At a Politico event Monday, Bill Gates endorsed the common core state standards (CCSS) as a “technocratic issue” like getting all states to use a standardized electrical outlet. He explained that the education system today is segmented and low-quality compared to Asian countries. Gates came very close to promoting a “common curriculum,” a particularly controversial idea that is not being advocated by the CCSS initiative.
The common core is an educational initiative to set national benchmarks that say what a child should know at what grade level. The benchmarks come with tests to assess student levels.
Bill Gates has put about $200 million into the state standards initiative and is its biggest financial contributor. His efforts have seemed to pay off, the initiative has been formally adopted by 41 (or 82 percent) of states, in academic terms that’s a B-. Still, nine “red states” refuse the standards.
Some have protested that putting all the nation’s classrooms into a “one size fits all” mentality drains the entrepreneurship of teachers. Others say that the common core goes too far, forcing schools to teach ideas that might infringe on religious education. Still, others say that the CCSS does not go far enough and should include things like computer programming skills. Then some say the federal standards won’t do anything at all.
Despite all the push-back, Bill Gates says he’s surprised common core became a political issue.
“Common Core I would have thought of as more of a technocratic issue. The basic idea of, ‘should we share an electrical plug across the country?’ Well, you can get partisan about that I suppose… I did not really expect that to become a big political issue.”
Instead, Bill Gates feels that having national standards is just common sense.
“Should Georgia have a different railroad width than everybody else? Should they teach multiplication in a different way? Oh that’s brilliant (sarcasm), who came up with that idea? Common Core, the idea that what you should know at various grades, that that should be well-structured and you should really insist on kids knowing something so you can build on it.”
Nevertheless, Gates has been flexible in selling the CCSS. Originally the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was contacting Catholic leaders to get their support. Unfortunately, some of the emails were sent to the Cardinal Newman Society, which defends the standards set for Catholic schools. The society has also urged Catholic schools to be wary of the common core, especially since the Catholic education typically outperforms public schooling.
Bill Gate’s foundation later dropped the push, showing that the standards may not be for everyone.
A video of Bill Gates at the politico event can be found here.
[Image Credit: World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons]