department of Education (ED) from using an unsubstantiated Value Added Model (VAM).

Please follow this link to read about some of the people identified as part of this vanguard.  There are many more, and most of them are teaching in classrooms across the United States.

So, what is this vanguard voicing opposition to?  They all are questioning the lack of wisdom, the signs of ignorance, and ineptness of an educational reform movement that is rooted in a very narrow purpose of schooling: teaching to the test.  Many of the ideas integrated into The Mischief of Standardized Teaching & Learning are fruits from the voices of the vanguard of teachers and researchers that I identified earlier.

Global Educational Reform Model (GERM)

The Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) promotes and spreads the “strategies and interests” of global agencies, billionaire donors, and private consultants as if it was a live virus (Sahlberg 2013).  According to Sahlberg, three primary sources led to the spread of the GERM virus including:

  1. The need for proficiency in literacy and numeracy,
  2. A guarantee that all students will learn the same set of standards in math and language arts and reading, and value placed on competition, and
  3. Accountability by holding schools to a set of standards, and benchmarks using aligned assessments and tests.

The Guardian newspaper published a series of articles about the 2013 PISA international test results.   Sahlberg points out that creating league tables that showcase or shame countries based on their student’s performance on standardized tests is simply not a proper use of international test results, in this case PISA.   As I’ve reported many times on The Art of Teaching Science blog, international test results fall prey to newspaper headlines that predict the collapse of economies, or the inability of its students to compete in the ‘global market.’  The ‘sky is falling’ mantra was alive and well when the 2013 results were announced.

Imagine reading the headlines in Helsinki after its students fell from second place to 12th in just three years.  Sahlberg reports that in Sweden, the test result for its students was considered a national disaster.  In the United States, the Secretary of Education (Arne Duncan) said the U.S. the results are “straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation.”

But Sahlberg suggests that the PISA results are proof that the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) is working and spreading itself around.  According to Sahlberg, GERM is a virus that has infected many nations in their march to “reform” education.  In his view, GERM is characterized by

  • standardization (Common Core),
  • core subjects (math, reading, science),
  • teaching to the test,
  • corporate management style, and
  • test-based accountability.

When Duncan commented  (Guardian News, 2013) on the 2013 PISA results, he said it was clear that this “must serve as a wake-up call against educational complacency and low expectations.”  And to correct American education’s shortcomings, “we must invest in early learning, redesign high schools, raise standards and support great teachers.”

Good examples of GERM schools can be found in the US, England, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden and Chile.  Here is how they fared in the PISA tests (Table 1).

PISA Results for Nations that have adopted the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM)
Table 1. PISA Results for Nations that have adopted the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM)

These nations have adopted a model of education based on competition, standardization, and test-based accountability.  In Sahlberg’s view,

GERM has acted like a virus that “infects” education systems as it travels around the world.

A New Vanguard for Educational Reform

But Sahlberg, if he were ever asked by Duncan how to improve American schools, would not suggest the “reforms” that Duncan has funded for the past five years.  Instead Sahlberg would suggest that the standards-corporate styled reforms (GERM) are based on premises that are rejected by educators and policy makers in nations that seem to be successful.

Another voice, if Duncan were asked to listen, is that of Mercedes Schneider, a high school English teacher who holds a Ph.D. in Applied Statistics and Research Methods.  She is relentless in her writing about corporate reform, especially the way the Common Core State Standards came into being, and how they have corrupted American education.  In her recent book, (A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education) I wrote this as part of a review on Amazon of her book:

In this book we have at our fingertips answers to important questions about how such a limited number of individual’s faces crop-up in various media outlets as the experts on public schools. If you want to find how to get wealthy and have a really big office, read about Joel Klein in chapter 1. Find out how Teach for America is transforming teacher education into a temp business by reading the Wendy Kopp story in chapter 3. You’ll find important episodes about characters including Eva Moskovitz, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, Chester Finn, and others. You’ll also find out about organizations that fund each other in the name of reform, but in the end seek to dismantle public education. Welcome to TFA, the New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality (not), the Aspen Institute, the Gates Foundation, and cousins Walton and Broad.  And the best is yet to come as she saves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s bill mill for the last chapter.  The content of the book is thoroughly researched and authenticated. If you read her blog, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.

Beyond GERM

The conservative view of schooling must be challenged and the battleground for this is on the front lines in American schools and districts.  There is a pressing need to reverse the overreach of a few organizations and very wealthy people whose foundations have reigned havoc on American schools.  Here are some suggestions that Sahlberg makes, and many teachers and researchers would agree with:

1. Schools should have autonomy over its curricula and how students are assessed.  Teachers should work collaboratively to design and develop curriculum, and make decisions about the nature of instruction in their own classrooms.  This is contrary to the reforms that have dominated American education for decades, especially starting with the publication, Nation at Risk, followed by the No Child Left Behind Act during the Bush Administration, and The Race to the Top during the Obama administration.  Sahlberg says:

PISA shows how success is often associated with balanced professional autonomy with a collaborative culture in schools. Evidence also shows how high performing education systems engage teachers to set their own teaching and learning targets, to craft productive learning environments, and to design multiple forms student assessments to best support student learning and school improvement.

2. Schools need to focus on equity by giving priority to early childhood (one point for Duncan), comprehensive health and special education in schools, a balanced curriculum that sees the arts, music and sports as equals to math, reading and science.

3. School choice does not improve academic performance in a nation’s schools.  In fact, the overemphasis on school choice and competition between schools leads to greater segregation of schools.

4.  Successful schools are public schools and are controlled locally, not by a state or federal government. If we want to improve education in the US, we need to move away from the competitive, corporate-based model that is based on standardization and test accountability.

As Dr. Nel Noddings says in her book, Education and Democracy in the 21st Century,

Education in the 21st century must put away some 20th-century thinking. All over the world today, many educators and policymakers believe that cooperation must displace competition as a primary form of relating. Competition is not to be abandoned— some competition is healthy and necessary— but it should no longer be the defining characteristic of relationships in an era of growing globalization. If we agree with this judgment, then we must consider how to prepare students for a cooperative world, not solely for one of competition.  (Noddings, Nel (2013-01-25).

American public schools are not failing.  The premise that they are failing is based on one factor–test scores.  We need to move beyond this concept of schooling and embrace collaboration, dialogue, interdependence, and creativity (Noddings, 2013).

The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning

Mischief investigates the nature of the corporate reform by challenging its approach and results. We also investigate how progressive educators are marching to their own drummer charting new paths and walking away from The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning.

The book’s 12 chapters are organized into three parts as follows:

  • Part I. The Cloud of Authoritarianism
  • Part II. The Ideals of Progressivism
  • Part III. Education: Public and Local

For a limited time (December 21 – 24, 2014, you are welcome to download my book for free from Amazon Kindle at this link.

Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Smart or Just Dumb?

Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Smart or Just Dumb?  That’s the question we’ll try to address in this blog post.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) released scale scores for math and ELA (English Language Arts) aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

In their release to the public on November 17, Smarter Balance announced that:

Members of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium have voted to approve initial achievement levels for the mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA) assessments that will be administered in 17 states and one territory this school year. The vote marks an important milestone in the development of the assessment system (emphasis mine).

So, a vote was taken (according to their press release) to approve a set of scale scores that will be used next year to evaluate students in 17 states when they sit at computers to take tests in math and ELA in grades 3 – 8 and high school.  Smarter Balanced explains that because the Common Core content standards set higher expectations for kids, then the new computer based tests will be more difficult.  Why?  Well, Smarter Balanced simply raised the bar, and they have no problem in stating that:

It’s not surprising that fewer students could score at Level 3 or higher. However, over time the performance of students will improve.

Fewer students experiencing success is another perfect set up for failure.

Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium smart, or is it dumb?

The answer to this lies in reading their comments about what they have done to set up a testing program that is based on false claims.  For example, they tell us that even though kids will not do very well when the tests come on-line, they are sure to improve over time.   They don’t improve over time, and we have more than a decade of results to show this.  Furthermore, raising the bar (supposedly making the standards more difficult, rigorous, demanding–choose your own descriptor) does not affect achievement test scores, as measured the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  In a study looking at the relationship between the quality of standards and student NAEP scores, the correlations ranged from -0.60.08.  We interpret these correlations a moderate downhill (negative) relationship to weak uphill (positive) relationship.

That said, shouldn’t would conclude that Smarter Balanced should be the Dumb and Dumber Unbalanced Assessment?

And one more thing.

I have reported in earlier research on this blog that many researchers have concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core State Standards.  In an interesting discussion of the implications of their findings, Tom Loveless, the author of the report, cautions us to be careful about not being drawn into thinking that standards represent a kind of system of “weights and measures.” Loveless tells us that standards’ reformers use the word—benchmarks—as a synonym for standards. And he says that they use too often. In science education, we’ve had a long history of using the word benchmarks, and Loveless reminds us that there are not real, or measured benchmarks in any content area. Yet, when you read the standards—common core or science—there is the implication we really know–almost in a measured way–what standards should be met at a particular grade level.

Voting on the Scale Scores: What’s this mean?

It amazes me that the members of an organization can vote on scale scores (real numbers), and think that this has meaning.  For instance, Figure 1 shows the mathematics threshold scale scores for grades 3 – 11.  It’s a nice graph, isn’t it.  And the graph is accompanied in their Smarter Balanced press release with a very colorful chart estimating the percentage of students who will score at each level by grade level.

Figure 1. Mathematics: Threshold Scale Scores set by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, November 14, 2014.  Source: media@smarterbalanced.org
Figure 1. Mathematics: Threshold Scale Scores set by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, November 14, 2014. Source: media@smarterbalanced.org. Extracted on November 17.

Here is the graph that displays the percent of students who will fail or pass.

Figure 2. How students will score that each level by grade.  Note that between 27 - 40 percent of students will fail to reach proficiency. Can you believe that? Source: media:smarter balanced.org. Retrieved November 17,2 014
Figure 2. How students will score that each level by grade. Note that between 27 – 40 percent of students will fail to reach proficiency. Can you believe that? Source: media:smarter balanced.org. Retrieved November 17,2 014

Are Standards and Aligned Assessments Scientific?

It’s a fair question. It’s a fair question because most of the 17 states will input student test scores into a mathematical algorithm called the Value Added Model to check the efficacy and quality of a teacher, and then use this number to decide upon the “grade” or assessment of the teacher. In some states, more than 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is based on this mathematical algorithm.

So, are standards and the aligned assessments scientific.

No they are not.

In her ground breaking book, Reign of error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the danger to America’s Public Schools (Public Librarys), Diane Ravitch takes on this issue. Here is what she says:

All definitions of education standards are subjective. People who set standards use their own judgment to decide what students ought to know and how well they should know it. People use their own judgment to decide the passing mark on a test. None of this is science. It is human judgment, subject to error and bias ; the passing mark may go up or down, and the decision about what students should know in which grades may change, depending on who is making the decisions and whether they want the test to be hard or easy or just right. All of these are judgmental decisions, not science. (Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 1033-1035). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition).

The Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (one of two aligned Common Core assessments) have along with its private corporate sponsors, and neo-liberal foundations such as Gates, Walton, Broad and others, have set up the perfect trap to fail millions of students, blame and then fire teachers, and then bring in privately run charter school management systems.

Think I’m kidding?  What do you think?

Top 20 Organizations Receiving Common Core Grants from the Gates Foundation

It’s begun.  The School Board of Cobb County, Georgia, where I live, just voted (5-1-1) to purchase math books (print and digital) aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  McGraw-Hill books will be purchased for K-8, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for high school.  The cost for these CCSS math books: $7 million.  This translates into about $64 per student for the 109,760 students in the district.  The estimated cost of supplying all students in Georgia with new math books would be about $102 million.

American education is poised to embody a one-size fits all model of curriculum.  We know that Arne Duncan claims that the Common Core Standards is not a curriculum.  The curriculum is what is taught in classrooms, and because most states have agreed to a single set of math and English/Language Arts standards, the curriculum in classrooms will be immensely affected by the CCSS.  Coupled with standardized tests that are being rolled out this year by two U.S. Department of Education funded groups, teachers will have little say in what the real curriculum will be because the same standardized test scores will be used to check their teaching effectiveness, and decide their employment.

In this post, I am going to report on those organizations that were funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to make the Common Core State Standards a reality.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made at least 164 grants to at least 125 organizations to support CCSS development and implementation.  I should also point out that the U.S. Department of Education is just as responsible for these standards, as Gates and the groups mentioned in this post.  You see when the Duncan department of education rolled out the Race to the Top, it insisted that states would stand a better chance of being funded is they signed on to the Common Core State Standards, and mandated the use of student test scores as a measure of teacher performance.

Figure 1. Top 20 Winners of Common Core Grants from the Gates Foundation. Data Source: The Gates Foundation
Figure 1. Top 20 Winners of Common Core Grants from the Gates Foundation. Data Source: The Gates Foundation

Then, to put the last nail on the coffin, the Gates Foundation provided consulting and writing help to states submitting proposals to the Race to the Top fund, especially during the second round of funding.  Georgia was a winner.  It got about $400 million, and it received help from the Gates Foundation.

These events made it possible for Achieve Inc., the developer of the CCSS to manage the development of the standards, and to work with many organizations, especially with the financial support of the Gates Foundation, to get the ball rolling.

The Top 20

The top 20 recipients give a window into the way the Gates Foundation is influencing K-12 education in American schools.  The movement to set up one set of learning objectives for all students is the essence of the Common Core.  These organizations are a Who’s Who of the corporate reform effort in which “big money” is being used to change the public landscape of education, into a market-place.

In America’s “race to common standards,” Figure 1 shows the top 20 organizations that have collaborated with the Gates Foundation to make sure that every child in the U.S. learns the same stuff in math, reading, and language arts.  The Common Core State Standards provide a common set of performances from which tests, texts, and online programming will be developed by private firms to be sold to public schools.

Top 20 Winners of Gates Common Core Grants

Here is the listing of the top 20 award winners in the Gates Foundation common core competition.  The links take you inside the Gates Foundation directly to one of the funded grants of these organizations.  You will find a link to the organization at that webpage.  As you read through and explore the top 20, note the emphasis on charter schools and teacher assessment in the context of the common core.

  • Council of Chief State School Officers  $83,556,782. Co-developers of the Common Core at a meeting in Chicago in 2009.  They and the NGS charged Achieve with the task of writing common standards in math and English/language arts.
  • New Visions for Public Schools, Inc  $70,454,721  New Visions received funds to support the Common Core/Career and College initiative effort designed to improve student achievement and teacher effectiveness through key strategies. New Visions is a major charter school developer in New York, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Seattle.
  • New Venture Fund  $67,579,460.  Their recent grant (more than $10 million) was to support successful implementation of the common core
  • Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc. $52,686,431. One of their grants from the Gates Foundation was to partner with other foundations to support a project fund supporting state-led efforts aligning higher education placement requirements with college readiness assessments developed through the Common Core assessment consortia.
  • Achieve Inc $36,708,822.  An organization founded by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers in 1996.  In 2008 it begins work on “college- and career ready standards in partnership with NGA, and CCSS, and with funding from the Gates Foundation.
  • Charter Fund Inc dba Charter School Growth Fund $33,012,000. Gates’ funding is used to support high-performing charter school management organizations that are implementing effecting teaching systems and the Common Core State Standards in collaboration with districts.
  • Colorado Legacy Foundation $22,803,487.  Much of the funding to this group is used to carry out and sustain teacher evaluation systems.
  • Kentucky Department of Education  $12,954,380  Grants offer support to the Kentucky Department of Education related to implementation of the Common Core State Standards & teacher development and evaluation systems.
  • Council Of The Great City Schools $11,962,004. This urban school organization has received Gates Foundation grants to help member school districts to align implementation of the Common Core State Standards with their reform efforts in teacher effectiveness and prepare for new PARCC and SBAC online assessments
  • James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy Foundation, Inc. $11,450,814. The grants are used to support states in their continued implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  At the Hunt Website, is this phrase: “The Hunt Institute is a strategic catalyst for transforming public education and securing our country’s future.” The question is, whose future?
  • American Federation Of Teachers Educational Foundation $11,343,925. To support teacher development and Common Core State Standards
  • Khan Academy Inc. $10,544,028. The Gates Foundation grew the company into a massive supplier of videos to develop the remaining K-12 math exercises to make sure full coverage of the Common Core math standards and form a small team to carry out a blended learning model.
  • Louisiana Department of Education $9,562,308. Grant funds are used to give organizational support to the Louisiana Department of Education related to implementation of the Common Core State Standards & teacher development and evaluation systems.
  • Scholastic Inc. 6,738,498. Funds are used to support teachers’ implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics.
  • Thomas Fordham Foundation. $6,711,462.  Grants are used for general operating support, to track state progress towards implementation of standards.
  • Student Achievement Partners Inc $6,533,350. Grants are used to support teachers nationwide in understanding and implementing the Common Core State Standards.
  • The Aspen Institute Inc $5,189,948.  The Aspen Institute has received more than $50 million from the Gates Foundation with about 10% being devoted to k-12 education.
  • The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education $4,584,177. Grants support the attendance of Master Teachers at the NEA’s Empowered Educators conference and give an opportunity for these educators to share their learnings and leadership experiences related to the Common Core.
  • BetterLesson, Inc. $3,527,240.  Funding to support the development of courses, aligned to the Common Core State Standards, for the purposes of helping teacher’s transition to common core and increasing their students’ ability to master the content.
  • MetaMetrics, Inc. 3,468,005. Grants fund the further development an interactive, online tools that focus on literacy in the Common Core State Standards
Figure 2. Pie Chart of Gates Funding of the Common Core, 2009 - 2014
Figure 2. Pie Chart of Gates Funding of the Common Core, 2009 – 2014

In this report, 126 organizations received funding from the Gates Foundation to support various aspects of the common core.  However, a good deal of the funding went directly to charter management companies, and organizations that support the development of charter schools.  There is also funding to use student assessments (of the common core) to evaluate teacher performance.  Organizations received on average more than $4.4 million.

Figure 2 is a Pie Chart summary of the funding noting emphasizing the top five Common Core organizations.

What do you think about the Common Core?

How the Gates Foundation Used $3.38 Billion in College-Ready Education Grants to Change Education Policy

Latest Story

Did you know that since 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (technically founded in 2000) have made over 4,000 grants in the US Program, one of the major categories of funding for the Gates.  The 4,000 grants were distributed among 16 categories such as College-Ready Education, Community Grants, Postsecondary Success, Global Policy & Advocacy, etc.

Through its foundation, the Gates have “invested” more than $3.3 billion in what they call “College-Ready Education” projects, just one of the areas of funding in its US Program.  Keep in mind that the Gates foundation has also invested billions in Global Health and Global Development.  Many of these projects have helped eradicate diseases, and improve food production in other countries.  See comments for an update on Gates’ work in these two areas.

But in this post, I want to look at the Gates Foundation investments in education.  On their website, you can go here to find a database of these investments.   For the research reported in this post, You can get access to an Excel spreadsheet that I prepared that includes all data for these grants here.  I hope you will find this spreadsheet useful.

1853 Investments

There were 1853 grants made as of June 5, 2014 with the average of these grants being $1,827,093. The grants ranged from $100 million to the Hillsborough Public Schools to $600 to the Aspire Public Schools.  Total investments made by the Gates Foundation in College-Ready Education projects was $3,385,603,559.

The chart in Figure 1 shows the number of College-Ready Education grants that have been made since 1999 that are shaping the vision of education based on the three focus areas that the Foundation uses to define this area of grant making.  In 1999 there were only 4 grants made by the Foundation, but from 2000 forward, the Foundation made more than 100 grants each year.  As seen in the chart, the greatest number of and largest amount of grants was made in 2003, 2009, and 2011.  In 2009, 434 grants were made totaling $440 million.

Figure 1. Fifteen Years of Funding by the Gates Foundation. Source of data: www.gatesfoundation.org
Figure 1. Fifteen Years of Funding by the Gates Foundation. Source of data: www.gatesfoundation.org

Philanthropy, as Matt Kelly reported, is not just an activity of the well-to-do in the United States.  Large numbers of people have given away small amounts of money for specific causes.  But as Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, William J. Broad suggests, “Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science.” He suggests that there are “profound changes going on in the way science is paid for and practiced in the U.S” (Broad, W.J. “Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science,” New York Times, 15, Mar. 2014: Web. 9 Jun. 2014.)

One of the billionaires that Broad highlights in his New York Times article is Bill Gates.  Philanthropists, including Mr. Gates, have turned the research complex upside down, according to Mr. Broad.  With the budget cuts in Washington (except for the U.S. Department of Education), very wealthy Americans have begun a range of investments in space, medicine, health, and oceanographic research.

Broad’s article did not include any examples of research in the social sciences, especially education.  Yet, billions of dollars are privately pouring into K-12 education, to support the personal philosophies and beliefs of the donors.  The Gates Foundation leads the way.

Fixing Education

To some educational philanthropists, such as Bill Gates, there is something very wrong with American education, and it needs to be fixed.

Gates public speeches tell a glaring story of a person who believes he has the answers to the problems of K-12 education.  Most of claims about education are based on personal opinions, not on peer-reviewed research.  He does not consult leading educational researchers, and indeed, if he did, he would be rebuffed on nearly all of his claims.

For example, he says that paying teachers based on years of experience and advanced degrees has no impact on learning.  He has no evidence to support this.  Yet, he keeps saying this, and pretty soon people believe him.  For example, I talked to a former student of mine who is a professor in North Carolina.  He explained to me that starting in April, teachers will no longer be paid at the master’s or doctoral levels.

Another of Gates claims is that class size makes no difference in the student learning.  He bases this on hearsay when he spouts that the best teachers actually want to take on more students.  Yet a meta-analysis of 100 studies in the 1980s by Gene Glass and others showed that smaller class size does affect student learning.  (See Berliner, D.C. & Glass, G. V & Associates, 50 Myths & Lies that threaten America’s Public Schools, Teachers College Press, 2014).

Nearly every claim that Gates makes about education needs to be questioned.

It seems to me that he sees education the way he sees disease.  Clearly the Gates Foundation has contributed immensely to eradicating disease and improving health around the world.  In the Gates conception of education, however, K-12 public education can be fixed by developing the means to improve standards, weed out the bad teachers, and insert an accountability system that makes educators responsible for student learning.

To fix education, the Gates Foundation has created a U.S. K-12 education program to make sure that students are able to succeed in college.  They call it the College-Ready Education program, and as I’ve stated before, it’s a very large investment, indeed, greater than $3.38 billion.

College-Ready Education

According to the Foundation there are three areas of focus in the College-Ready Education program: teaching, learning and innovation.  Each area highlights funding opportunities as follows:

Teaching: The MET Project

The major focus here has been on the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project.  According to the Foundation, the MET is designed to give feedback to teachers by investigating “what great teaching looks like, and the types of measures that can offer a fair assessment of teaching for helping every teacher be their best.

Learning: The Common Core State Standards

Figure 1. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Timeline of Grantmaking. Source of data: gates foundation.org
Figure 2. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Timeline of Grantmaking. Source of data: gates foundation.org

The major focus here is on the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  Funding includes working with organizations to carry out the standards into American schools.  It also means working with organizations to produce and design instructional materials tied to the CCSS.  The Foundation’s focus on learning also means measuring and gauging students’ understanding of the content in the CCSS.

Bill Gates got involved in the Common Core State Standards while they were in the “idea phase.”  As reported in a Washington Post article on June 7, 2014, Gates was approached by Gene Wilhoit, director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core (and now President of the College Board) who convinced Gates to support the development of a set of common standards that would be used in every school in the nation.  See Mercedes Schneider’s critique of this article, and why there was a three-month delay in publishing the article.  Who’s in collusion here?

Power and influence resulted in the adoption of Common Core State Standards by 45 states, but more importantly by collaboration with the Duncan run U.S. Department of Education.  Duncan required the adoption of the Common Core by states applying for the $4.5 billion Race to the Top Fund, as well as using student test scores to evaluate teachers.  All of this was done with the influence and money of the Gates Foundation.

Lindsey Layton, author of the Washington Post article put it this way:

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

One 2009 study, conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute with a $959,116 Gates grant, described the proposed standards as being “very, very strong” and “clearly superior” to many existing state standards.

Gates money went to state and local groups, as well, to help influence policymakers and civic leaders. And the idea found a major booster in President Obama, whose new administration was populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates. The administration designed a special contest using economic stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards (Layton, L. “How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution,” Washington Post  7 June 2014. Web 9 June 2014).

If you look at Figure 1 again, note that in the 2009, the number of grants and investments made by Gates more than tripled from 135 in 2008, to 434 in 2009.

Innovation: Technology and Online Learning

This focus area addresses online learning, and use of social networks, websites, and a variety of tools and technologies to produce a “new generation of courseware that adapts sophisticated ways to students’ learning needs.  Included here is game-based learning.  There is the drive here to use digital tools to individualize instruction, and to enable students to progress through (Common Core State Standards?) topics.

It seems to me that the Gates’ investments have reinforced Pasi Sahlberg’s GERM (Global Education Reform Model) theory of education reform.  Dr. Sahlberg likens educational reform to a virus which is infecting schools, especially in the Northern Alliance of countries, e.g. Australia, Europe and North America.  Unfortunately, (according to Dr. Sahlberg) so-called educational reform is simply enhancing the symptoms or characteristics of GERM.  Here is what philanthropists, such as Gates, are investing in:


  • Focus on Basics–basic knowledge and skills in reading, math, and science
  • Prescription–setting clear, centrally prescribed performance standards for all schools, all students
  • Standardized testing–collecting data through standardized testing on students’ achievement in reading, math & science.
  • Test-based accountability–school performance is tied to promotion, rewards and punishments
  • Bureaucratic control–data collected results in evaluations and inspections, less flexibility

There is much more to this story, and I’ll be publishing more graphs and charts that you can use to further understand how Gates invests in GERM. What do you think? Do you think that this kind of philanthropy is beneficial to American education?