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Editorial: Vilification of Gates is misguided

Last Sunday, the Monitor ran a front-page article by Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton titled “How Bill Gates Pulled Off the Swift Common Core Revolution.” Once sold on the need for a single set of education standards, it took the billionaire just two years to convince 46 states, including New Hampshire, to adopt Common Core standards, which emphasize the importance of acquiring critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Gates spent about $200 million to fund efforts by educators, universities and think tanks on the right and left to identify core competencies in reading and math, create standards and fund state efforts to apply for federal money under President Obama’s Race to the Top education program.

It’s easy to say Gates and his wife bought their way around obstacles to making a fundamental change in American education and many critics, primarily those on the right, have done just that. Common Core has been called Obamacore, a subversion of states’ rights, an effort to indoctrinate the nation’s children with a single philosophy, a scheme for Gates’s company, Microsoft, to profit from controlling education, a socialist plot and much more.

Common Core is none of those. In fact, though the change probably would not have happened without Gates’s money, and certainly would not have happened quickly, his millions played a secondary role in the adoption of the standards. The change occurred because the need for a single national standard to measure educational achievement was an idea whose time had come.

Traditionally, each state set its own educational standards, and they varied wildly.

George W. Bush, with his No Child Left Behind testing program, tried to change that by using testing to measure success. It was a well-meaning but failed experiment. Remember what happened? Some states, most notoriously Texas, dumbed down standards so much that kids who could barely read or write were deemed to have been competently educated. Many, if not most, schools taught to the test, which allowed students to score decently even if they didn’t understand the principles necessary to arrive at the right answer. Educators in other states flat-out cheated by giving students the answers or blatantly erasing wrong answers and filling in correct ones.

Less than two years ago, this paper’s editors met with the leaders of New Hampshire’s community college system. We were shocked to learn that 65 percent of the freshmen entering the system needed remedial classes in at least one fundamental area. The same, it turns out, was true in Massachusetts and other states. High school students were graduating without the skills, or the ability to acquire them, that are required to succeed in college.

Recognizing that problem, in 2007 more than 40 members of the National Governors Association, with input from teachers and educators, developed what became the Common Core standards. Their product won the backing of Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as businesses, because the need was obvious. If America’s students are going to compete in a global company, they can’t continue to fall far below their peers in other nations when their skills are tested.

Common Core standards are not, as some claim, a federal takeover of education. They are minimum standards. States are free to adopt tougher ones; school districts and teachers are free to use any curriculum, method or textbooks they want. Success requires recognizing that poverty is a barrier to learning that requires resources to surmount. What it takes to meet Common Core standards will differ from district to district, school to school, and student to student. The path there is for states and communities to find.

Having a common set of minimum standards won’t fix what ails American education. But without them, any effort to educate American students well enough to compete with their peers across the planet would be doomed.

Legacy Comments7

BPR is correct about how our schools have experimented with teaching programs for years. And, when that started happening, the test scores tanked. The programs failed because for the most part, they were not fully implemented. That is the problem with CC, implementation. The other problem was the idea that a teacher should take on more parenting roles. That is not what they were hired to do. When the schools started being parents, the parents were in fact given a pass on parenting. No need to read to your kid a tutor will be provided, no need to even feed your kid, that will be provided, and no need to even nurture you kid emotionally or teach them about sex, that will be provided at school. So basically our schools claim that want more parental involvement and then take over the role as parent. Human nature proves that if you do not have to do something you will not. Parents are not held accountable, school costs have been rising because of it. Then we have tenure for lousy teachers, and the fact that we do not require our teachers to be at the top of their graduation class. Great teachers inspire students, they reach them. Great teachers coming of college are the first ones let go because of tenure and they in fact are younger, not burnt out and probably are more up to date on teaching techniques. That is not to say that we do not have great older teachers. Then add on the bloated costs of administrators who often do not support the teachers but instead stunt their creativity. I cannot figure out why teachers have not come out and stated what is wrong. They are there and know what works and what does not. They are silent it seems. And they get trashed for things beyond their control. The system is a mess and money will not fix it.

I am always amazed by the idea that folks believe that an education system that cannot teach the basics, can actually teach students to critically think. The folks who are pro Common Core never tell you what is in it. When is division introduced and algebra? They also do not tell you that states signed up because they were held hostage in regards to funding they would get. They have not figured out a way to evaluate a teacher yet either. Gates wants teacher evaluations to but put off for two years. The implementation of this program has been a nightmare for teachers. Pretty much like the ACA. Nobody knows what is in it, and delays will have to be enforced because it is a bad program. That is why they call it ObamaCore. Same deal. Sold with carrots and sticks. We are to believe that an education system that has trouble teaching the basics, can actually implement a program that is based on critical thinking. Even the unions hate it. Teachers will be scape goats again.

I think the minimum standards that Common Core sets are a bar that many states will exceed if they implement the curriculum. For hte US to once again turn out stellar research and development, scientists, mathematicians, and even English teachers, we need the next generation to be able to think critically and be able to solve problems- not just teach to a test that takes them into dullsville of the mind.

The fox guarding the hen house. In another attempt to hide the teacher union continued incompetence they come up with a new name for the same old - same old. Anyone remember these changes: New Math, Everyday Math, College Preparatory Math, Connected Math, Core-Plus Mathematics, Discovering Math, Number Power, Interactive Mathematics, Investigations Math, Trailblazers, Chicago Math. The zip code based institutions of liberal indoctrination will destroy this great nation - bring on school choice to fix what ails us.

It's funny you mention the "zip-code based institutions of liberal indoctrination" as being evil. In reality, one of the evils that Common Core seeks to solve is just that - a "regional" model where there is no consistency in standards from one town - let alone one state - to the next.

a national takeover of education is NOT a good thing

Any "national takeover of education" is strictly in the fantasists' minds. By the way, BestPres, one is baffled by your sneering reference to "zip code based institutions." Since I've been able to understand education debates (mid 1950's)conservatives have unanimously held up "neighborhood schools" as the gold standard. Heaven forbid intellectual consistency get in the way of a BestPres rip-snorter!

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