Part 2—Depression, disorder, despair: Bill Gates, a college dropout, has no background in public education.
After spending his early years at Seattle’s View Ridge Elementary School, Gates never attended a public school, let alone taught in one. There has never been the slightest sign that he has the slightest idea how such entities work.
On the brighter side, Gates has mountains of cash, and an apparent belief that he understands public schooling. Given the modern cultural context, he’s surrounded by unimpressive “elites” who go through life with both hands out:
One hand is out for receiving their cash. The other hand is used for receiving their scripts.
In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lyndsey Layton described the way these hapless elites are helping Gates “reform” the nation’s schools. At issue was his recent drive to establish the Common Core, a set of grade-level “standards” for large groups of kids who may have little in common.
As she starts, Layton describes the way Gates, a perfect mark, got conned into thinking the Common Core was an important idea. In the following passage, she describes one of the three million ways he spread his money around:
LAYTON (6/8/14): The [Gates] foundation, for instance, gave more than $5 million to the University of North Carolina-affiliated Hunt Institute, led by the state’s former four-term Democratic governor, Jim Hunt, to advocate for the Common Core in statehouses around the country.Life is good if you’re funded by Gates! You don’t even have to compose your own letters to the local paper. With one hand you accept your cash payments. With the other, you cut-and-paste the sample letters you’ve been handed—or even an op-ed piece!
The grant was the institute’s largest source of income in 2009, more than 10 times the size of its next largest donation.
The Hunt Institute spent $437,000 to hire GMMB, a strategic communications firm owned by Jim Margolis, a top Democratic strategist and veteran of both of Obama’s presidential campaigns. GMMB conducted polling around standards, developed fact sheets, identified language that would be effective in winning support and prepared talking points, among other efforts.
The groups organized by Hunt developed a “messaging tool kit” that included sample letters to the editor, op-ed pieces that could be tailored to individuals depending on whether they were teachers, parents, business executives or civil rights leaders.
Everyone has been in on this game, including “educational experts” of both the “left” and the “right.” As Layton notes, even teachers unions and civil rights groups have been taking this swag.
Can we talk? There has never been the slightest sign that Gates is insightful about public schools. That said, he does have plenty of cash, and the country is full of hacks who are eager to grab it and spend it.
Layton does a very good job reporting the way the money flowed as Gates pushed the Common Core through the various states. On the down side, she never notes the logical flaw at the heart of this project.
Given our giant achievement gaps, how is any set of grade-level “standards” supposed to guide the education of all kids in a given grade? For those who have never set foot in a low-income school, this obvious question may not come to mind. As we noted yesterday, we’ve been asking this obvious question for the past quite a few years.
For now, forget the Common Core. How can any set of grade-level “standards” span our enormous gaps?
For detached non-observers like Gates, this obvious question might not occur. But in Sunday’s New York Times, someone who is deeply involved in our public schools described the role of the gaps.
The writer was Robert Balfanz. He’s an education professor at Johns Hopkins, director of the Everyone Graduates Center.
Needless to say, everyone doesn’t graduate from our public high schools. In his piece, Balfanz describes the struggles which occur within many schools.
His piece was called THE GREAT DIVIDE. That headline refers to the very large gaps which divide the nation’s students well before ninth grade:
BALFANZ (6/8/14): This month, more than three million high school students will receive their diplomas. At more than 80 percent, America’s graduation rate is at a record high. More kids are going to college, too. But one-third of the nation’s African-American and Latino young men will not graduate.In our view, the focus on those 660 schools may be a bit misleading. It may suggest that these struggling students would fare substantially better in other high schools.
In an era when there is virtually no legal work for dropouts, these young men face a bleak future. It is not news that the students who don’t make it out of high school largely come from our poorest neighborhoods, but the degree to which they are hyper-concentrated in a small set of schools is alarming. In fact, according to new research I conducted with my colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, half of the African-American boys who veer off the path to high school graduation do so in just 660 of more than 12,600 regular and vocational high schools.
These 660 schools are typically big high schools that teach only poor kids of color. They are concentrated in 15 states. Many are in major cities, but others are in smaller, decaying industrial cities or in the South, especially in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.
This seemingly intractable problem is a national tragedy...
That supposition may be true, but it’s far from obvious.
Balfanz works in a program to keep these struggling students “on track,” presumably for graduation. A bit later, he provides a cursory look at the size of the gaps, and at the role these punishing gaps play within these low-income schools:
BALFANZ: It is not unusual for up to half the students [in these high schools] to miss a month or more of school, and often more students are suspended in a year than graduate. In a 22-school sample that we studied closely, nearly all ninth-grade students were either too old for their grades, had repeated ninth grade, needed special education, were chronically absent or had academic skills at the seventh grade level or below. The norm in this environment is to fail classes and then repeat ninth grade. But most students do no better the second time around. Either they drop out then or they may briefly transfer to another school before dropping out later. This is a highly predictable, almost mechanical course, which is why we call those schools dropout factories.According to Balfanz, “nearly all ninth-grade students” in the study he cites “were either too old for their grades, had repeated ninth grade, needed special education, were chronically absent or had academic skills at the seventh grade level or below.”
We will suggest that the key words there may be the words “or below.”
How far below the seventh-grade level might the skill levels be? Could some ninth-graders, who may be tenth grade by age, be functioning at fifth-grade level?
Everything tells us the answer is yes; our achievement gaps are very wide. Yet Bill Gates and his gang of hacks have spent the past several years trying to establish challenging “standards” for all the students in our ninth grades—for students who are doing quite well and for those who are floundering.
On its face, this makes little sense. That said, Gates, a college dropout, is quite sure that he is involved with a very important idea.
In the rest of his piece, Balfanz describes the ways his program tries to keep those struggling kids from dropping out of school. He doesn’t really try to describe the academic work these kids are doing. We’ll guess it differs from the work being down elsewhere in their regions by kids who, like Gates as a high school freshman, are on their way to Harvard.
Balfanz describes chronic absenteeism at those urban high schools, and high suspension rates. When he does, he is describing the depression, dismay and despair which may overtake the lives of kids who have been floundering in school since the earliest grades.
It’s no fun being confused every day in our public schools. Most adults don’t like the experience being confused and thrown in over their heads on some project. For children, the experience continues for years. This is humiliating and painful, a source of anger, dismay and despair.
How do kids get so far behind by the time they reach the ninth grade? How does the following situation come into being, the situation described by Eduardo Porter?
“In some public schools, children who are entering the sixth grade with the measured proficiency of first graders are mixed in with children who perform well above the sixth-grade standard.”
To state the obvious, those very large gaps don’t get their start in the ninth grade or even the sixth. But given the very large size of these gaps, the notion that they can be addressed by common sets of grade-level standards is, in a word, bizarre.
Tomorrow, we’ll go back to fourth grade to help explain how those gaps occur. On Thursday, we’ll retreat even farther, to the first years of life.
But make no mistake—as far “behind” as those ninth-graders may be, Gates and his minions are even more clueless. As privileged beings pursuing Big Scratch, it’s easy for them to disregard the role of our very large gaps.
Tomorrow: The role of the gaps in fourth grade