In her latest blog entry, Diane Ravitch discusses how Bill Gates and Arne Duncan are speaking the same words...calling for the corporate changes in America's educational system. They both believe that schools should be run like businesses...and children should be considered the "product."
These are two non-educators, remember. Gates is a college drop out, a computer geek, marketing maven, and slick operator who outwitted Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (founders of Apple Computer) by "using" the Macintosh interface and changing it just a bit while getting enough political and economic power to stave off a copyright suit...and later antitrust attacks.
Gates is no fool. He built Microsoft into a huge multinational corporation and the company which 92% (as of November 2010) of the world relies on for their computer access.
But, what does he know about education?
Arne Duncan is a "good-old boy." A Harvard basketball player, sociology major, and friend of President Obama, he started his education career "hanging" with the students his mother tutored. That's as close as he ever got to either attending or teaching in a public school. He ingratiated himself with Mayor Daley in Chicago, and was responsible for the Chicago Miracle, which, like the Texas Miracle that Rod Paige oversaw, never actually happened.
Which one is running the US Department of Education? Gates or Duncan? Here's Ravitch...
The struggle for control of American education continues to evolve at a dizzying pace. I read that Bill Gates advised the Council of Chief State School Officers to eliminate seniority and tenure and recommended that schools stop spending to reduce class size and stop giving teachers extra money for master's degrees. He wants teachers to get paid based on "performance" (i.e., their test scores). I guess we are now seeing a full-court effort to impose the corporate model of school reform, and Gates is the leading spokesman.Why do billionaires like Gates get to define the terms in American public education?
No, wait, I take that back, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said something very similar in a speech a day or two earlier, where he seemed almost happy to say that the days of wine and roses are over and schools must learn to do more with less. They seem to be sharing scripts. I don't know who is the leading spokesman.
I can imagine some of Secretary Duncan's predecessors, such as Secretary Shirley Hufstedler or Secretary Richard Riley or commissioners of education such as Frank Keppel or Harold Howe saying something very different. I can imagine them going to the public and urging them to support more resources where they are needed and more equitable funding. I can hear them saying that we need to thank our hard-working teachers, and we need a stronger profession. But Secretary Duncan likes to win plaudits from the people who love to cut education budgets. Go figure. The eerie similarity between Secretary Duncan and Bill Gates makes me wonder who is running the Department of Education.
Since Gates is a multibillionaire, he can't possibly understand what it means to work in an environment where you might be fired for disagreeing with your boss. Nor can he possibly understand that schools are collaborative cultures that need senior teachers who are ready and willing to help newcomers. He can't imagine that school is different from Microsoft or other big corporations. Let's be honest. CCSSO and The New York Times pay attention to what Gates says because he is so rich. If he didn't run the biggest foundation in the world, if he wasn't one of the richest men in the world, would anyone care about his opinion of education? Really, who would care what he said if he were the chairman of the Whatzit Corporation and sold widgets?Ravitch is right. Gates is wrong.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Kansas City and spoke to the annual meeting of the Missouri NEA. Afterwards, as I was signing books, I spoke to teachers from across the state, from urban districts, small towns, and rural areas. They said things like, "Hi, I have been a teacher for 25 years, and I love it." "Hi, please sign this for my mother, she is a teacher, too." "Hi, I'm the third generation of teachers in my family." "Please sign this for my dad, he's a superintendent..."
...These are the people who teach our children, these are the members of the public who serve their local schools without compensation year after year. They and their children and their children's children will be here long after the corporate reform crowd has moved on and been forgotten.
These are the people on whom our public schools depend. They care deeply about their children, their communities, and their public schools. They don't get to speak to the Council of Chief State School Officers. They don't control billions of dollars. They won't be quoted in the New York Times. But these are the people who make our country work. I wish Bill Gates would get out and listen to them. They could tell him a thing or two.
Does Gates want to improve public education or does he just want a piece of the education industry pie?
Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox News) just bought a huge chunk of a for-profit educational software company, Wireless Generation. The New York City DOE, under the control of the Mayor and appointee, Cathie Black (well, not yet, but soon), is partnered with Wireless Generation "on its Achievement Reporting and Innovation System and School of One initiative." That's why Murdoch hired straight-from-NYC-DOE Joel Klein as his new director of education entrepreneurship.
Does Bill Gates look at all the money to be made in education and think...I want some of that money? Surely not. Instead I'm betting he thinks, "let's do what's best for the education of children in the United States." Surely he would realize that the research shows that merit pay doesn't work...Charter schools are no better (or worse) than traditional public schools...and the biggest factor in the "achievement gap" today is the 1/5 of American children who live in poverty.