No, this is not a spoof headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion. In his 2009 annual letter to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates did something unheard of for an American billionaire. He admitted that one of his proposals for changing education in the United States did not work. Unfortunately, this insight did not stop Gates from continuing to tell everybody else what they should do to improve the schools (read the letter).
Bill Gates believes that providing everyone with a "great education" is a vital step for ending social inequality in the United States and is "the key to retaining our position of world leadership in all areas, including starting great businesses and doing innovative research." He also believes that it is his God-given right as an incredibly wealthy person who attended private schools his entire life and knows nothing about public schools or the problems that face ordinary people to decide how our schools should be organized.
To help Gates achieve his goals, his foundation gave $2 billion over a nine-year period to influence localities to open smaller mini-high schools, a plan that became a major part of the Bloomberg educational reform plan in New York City.
In his letter, Gates said he was proud that "a few of the schools that we funded achieved something amazing." However, to his chagrin, "Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students' achievement in any significant way ... We had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school ... we are trying to raise college-ready graduation rates, and in most cases, we fell short."
Gates admitted, "Unlike scientists developing a vaccine, it is hard to test with scientific certainty what works in schools." However, why should this stop him or his political allies (Bloomberg, Duncan and Obama) from using the rest of us as their guinea pigs.
Gates claims that in response to these discoveries he has refined his strategy to change the schools. He announced he would invest in the school model that he thinks worked the best -- new charter schools that can cherry-pick their students, avoid the rules and salaries mandated by teacher unions, and circumvent public oversight. Part of Gates' money will be used to change state laws placing limits on the charters.
When you read the Gates letter, on the face of it, some of his proposals do not seem so outrageous, until you read more deeply. His "new strategy focuses on learning why some teachers are so much more effective than others and how best practices can be spread throughout the education system so that the average quality goes up." His plan is to have "the best teachers ... put their lectures online as a model for other teachers."
I need to repeat that last line. Gates thinks he is going to change schools by having the best teachers put their lectures online. Bill Gates, if you really believe that the major social problems that affect education in the United States will be solved in this way, not only are you fool, but you are cheap fool at that.
In a recent article in Workplace (16, 2009: 53-72), an online journal that examines "academic labor," Kenneth Saltman challenged what he calls the "venture philanthropy" assault on public education being lead by Gates, the Waltons, and the Eli and Edith Broad Foundation. According to Saltman, venture (vulture?) philanthropy treats schooling as a "private consumable service and promotes business remedies, reforms, and assumptions," especially privatization, market competition, consumer choice, top-down corporate style management, and incentive pay for students and teachers. Although they provide only a fraction of the money spent on public education in the United States, they have had a disproportionate influence because of the business management orientation of prominent politicians like Bloomberg and Obama and the mainstream media led by the New York Times. Saltman believes the Obama-Duncan "Race to the Top" grade inflation plan that forces state's to compete for federal grant money based on student scores on standardized tests is directly based on a prize for "achievement" sponsored by the Broad Foundation.
All of these business oriented "educational reformers" and their allies in government and the media equate student scores on standardized tests with quality education, much as they equate corporate profit with the broader social good -- and they cook the books when necessary to win public support. Bernie Madoff, once a prominent business colleague of the mega-wealthy, is now in prison for running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors out of billions of dollars. Maybe he can keep a bed warm there for Bill Gates, who admitted he was wrong, but sees no reason to stop promoting his bogus educational schemes.