Bill Gates
Associated Press/Photo by Nati Harnik
Bill Gates

Bill Gates’ big bucks can’t slow slipping support for Common Core


INDIANAPOLIS—Indiana is no longer a lone ranger in abandoning Common Core.

Oklahoma and South Carolina are pulling out through their state legislatures, and North Carolina is heading for the door as well. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is taking his state out of the national standards, provoking a conflict with state Education Superintendent John White and creating uncertainty about state testing in the fall.

Faced with parental complaints and teacher union criticism, New York almost joined this exodus this spring. Instead, the state compromised by keeping Common Core but not tying test results to teacher evaluations. Indiana started this exodus from Common Core through its state legislature earlier in the year.

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Meanwhile, parental support for the Core is slipping away in some polling. A national Rasmussen Report survey shows 34 percent support for the standards among parents with school-age children. That’s a drop from 47 percent last November.

The slip in parental support could do more harm to the Core than political losses in state governments.

Part of the problem with Common Core is its origins in big money from Bill Gates. Gates wanted to make a big impact on education reform and got persuaded that new national standards could give a wake-up call to parents and teachers about America falling behind other countries. A huge flood of Gates money, followed by federal government funds, motivated testing and publishing companies to start writing new materials and tests. Common Core became a marketing tool, prompting dubious claims about alignment with the Core.

But the untested materials were not necessarily better than earlier ones, as parents learned in New York’s rollout this past school year. A tendency to emphasize math theory in the early grades bothered other parents and helped launch an influential grassroots opposition in Indiana.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent $233 million promoting the Common Core idea, according to Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton. Gates gave grants to liberal and conservative education groups, teachers unions, and the U.S. Chamber Commerce. The federal government tied the standards to massive federal aid. The result has been an overwhelming financial push for Common Core.

The practical problem is that better standards don’t necessarily drive education reform. Post reporter Layton noted another problem with the Gates money, upsetting the usual checks and balances with new educational theories.

“Usually there’s a pilot test—something is tried on a small scale, outside researchers see if it works, and then it’s promoted on a broader scale,” said Sarah Reckhow, an education policy researcher at Michigan State. “That didn’t happen with Common Core.”

If states continue to withdraw from Common Core, the pilot testing approach may still occur. Some states could still try Common Core and its tests, and other states can try to come up with something better. The competition should prove much better than a Common Core monopoly on standards and testing.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.


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