Bill Gates and the “Boogeymen” of Free Market Systemic Education Reform

By Thomas J. Fiala

In an attempt to explain, by a fellow traveler who also supports America’s important public school system, how the CCSS came to be, blogger Peter Greene (http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/posted the following:

“When David Coleman and Gene Wilhoit (summer 2008) decided they wanted to standardize American education, they did not come up with a plan to sell such a program on its education merits. They called on Bill Gates to use his money and power to convince state governments to legislate systemic changes to education.

Let’s remember that philanthropist Bill Gates (who had already reaped the benefits of free market capitalism) was not new to the free market feeding ground of systemic public education reform in 2008. He had been increasingly funneling millions of dollars for systemic reform since at least 2001-02. In 2005, he gave the keynote speech at the National Governor’s Association Summit. He gave millions to the original 2001 American Diploma Project and supported the projects 2004 report “Ready or Not” that has been heralded as a forerunner to the CCSS. Very importantly, in July 2008 this project trotted out the report “Out of Many One” that added more detail and clarity to the eventual creation of the CCSS. We do not know specifically what was discussed during the Coleman, Wilhoit, Gates meeting in 2008. However, it seems logical that the report “Out of Many, an extension of the 2004 ADP report “Ready or Not,” was something that was included in the meeting that was used to convince Gates to infuse even more money into systemic education reform. Clearly, Coleman and Wilhoit had a plan in hand when they met with Gates in the summer 2008 meeting. However, it is clear that Gates was already on board the systemic education reform express.

We need to be careful with making Gates the wellspring of the CCSS. Gates is a really big fish that financially helped facilitate the creation of the standards. The story of the origins of the CCSS, however, is even scarier than simply looking at the insidious and manipulative hand of the Gates Foundation – and that’s scary enough! Gates, however, is merely one of the corporate voices that echoes throughout the path to the Common Core and currently is by far the biggest voice. Our country’s total allegiance to free market ideology and to the supremacy of the corporate vigilantes has resulted in a strange conglomeration of free market policy makers devoted to school choice initiatives, philanthropist organizations lending credence to free market ideologues, and venture capitalists poised to make a buck on charter schools, high stakes testing, the infusion of expensive technology as a central focus in school curriculums, and a vast number of “opportunities” created by RTTT and other education policies over the years.

What is most frightening to me as a supporter of America’s locally controlled public schools, is that Gates and a whole raft of other corporate and governmental players were involved in an alternate universe of education reform that was a reflection corporate and governmental mutualism. This relationship was able to carve a path to the CCSS even while NCLB – the “official” reauthorization of the ESEA – was holding the attention of those of us in education trying to deal with the ramifications of NCLB. This, and much more, will be made clear in Deb’s new book, “Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.”

We supporters of locally controlled public schools cannot allow these free market types to destroy one America’s most important institutions! Peter Greene’s voice is important in the struggle.  We are fellow travelers.  I am merely adding to his and other voices in our collective attempt to take back our public schools.  

4 thoughts on “Bill Gates and the “Boogeymen” of Free Market Systemic Education Reform

    • I think you are right. But it is “free market” in the sense that the economic ideas of Milton Friedman have influenced education reform. The idea of a free market is rather an economic illusion, but the ideological ramifications of free market economics as espoused by Friedman have come to dominate efforts by those who wish to systemically reform public education as the book will make clear. Even though economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and many others have pretty well debunked Friedman’s economic ideas, these ideas still dominate education reform in many ways. Vouchers, choice, charter schools, VAM, competition, assessment creation, TFA, and the numerous curricular ramifications of the CCSS are usually seen by systemic education reformers as free market approaches to education reform. That being the case, the “education industry,” and in particular the public school system writ larger, is being impacted by what systemic education reformers see as free market approaches that are needed to improve schools. I think these reformers are wrong and out to not only transform, but destroy public education. After all, Friedman saw public schools as government schools and islands of socialism. Thus, he suggested a free market approach to addressing, what he saw, as a problem. Friedman’s legacy is still with us as the book will explain. I, along with others, see public schools as belonging to the public and thus they are citizens’ schools. They are not government schools, and they certainly should not be controlled by corporations that espouse free market solutions to America’s educational challenges, which in turn, allow these corporations to dominate education reform at the expense of citizens and students.
      Tom

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