Monday, June 9, 2014

Takeaways from Layton's Gates Interview

If you have not yet read Lyndsey Layton's extraordinary piece about How Gates Did It, or watched the video of the interview itself, you must do so. (And when you're done, also take a look at Mercedes Schneider's simple question-- why is the interview being published three months after it actually happened?)

The article is a nice piece of work, and I'm not going to rehash it here. But I am going to underline just a few of the pieces that jumped out at me.

Money and Connections

The article underlines what many of us have said many times-- if the money dried up today, support for Common Core would dry up tomorrow. Every step of the process, every bit of spreading of support has been a function of money.

I actually agree with Gates when he says that he doesn't pay people to agree with him. I don't how that is how it works. If I were rich, I wouldn't say, "Agree with me and I'll give you money." But I would look to give my money to people who agree with me, or at least fake it well enough to convince me.

But the entire story of Common Core's success is a combination of "We got a grant" and "I know a guy." The CCSS world is a tight, incestuous community of likeminded people who call on each other when a job needs to be done. Reformsters used connection in Kentucky to get them on board, and they used connections in the business community to get  on board, and money gave it all a slick, glossy, well-backed look, as well as making all the leg work, paper work, and meeting work free!

This article notes, as many have, that the onset of CCSS was quiet, initially unnoticed. That's because CCSS never made its way through the marketplace of ideas. It never had to sweep through the public, nor was it ever run by people in the education community. Money, power and connections allowed it to leapfrog right past all of that.

Federal Program

Raise your hand is you're surprised to read that Race to the Top almost included a Common Core requirement until someone realized that would be illegal. Yeah, me neither.

The notion that this is state-led is one of the most transparently ridiculous fictions of the whole reformster movement. It's nice to see that laid out in print.

Gates Is Human

Maybe I'm projecting. Maybe I'm compensating (disclosure-- a member of my family works for Microsoft). But it seems that Gates shares a completely ordinary perception problem-- once he has bought into a certain view, he does not modify it.

When he says, "There’s a lot of work that’s gone into making these [standards] good," I don't get the sense he's deliberately lying. I get the impression that he's a guy who has convinced himself that it's so. I think he's developed a mental image of how these worked, how they arrived, what they do, and what they will accomplish, and now it's just a matter of exercising will (and money and power) to make it so.

I get that. It's how you turn Windows into the OS that rules most of the computer world. Unfortunately, it is also how you end up spending millions producing the Zune.

So Gates has invested huge amounts of time and money into a process and product that is fundamentally flawed and terminally wrong-- so wrong that its continued survival depends on continued financial support. And on top of being already dead wrong, the process has been co-opted and twisted by profiteers who see their chance-- outfits like Pearson and the Data Overlords and hedge fund charter operators who see helping the great Gates as a way to get a free pass on the gravy train. One way of viewing our current mess is that Common Core is the disease and the rest is a mass of opportunistic infections.

Because there's a problem with a program that survives only because of money. It ends up being pushed and supported by people who believe, not in the program, but in money. It's money that they're faithful to, and money that they follow, and if it comes down to a choice between making some more money and staying faithful to Gates's vision of a better educational world, they'll choose the money every time. It only makes matters worse that the vision is so wrong to begin with.

I don't believe that Gates is some sort of Evil Genius, and I don't think he really cares if he makes more money on all of this. I do think he is a rich and powerful guy who is used to being right and used to getting his way, and he's is uniquely and specially blind to how completely wrong he is on Common Core and all the evil to which it has opened the door. IOW, I don't think it's greed; I think it's hubris.

It's hubris that makes humans stop paying attention. It's hubris that makes humans say, "I don't need any new information. I just need to preserve my vision of what I know is right. Any challenge to that is a challenge to me, and I will fight it just like an attack on my person." Add a ton of money, and people will fall over themselves telling you just how right you are.

Best Quote in the Article

The best quote for me in the article comes from Jay P. Greene.

"Really rich guys can come up with ideas that they think are great, but there is a danger that everyone will tell them they’re great, even if they’re not,” Greene said.

That's the big takeaway. CCSS is not about education, it's not about research, it's not about educational experts, it's not about actual results in school, it's not about looking out for the rights of students--

It's about money and power.

1 comment:

  1. " It's how you turn Windows into the OS that rules most of the computer world. Unfortunately, it is also how you end up spending millions producing the Zune."

    It's also how you end up with a lost generation of children in education, much like Microsoft's own "lost decade".