Why Bill Gates Defends the Common Core

Photo by Kristian Niemi, Creative Commons
At the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, Bill Gates came to the rescue of the Common Core State Standards.  In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, Gates said he was concerned with people who oppose the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, an initiative begun in 2009 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and people from the states, and Achieve, Inc.  

Although the Common Core was adopted by 45 states three years ago, there is a ground swell of anti-Common Core sentiment today. Some of the sentiment comes from groups that have questioned and been opposed to any intrusion into local schools on the basis of their own values.  In most of these cases, conservative fundamentalist religious groups oppose the teaching of scientific ideas that show that evolution is the best explanation science has for the development of life on the planet.

These groups also are furious that schools who adopt national standards, especially the Next Generation Science Standards, teach climate science as fact.  Wyoming added a footnote to a bill that passed which prevents any school district in the state from using the NGSS in its present form.  We can clump many groups into this category who will oppose any set of standards or assessments that were developed nationally.  The idea here is that they oppose the Common Standards and future standards that may come along especially in science and social studies.

But there are also people who oppose the Common Standards for other reasons.  There is a growing body of evidence that the Common Standards are not the solution to make America more competitive, to make kids smarter in math, reading and science, and any of the other ills that have been cast upon the education system.  I’ve reported on this blog that independent research questions the efficacy of a standard-based approach to education as it is now conceived.  The standards-based system is a top-down authoritarian system that disregards the professional decision-making ability of classroom teachers.  I’ve reported research by Wallace that shows that this authoritarian accountability system is a barrier to teaching and learning.

Perhaps the most powerful force in opposition to the Common Standards, and corporate led reform of education is the Network for Public Education, which is a new organization that held its first annual meeting recently in Austin, TX.  At that meeting, “educators” from around America met and exchanged ideas about reform, and spoke out against the corporate led effort to standardize American education.   The existence of this group is a powerful step forward for American teachers who are well represented in the NPE, and include some of America’s most activist bloggers and educators.  It’s time for teachers to push back and over the past year we’ve seen examples of this happening in Seattle, and Chicago.

Why is Bill Gates so concerned about those that have taken on Achieve’s Common Core State Standards?

The answer is that the Gates Foundation has invested about $2.3 billion into the Common Standards and related efforts.  Please read ahead.

In public speeches, Gates has called out those who try to interfere with the implementation of the Common Standards.   When Gates first used his billions to reach out to eduction, there was some glimmer of hope.  The Gates Foundation idea of funding smaller high schools appeared to be a plausible conception.  But things changed, and as we’ve seen, someone with a lot of money can influence organizations in ways that ordinary classroom educators can not.

Soon the Gates Foundation began to fund efforts that, in my view, undermined the work of professional teachers.  Gates own simple conception of “measuring” student learning, has been accepted by many politicians and state education bureaucrats.  Test the students when they come into your class.  Test them when they go out to summer play.  Subtract the scores, and there you have it.  A measure of what student learned.

Figure 1. Awarded Grants at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for College-Ready Grants 2009 - 2014
Figure 1. Awarded Grants at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for College-Ready Grants 2009 – 2014

Common Core Awards

The Gates Foundation has poured millions of dollars into supporting efforts to develop and carry out the Common Standards.  To find out just how much has been poured into the Common Standards by Gates, I searched the Gates Foundation Grantmaking section of their website.  There you can search and find out about programs that were awarded grants by Gates.

As you can see in Figure 1, there were 1817 awards in the group of College-Ready.  College-Ready programs are those that designed to improve teacher effectiveness (Hillsborough County, FL–$100 million), improve data-driven decision-making (Council of Chief State School Officers–$25 million), support work with charter management organizations New Schools Fund–$27.6 million), implementation of Common Standards, (Kentucky Department of Education–$9.8 million), and 1,813 more.

I did a search of the College-Ready grants for 2009 – 2013 using the terms Common Core, and the search returned 161 results.  The largest grant was awarded to the Kentucky Department of Education for $9,800,877, and the smallest grant was awarded to Benchmark Education Company for $25,000.  Using an Excel spreadsheet of the 161 programs that focused on the Common Core, I found out that the Gates Foundation has awarded grants totaling $204,350,462.  That’s $269 million for 161 programs.  The average grant was for $1,269,258.

Within this grouping of 161 grants, some organization received awards in multiple years.  For example, Achieve, the developer of the Common Standards, received grants totaling more than $16 million.

Figure 2. Screen Shot of Excel file of Gates Awards for Common Core implementation.
Figure 2. Screen Shot of Excel file of Gates Awards for Common Core implementation.

College-Ready Grants: $2.3 Billion

But the truth is that the Gates Foundation has provided much more money than the $204,350,462.  This figure is based on only 161 of the grants from the College-Ready category of grants.  The Gates Foundation awarded more than 1800 projects in the group of College-Ready grants, which is one of the main goals of the Common Core.  I’ve not downloaded the data from the 1800 grants into Excel. You might want to go to the Gates website and take a look at the data for these grants. But we can do a rough estimate based on the 161 grants that were analyzed.

If we use the average grant of $1,269,258., then the estimated amount funded to support Common Standards and related education programs by Gates is $2,306,241,786 (that $2.3 billion).

Is Gates and his Foundation’s influence what will improve education in the American democracy?  Or has the influence of power and money brokers been accepted, with little criticism, by the general public?  Is the unrest about the Common Standards in the interests of the future of education, or is it just a few people complaining?  What are your ideas?

Photo by Kristian Niemi, Creative Commons


  1. says

    I think you have nailed it. One thing I find interesting is Gates $ being used for “teacher excellence” conferences and workshops like ECET2 (http://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2014/02/Teachers-Voices-Matter-The-ECET2-Conference). Strikes me that Gates is coming to realize that the way to convince educators that CCSS is the best thing since sliced bread is to provide lots of perks.

    A nice lesson, lifted straight from pharmaceutical companies’ wining and dining of physicians. And that’s worked out well for patients, right?

    • says

      Thank you. Another person tweeted that gates thinks that because he’s “given” $2.3 billion he has the right to strong arm teachers to use the common core. But $ is corrupting, and you have wonder what teachers at the Washington conference where they heard Gates’ pleas, really think. I doubt that if they got national board certification, they got it because of following orders from up high. Jack

      • Lisa North says

        I was at the NBCT Teaching & Learning 2014 conference in DC and listened to Gates. He made me ill.

    • T. Tuttle says

      You are right about that. I recently heard at TRA conference that a group of 5 teachers who are for Common Core are teaching non-college individuals to be teachers in six weeks.

  2. Tracey Riehl says

    The very genesis of our system is rooted in the tradition of deep pockets determining the direction and scope of education. Carnegie and Rockefeller needed literate factory workers, not competition on Wall Street, so you still won’t find ‘stock market class’ in public school. While I don’t doubt Gates is well intentioned in his gratuitous grant writing, the influence this money has afforded him is a slap in the face to real education reformers who have been in the trenches, slugging it out with a tone deaf teacher’s union and apathetic populace. Moreover, these standards will do nothing to inspire, instill or instruct those students who continue to pass through the education system completely undervalued and disregarded. I can only imagine the glorious education revolution that would have taken place had Gates invested billions in fledgling charter and private schools that strive to buck the status quo and educate ALL students with innovation and passion.

    • says

      Thank you Tracey for your comment. Public schools need to be supported for they are at the heart of American democracy. Private schools are very different from charters. Private schools are not the problem. But charter schools are a problem. They are not as effective in enhancing student learning as public schools are, and they are not a real choice for parents. In many cases they have replaced p.s. That were closed. They are interested in very narrow goals, and in urban districts, they are further segregated our students.

      You might read this post and especially my discussion of GERM, which outlines the reform movement that is not working, but we people like Gates reinforcing these failing reforms.

      Again, thank your for your contribution. Jack

    • says

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’ve reported on this blog research on how standards impacts classroom learning. Standards are roadblock to learning, and without teachers being to be flexible in their application, they get in the way of leaning. Standards are ok, but teachers should the final say in how, what, when they are used

      Regards. Jack

  3. Stacy says

    Common Core is good enough for us regular people but not good enough for his own children. Common core is the dumbing down of America.

  4. Wordwaryor says

    Common Core is Progressive Speak for a Nationalized (Common), Centrally Planned (Core), Agenda (Education), System (Standards). It will become a continuous accelerated march to Socialism and to the destruction of America through indoctrination of our kids. It is the means by which Socialists can insinuate better control of children and destroy the influence of parents on kids views, via electronic media teaching.

    All parents should rise up now to stop this before it is too late.

    • says

      Wordwaryor, Thank you for your comments about the common core.

      However, I strongly disagree with you that the common core is progressive speak. In an earlier post I raised this question: Are the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards Progressive Ideology?

      I suggest you take a look at this article. I identify six criticisms of the common core, and as you will see all of them come from a progressive philosophy.

      In short, the K-12 Standards movement is a top-down, authoritarian system that is polar opposite of the kind of action that progressive teachers would see as improving the education for children and youth. Regards, Jack

  5. Rita says

    What’s really important is that all political “sides” are against this thing, all except those who will profit by it and who are in favor of a system that traps everyone into one system. As though there is or ever will be one system that will suit everyone…and so…on go the wars! That’s where the real profit is for many of them. And, it helps fulfill Bill Gates depopulation goals. Yes, I for one have become convinced that it’s all one and the same game.


What do you think?