In her annual open letter detailing the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann admitted the nonprofit had found it “a real struggle to make system-wide change” in U.S. education.
The Gates Foundation has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing, promoting, and lobbying for Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a set of national learning standards dictating what K–12 students should know in math and English. The foundation “underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards,” wrote Desmond-Hellmann.
“We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators—particularly teachers—but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning,” Desmond-Hellmann wrote.
“The mission of improving education in America is both vast and complicated, and the Gates Foundation doesn’t have all the answers,” said Desmond-Hellmann.
The letter closes by promising the Gates Foundation will “double down” on its efforts “to make sure teachers have what they need to make the most of their unique capabilities.”
Failure to Launch
Shane Vander Hart, editor of Truth in American Education, says Common Core was flawed from the beginning.
“The whole process behind the Common Core State Standards was flawed, because it was a top-down effort,” Vander Hart said. “It is nonsensical not to have engaged parents early on. Parents know their kids better than any teacher would know them, and parents are the primary stakeholders in their children’s education.”
Emmett McGroarty, executive director of the American Principles Project, says the Gates Foundation used an “elitist approach” to push Common Core into the nation’s schools, instead of allowing states to create and adopt their own standards, as they had always done before.
“They shunned world-class content experts and concerned parents alike, [and they] instead [put their trust in] a standards development and adoption process predicated on a monopoly and on an end-run around the checks and balances of our constitutional structure,” McGroarty said.
Vander Hart says there’s a reason members of the education establishment didn’t involve the public in the process.
“Federalism is inconvenient for educrats, because what they really want is national standards,” Vander Hart said. “They didn’t engage early on because they knew that effort would be sabotaged, because parents, educators, and state legislators would actually want to—gasp—read the standards.”
McGroarty says Desmond-Hellmann is wrong to claim Common Core’s failure has been the result of a lack of resources and support.
“In other words, if only the teachers had grasped the beauty of the Common Core, everything would be fine?” McGroarty said. “The Common Core is a manmade disaster of epic proportions, and its victims are the children who have suffered it during their precious school years.”
Alternative Reform Efforts
Vander Hart says studies regularly report engaged parents and great teachers are the biggest influences on a child’s education, but the very existence of a public school system undermines parents’ role.
“As far as a student having great parents, that is a cultural issue and not one the Gates Foundation or government can change,” Vander Hart said. “Until that happens, we’ll have too many parents abdicate their role, [empowering] a public school system encouraging them to do just that, [and] all the while they wonder why parents aren’t involved.”
Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.