Bill Gates and our schools

Texarkana Gazette - - OPINION - San Diego Union-Tri­bune

The Bill Gates Foun­da­tion’s ef­forts to im­prove U.S. pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion haven’t gone as well as hoped, as Gates ad­mit­ted in re­marks last month at an ed­u­ca­tion con­fer­ence. As a re­sult, he said the foun­da­tion is “evolv­ing our ed­u­ca­tion strat­egy” as it looks to in­vest close to $1.7 bil­lion in U.S. pub­lic schools over five years.

While the Gates Foun­da­tion has funded many ed­u­ca­tion ini­tia­tives, its big­gest splash came with its Com­mon Core cam­paign, launched in 2009. But Com­mon Core has come un­der fire from teachers unions and their po­lit­i­cal al­lies be­cause of its em­pha­sis on test­ing and teacher ac­count­abil­ity. And Com­mon Core faces crit­i­cism from con­ser­va­tives be­cause it seeks to re­quire in­de­pen­dent-minded states to use stan­dards man­dated at the na­tional level.

Th­ese chang­ing po­lit­i­cal wa­ters sug­gest that if the Gates Foun­da­tion truly wants to ad­vance pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, the last thing it should do is ad­vo­cate na­tional stan­dards. In­stead, it should urge states to copy what has worked in other states.

The Mas­sachusetts Ed­u­ca­tion Re­form Act of 1993, for ex­am­ple, es­tab­lished stan­dard­ized ba­sic meth­ods to as­sess the per­for­mance of stu­dents, teachers, ad­min­is­tra­tors and su­per­in­ten­dents and hold them ac­count­able. Its pub­lic schools are widely seen as Amer­ica’s best.

Since 1984, Texas has passed a se­ries of ed­u­ca­tion re­forms that— like those in Mas­sachusetts—set up ba­sic ac­count­abil­ity re­quire­ments for schools and dis­tricts while track­ing the per­for­mance of four stu­dent groups: whites, His­pan­ics, African-Amer­i­cans and the eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged. A 2015 Ur­ban In­sti­tute re­port ranked Texas be­hind only Mas­sachusetts and New Jer­sey in school qual­ity.

No critic can ex­plain away the years of com­pre­hen­sive suc­cess seen in Mas­sachusetts and Texas. Whether you live in a red state or a blue state, no one should ac­cept so-so schools. There is a bet­ter way.

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