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.

Here is How Private Funding is Affecting Scientific Research and K-12 Education

Latest Story

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An article in the New York Times by William J. Broad got my attention and in this article, I want to use Broad’s research to show how education is being harmed by private funding. The article by William J. Broad is entitled Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science.  It is a very important and revealing article about the future direction of scientific research.  I believe the conclusions that Mr. Broad reaches in his article on the field of science, applies to K-12 education.

Synopsis of William J. Broad’s Article on American Science

Broad starts by telling us that budget cuts in Washington have devastated the nation’s research complex.  In a recent article on this blog, I discussed Why Scientists are Abandoning their Research.  Based on research reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Paul Basken and Paul Voosen, they concluded that for more than 10 years the budgets of NIH and NSF have been reduced, resulting in serious problems for research scientists and their students.

Not discussed in the Basken and Voosen article is the back story that Broad makes visible to us in his article.  He explains how science is going to be paid for in the future.  He said this:

Absent from his narrative, though, was the back story, one that underscores a profound change taking place in the way science is paid for and practiced in America. In fact, the government initiative grew out of richly financed private research: A decade before, Paul G. Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, had set up a brain science institute in Seattle, to which he donated $500 million, and Fred Kavli, a technology and real estate billionaire, had then established brain institutes at Yale, Columbia and the University of California. Scientists from those philanthropies, in turn, had helped devise the Obama administration’s plan ($100 million Brain Initiative project). Broad, William J. “Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science.”The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

An important point in Broad’s article is this sentence:

American science, long a source of national power and pride, is increasingly becoming a private enterprise.

Because of budget cuts in Washington, the amount of money being directed to basic research in science has been reduced.  He quotes Steven A. Edwards of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) who explains:

For better of worse, the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money.

You might think that the private money is filling the gap for science by providing a source of funds that has been cut from national research budgets (NIH, NSF).  It’s not as simple as that, because the motivations of the private funders are not necessarily in the interests of national research.  Broad points out that this new scientific philanthropy is “practiced according to its individualistic, entrepreneurial creed.”

He says this about the entrepreneurs,

The donors are impatient with the deliberate, and often politicized, pace of public science, they say, and willing to take risks that government cannot or simply will not consider.  Many of the patrons, they say, are ignoring basic research — the kind that investigates the riddles of nature and has produced centuries of breakthroughs, even whole industries — for a jumble of popular, feel-good fields like environmental studies and space exploration.

Privately funded research is usually not done with the common good in mind, but the more often to meet the expectations of the funder for a quick solution to a pressing problem (diseases such cystic fibrosis, melanoma, and ovarian cancer), which Broad suggests is done along racial lines.  But there are also those who make the claim that privately funded scientific research has many positive sides by simply increasing the overall support for scientific research.

Broad cites research at M.I.T. by Fiona E. Murray who survey recipients of private funding, and found that at 50 leading science-research universities, private funding accounts for about 30% of their research money.  Murray explores the history of philanthropy in science, and shows that it has along history.  She also distinguishes between fundamental research and mission-driven research.  Indeed, many of the so-called leading universities are attracting big donors, and have established $100 – $700 million research centers.  This is a lot of money.  For example, the annual National Science Foundation budget is in the neighborhood of $7 billion, and it would be impossible for the NSF to fund such large enterprises without sacrificing further basic scientific research.

Let’s take a look at how Broad’s article might be applied to the kind of research that is and isn’t done in the field of K-12 education.  Can we see some links here?

Education Needs to Be Fixed: Call in the Donors

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.  Eli Broad and Bill Gates are two examples.

In each of these cases, Broad and Gates view education as something that needs to be fixed, like a disease.  In Broad’s case, his group has focused on a fast turnaround program that pumps out administrators who articulate the Broad approach to management.

I’ve investigated the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and found that they have invested about $2.3 billion into the Common Standards and related efforts.  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.  Thank you Bill Gates.

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 is an outright myth.  Yet, with his foundation’s billions available for K-12 education, his foundation contributes more to education research than any other foundation.

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.

GERM:  The Virus that Private Donors Spread Around

According to Pasi Sahlberg, there is a virus that is infecting schools, and he has named it the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM).  In his view, the Global Educational Reform Movement

behaves like a virus in an epidemic just like diseases

And just like any disease, GERM has a number of symptom’s.  Unfortunately, these symptom’s guide the behavior of private donors such as Gates and Broad.  They believe that by feeding money into these symptoms, they will enhance educational reform.   And, clearly they are.

  • 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

But here’s the thing.  GERM is a virus that infecting schools primarily in the Northern Alliance, e.g. Australia, Europe and North America.  Figure 1 is Pasi Sahlberg’s map of GERM.  As you look at the map, realize that in the Northern Alliance, K-12 educational reform follows the pattern identified above that are symptom’s of GERM.  In this context, Bill Gates and his foundation are actually providing resources to further infect the nation’s K-12 schools, and not providing a cure.  However, if you examine international test results (such as PISA), the Northern Alliance schools a grouped in the middle of the pack, and differ very little from each other.  Apparently, GERM is working well in these nations.

Figure 1. The Viral Map of GERM. Pasi Sahlberg, Centre for International Mobility, Finland, Extracted from Website: http://www.icsei.net/fileadmin/ICSEI/icsei_2012/Pasi_ICSEI_2012_web.pdf
Figure 1. The Viral Map of GERM. Pasi Sahlberg, Centre for International Mobility, Finland, Extracted from Website: http://www.icsei.net/fileadmin/ICSEI/icsei_2012/Pasi_ICSEI_2012_web.pdf

Is there a Cure?

Yes.  And it doesn’t have to be invented.  It’s already here.

In his writings and public appearances, Pasi Sahlberg explains that there is a cure for the Northern Alliance’s spread of GERM.  He suggests that there are four ideas that describe the Nordic Model of Education and that if taken together, would provide for real reform in Northern Alliance schools.  As you examine there ideas, you’ll recognize these as professional teacher’s practice when they are responsible for the learning of the students in their classrooms, and not held to some central command and authority that diminishes flexibility and local autonomy.

To Sahlberg, education will improve if we focus on:

  • Equity instead of excellence
  • Leadership instead of control
  • Collegiality instead of individuality
  • Pedagogy instead of technology

One more thing

Most of the beliefs that guide private donors such as Gates, Broad, Walton, and others are myths or lies.  I know that sounds strong, but there is evidence to back up such a statement.

In David C. Berliner’s and Gene V. Glass’s newest book, the real crisis in education is the perpetuation of Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools (public library).  The authors refute many of the claims that private donors and many legislators make about education.  Take a look at their book to find the evidence to those claims that you never believed about public education in the U.S.  It will make you feel good.

So, what do you think about the role of private donors in the field of science and public education?

 Photo : Stellwagon Bank National Marine Santuary, NOAA Fisheries, C.C. 3.0.

Russian Science: From Labs in Pushchino to Protests in Moscow

There was an article in the Washington Post entitled In Russia, The Lost Generation of Science.  The article, by Will England, focuses specifically on Pushchino, a little known city south of Moscow, and the status of science in Russia generally.  Science in Russia has undergone an unfortunate transformation, first right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and more recently with the Russian government’s intent to pour tons of money into scientific research.  But as England points out, even with more funds for research, innovation in science is losing out to exhaustion, corruption and cronyism.

The article reminded me of some of my experiences in Russia during the 1980s and 1990s as part of the Global Thinking Project. The GTP linked students and teachers from American and Russian schools in more than ten cities by means of collaboratively developed environmental science curriculum, exchanges of students and teachers, and the emergent telecommunications and Internet resources that were just beginning.

For more than 15 years, student, teacher, and researcher exchanges were fostered through the efforts of the GTP with funding (follow this link to one of the GTP’s funded proposals) from local schools, GSU, and federal programs including the Eisenhower Program, and the United States Information Agency.  These exchanges brought us into cooperative work with Russian teachers, students, educational  researchers, technology specialists, and scientists in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yaroslavl, Chelyabinsk, and Pushchino.

When we first began our work in Russia, we worked alongside science teachers and researchers from the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, and scientists at research institutions, and the Academy of Science.  The science curriculum in Russian schools, as described by Mr. Sergey Tolstikov, is a kind of spiral curriculum, especially at the senior level beginning in level 6 and extending to level 11.  For example, in class 6, students begin their study of biology, which continues for the next five years.  Then in each of the next two years, students study first physics, and then chemistry and continue studying these subjects each year.  Students who graduated from Russian schools had a strong education in science and mathematics, and many went on into science at the university level.

Russia has a rich history in science and technology.  At present, it is the only way that American astronauts can reach the space station, yet, as we have seen in the past six months, there have been numerous engineering failures in the launch of Russian rockets.  As England points out in his article:

Science had prestige and plenty of support in the U.S.S.R. The Soviets wielded a formidable nuclear arsenal, put the first satellite into space, then the first man into space. Dedicated biologists nurtured what may have been the world’s foremost seed bank, ensuring its survival even through the 900-day Nazi siege of Leningrad. Nine Nobel Prizes for physics and one for chemistry acknowledged Soviet achievements.

But the last 20 years have taken its toll on the science community.  As England suggests, the last 20 years has resulted in a lost generation of scientists because of lack of support, and the financial problems that affected Russian society, especially in the 1990s.  An example of this effect is highlighted in Puschchino.


Pushchino is a small town about 100 miles south of Moscow on the bank of the Oka River.  It was founded in 1962 as home to Pushchino Biological Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Up until about 1993, most the funding for the research centers came from the Russian Academy of Sciences.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the funding from the government radically diminished to about 10% – 15% of what it was.  Thus began a program of reaching out to other funding sources not in Russia (Russia Foundation for Fundamental Research), but abroad, and the development of funding proposals to secure financial support.  The various research facilities in Pushchino were able to collaborate with U.S. organizations including NATO, the European Environmental Research Organization, US State Department, as well a number of U.S. universities including the University of Tennessee and Washington State University.

Now, 15 years later, things are quite different in Pushchino.  According to Natalia Desherevskaya, a Pushchino research biologist at the Institute of Biochemistry and Physiology of Microorganisms:

“In 20 years, all the positive things that existed in Soviet times have been destroyed, and replaced by nothing (England).”

She, like many other young researchers, say they are torn between their desire to leave Russia, and stay to continue their research.  Researchers are troubled by the conditions of their labs, access to new materials, and old technology.  Many of her friends from graduate school are abroad, and she wonders why she is still here (England).

In 1993, on my first of many trips to Pushchino, I was introduced to Valentina Alexandrovna Zalim, Director of Pushchino Experimental School #2.  Zalim was an amazing administrator, and encouraged teachers to implement innovative educational methods.  The school, which was built in 1962, included two gymnasia, a stadium, an indoor swimming pool, 30 classrooms, a canteen, computer room, broadcast room, library and a school museum.

About ten of us (school and university researchers from the Atlanta area, and Georgia State University) drove to Pushchino from Moscow.  As we approached this remote town, we could see that it was built above the surrounding area on a small plateau.  Pushchino has a population of about 21,000.  It has three schools, and we were going to carry on a collaboration with Experimental School #2.  It proved to be a long term, and rich collaboration.  We collaborated with teachers from the school, as well researchers from the various institutes in Pushchino.

Location of Pushchino, Russia, about 100 miles south of Moscow

One of the first persons we met was a young man who was assigned to us as the “official” translator and interpreter for our delegation.  He was an English teacher at a small college in a nearby city.  He had never been to Pushchino.  He and many of his fellow citizens understood that Pushchino was a town for retirees.  He was shocked to find that the town of Pushchino housed several major scientific research institutes, and one of the world’s largest radio telescopes.

Known as Pushchino Research Center, it was comprised of the following:

  • The Institute of Protein Research
  • The Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics
  • The Institute of Cell Biophysics
  • The Institute of Biochemistry and Physiology of Microorganisms
  • The Institute of Soil Science and Photosynthesis
  • The branch of the Institute of Bio-organic Chemistry
  • Research Computer Center
  • Special Construction Bureau & Experimental Plant
  • Radio Astronomy Station of the P.P Lebedev Physical Institute,RAS
  • Branch of the M.V.Lomonosov Moscow State University

Nearly all of the parents of the students in Experimental School #2 worked at one of these research institutions, and because of their deep interest in their children’s education, we became very involved with the research centers over the years.  We visited a number of these research centers, including the radio astronomy station, and were very involved with their computer researchers who had established a telecommunications business in the early years of the Internet revolution.  From Pushchino, we made one of the first video conferences using the Internet in 1996.

When we first started working with colleagues in Pushchino, the various scientific research centers received their funding from the Russian Academy of Sciences.  But soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and economic perils that followed, many of the research centers suffered because of lack of funding from the Academy.

Protests on the Streets of Moscow and New York

In October young Russian scientists rallied in Moscow against the weight of the bureaucracy, and the lack of discretion grant recipients have for using their grants, especially for the purchase of new equipment and materials.  This rally preceded the December parliamentary elections and the subsequent massive protests in many Russian cities.  These two rallies/protests are part of a movement to make Russia more of a democratic state, and to move away from cronyism and corruption that is dominating much of the way business is run, including science.

The inequality between the scientists in their labs, and bureaucrats who control the money that science needs for research and development, which will lead to innovation and drive the whole enterprise, is enormous.  The protests in Russia are not unlike the the “Occupy Wall Street” protests that have spread from New York to massive marches and protests in other cities across America.  Just as scientists and citizens are protesting the Russian parliamentary elections and the present executives of the Russian government, Americans are protesting the huge inequality that exists between 1% of the population and the other 99%.

In the 1990s the Global Thinking Project received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Federal Government’s Democratization of the Former States of the Soviet Union Program which was funded by the United States Information Agency (USIA).  The idea was to help Russians understand democracy by being involved with Americans in various ways that involved people-to-people exchanges.  Over a three year period we joined 300 Russian and American families and their teachers in exchanges where students lived in each other’s homes, and were involved in collaborative environmental science research in face-to-face investigations and online collaboration.

But the situation that exists now in Russia, according to some specialists, will require a more liberal Russian society that will stimulate creative and innovative culture within a rule of law.  The massive Russian protests that we have seen underly a growing discontent that the elections were corrupt, and that authoritarian rule is still the order of the day in Moscow.  The “Occupy Wall Street” protests represent a discontent among many Americans that the inequality in income, and enormous number of people unemployed is a situation that needs to be changed.