Bill Gates is often touted as an innovator, but he never deserved that title.
Microsoft under Gates' leadership created very, very few new products. Mostly it bought (or copied) ideas from other, more inventive companies, then piratically marketed its newly acquired software by leveraging its bundling arrangement with IBM, which enabled it to position its products as the de facto industry standard, not infrequently driving better products out of the marketplace, for a generation.
Keep that in mind whenever you read about Gates and his support for education "reform."
The corporate reform movement has co- opted progressive themes and language in the service of radical purposes. Advocating the privatization of public education is deeply reactionary. Disabling or eliminating teachers’ unions removes the strongest voice in each state to advocate for public education and to fight crippling budget cuts. In every state, classroom teachers are experts in education; they know what their students need and their collective voice should be part of any public decision about school improvement. Stripping teachers of their job protections limits academic freedom. Evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students undermines professionalism and encourages teaching to the test. Claiming to be in the forefront of a civil rights movement while ignoring poverty and segregation is reactionary and duplicitous.
The leading funders of the reform movement are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports charter schools and test-based teacher evaluation; the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which supports charter schools and trains urban superintendents in its managerial philosophy; and the Walton Family Foundation, which funds vouchers and charters.
The leading funders of the reform movement are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports charter schools and test-based teacher evaluation; the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which supports charter schools and trains urban superintendents in its managerial philosophy; and the Walton Family Foundation, which funds vouchers and charters. These powerful and wealthy foundations have overlapping interests. They subsidize many organizations in common, such as Teach for America (which recruits young college graduates to teach for two years in low- income schools), the KIPP charter schools and Parent Revolution (the chief advocates of the “parent trigger” idea). They jointly funded the digital learning policy statement issued by Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia, which promotes the proliferation of low- quality virtual charter schools. Many other wealthy foundations support the corporate reform agenda, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, the Fisher Foundation and the Anschutz Foundation, as well as fabulously rich individuals, including the Bezos family (Amazon.com), Reed Hastings (Netflix) and Rupert Murdoch (News Corporation).
The Gates Foundation is by far the largest foundation in the United States and possibly the world. It awards hundreds of millions of dollars in education grants every year. In addition to underwriting the expansion of charter schools, it invests heavily in test- based evaluation of teachers and merit pay. It has made grants to the biggest teachers’ unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association and also made grants to start groups of young teachers to challenge the teachers’ unions. It is difficult to find education organizations that have not been funded by the Gates Foundation. It underwrites “advocacy,” by subsidizing almost every major think tank in Washington, D.C. It supported the creation, evaluation and promotion of the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted in almost every state. In addition, the Gates Foundation has joined in a partnership with the British publisher Pearson to develop online curriculum for teaching the Common Core standards. And the Gates Foundation underwrote the creation of a large database project to collect confidential student data with Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation; critics fear that this information will be disclosed to vendors to market new products to schools and students.
The corporate reform movement has a well-honed message: We are the reformers. We have solutions. The public schools are failing. The public schools are in decline. The public schools don’t work. The public schools are obsolete and broken. We want to innovate. We know how to fix schools. We know how to close the achievement gap. We are leading the civil rights movement of our era. We want a great teacher in every classroom. Class size doesn’t matter. Teachers should be paid more if their students get higher scores. They should be fired if their students don’t get higher scores. Teachers should have their seniority and tenure stripped from them because those things protect bad teachers. Bad teachers cause the achievement gap. Great teachers close the achievement gap. Teachers’ unions are greedy and don’t care about children. People who draw attention to poverty are just making excuses for bad teachers and failing public schools. Those who don’t agree with our strategies are defenders of the status quo. They have no solutions. We have solutions. We know what works. Testing works. Accountability works. Privately managed charter schools work. Closing schools with low test scores works. Paying bonuses to teachers to get higher scores works. Online instruction works. Replacing teachers with online instruction not only works but cuts costs while providing profits to edu-entrepreneurs who will spur further innovation.
It is a seductive message because it offers hope that someone knows how to fix difficult problems. They claim they not only know how to do it but are doing it. They express their message with clarity and certainty. Their message resonates with the major media and with the most powerful people in our society: billionaires, corporate executives, the leaders of major foundations, the president of the United States, the US secretary of education, Wall Street hedge fund managers, pundits and think tank opinion makers.
Bill Gates became the richest man on earth by marketing mediocre products as inevitabilities. Remember that.