kitchen table math, the sequel: Does it matter if writers are funded by Bill Gates?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Does it matter if writers are funded by Bill Gates?

Back when I was first writing ktm, and was just discovering constructivism, I watched an Oprah Winfrey special on a Bill Gates-funded school in San Diego (I think it was). High Tech High.

The camera followed Oprah around the school for what seemed like a very long tour. The rooms were strikingly different from standard academic classrooms. For one thing, there were no books. No desks, really, either. Just groups (teams!) of kids building stuff. Every class looked like shop class, only with plastic and metal instead of wood.

Finally Oprah said, "I don't see any books. Don't you have books?"

The tour guide, who may have been head of school, said rather proudly that, no, they didn't have books.

I expected the guide to add that all their books were on computers because they were high-tech-high (e-books weren't around yet), but she didn't. The answer was just a simple 'no.' The school didn't have books. Because technology, I guess.

The look on Oprah's face was priceless. She more or less wrinkled her nose, then said, "I don't think I'd like this school very much."

A fabulous moment.

Naturally, I was aghast, and I wanted to write a post about the show.

But I didn't.

My co-creator of ktm, Carolyn, along with her husband, Bernie, had just taken jobs at Microsoft; they'd pulled up stakes and moved to Seattle.

Given Carolyn's professional situation, I didn't think I should write a post sharply criticizing Bill Gates.

I had no idea whether blasting a Bill Gates-funded school on a blog I shared with Carolyn would bother her, and I didn't ask. I didn't want to put her in the position of having to express an opinion one way or the other. Nor did I know whether blasting a Gates-funded school on our blog would bother anyone she worked for. I was pretty sure no one at Microsoft would see anything I wrote, but you never know.

So I said dropped the idea.

I didn't change my views.

I didn't become an advocate for schools without books.

I just let it go.

That's how social influence works.

Bill Gates is funding too many think tanks, schools, unions, interest groups, politicians, journalism projects, politicians, etc. In the world of education, you can't turn around without bumping into the guy.

We need writers to point this out.


Robin/Student of History said...

High Tech High and its New Tech Network remain the model now for the congressionally pushed League of Innovative Schools.

It is a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks and is thus tied to the Next Generation Learning designed to make the Common Core moot. Although Gates has had some role, the real funding powers there are the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Hewlett Foundation.

High Tech High is also where the Deeper Learning annual conferences are held. The vision you do not like is the vision of education's future that the federal government and the chief philanthropies and all the innovative districts and the Innovative Lab Network of CCSSO are all pushing.

Yikes indeed. It's also what Harvard's Tony Wagner is pushing. Heard him speak on it last year and he was doing a movie to highlight the High Tech High vision.

SteveH said...

Gates says:

“These are not political things,” he said. “These are where people are trying to apply expertise to say, ‘Is this a way of making education better?’ ... At the end of the day, I don’t think wanting education to be better is a right-wing or left-wing thing,” Gates said. “We fund people to look into things. We don’t fund people to say, ‘Okay, we’ll pay you this if you say you like the Common Core.’ ”

I can understand why people liked the idea of changing NCLB into a more consistent national standard. However, details matter. I don't think Gates is any sort of mastermind in education with any grand plan.

"Gates is disdainful of the rhetoric from opponents. He sees himself as a technocrat trying to foster solutions to a profound social problem — gaping inequalities in U.S. public education — by investing in promising new ideas."

Unfortunately, Gates should have done his homework first before spending all that money. I'll call it the Bernie Madoff effect - you can trust important people. They sell the grand idea, but the assumptions and details define everything.

"Bill and Melinda Gates ... are parents of school-age children, although none of those children attend schools that use the Common Core standards. ... Still, Gates said he wants his children to know a “superset” of the Common Core standards — everything in the standards and beyond."

"and beyond."

Oops. Doesn't he see a problem here?

"“This is about giving money away,” he said of his support for the standards. “This is philanthropy. This is trying to make sure students have the kind of opportunity I had . . . and it’s almost outrageous to say otherwise, in my view.”"

I agree with him. Unfortunately, however, he bought the wrong product. He should stop and compare CC with the exact opportunity he had to see if they match up. I think he forgot the "and beyond."

SteveH said...

"Tom Loveless, a former Harvard professor who is an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, said the Common Core was “built on a shaky theory.”"

Unfortunately, there are a number of very different reasons why people don't like CC and that confuses the national discussion. It's stuck. Nobody wants to go back and study the philosophy and assumptions of CC.

The biggest flaw of CC is that it's one-size-fits all - "college readiness". Staring them in the face are all of the high schools that offer different levels of courses where college readiness is not just one thing. In fact, now that everyone is supposed to go to college, college readiness really only means graduating from high school so that you don't have to take remedial courses in college. Gates (etal) can provide the "and beyond" to their kids, but not worry about others because they get "college readiness."

I think there is an awful national mindset towards relative improvements in education. Educational leaders see the job as improving average statistics, not providing individual opportunities. This is a control and status quo issue. They don't want to let parents into the process, but parents care about individuals while others care about statistics.

SteveH said...

So now we have Gingrich chiming in with the following:

"Get schools out of the 1890s"

"Pioneering projects like Khan Academy, Udacity and Coursera are pointing toward a future of learning that is more like Netflix than the chalk-and-textbook system we have today. Each of them is using technology to help students learn at their own pace, on their own path, and toward their own goals."

[Self-] "learn on their own path". Or maybe not. Why aren't high schools all self-learn institutions?

"Future lessons are tailored to fit their needs. Then teachers, armed with detailed data about each student, can lead small group and one-on-one sessions to help clear up problems. If, for example, Susie is having trouble grasping fractions, a teacher would be able to identify her difficulty, often that same day, and intervene to make sure she doesn't get left behind."

So how is Susie getting "left-behind" if everything is individualized? Are teachers making judgments on Susie's IQ and deciding that she should not be getting behind?

"Under the traditional model of education, students who are having trouble often pass from lesson to lesson, falling further and further behind until the teacher has the time to review the entire class' progress."

What? In a traditional model, kids are tested and their grades and papers get seen immediately by parents. They get report cards and they get threatened with summer school or being held back a year. With the current philosophy, school work and grades get hidden away in portfolios that parents have difficulty seeing, they use meaningless rubrics, and they trust the spiral, which allows kids to go on for years before seeing problems, in which case it's too late.

"Contact your member of Congress today and voice support for Rep. Rodgers' bill to help more schools start blended learning pilot programs. It's time our education system enters the 21st century."

Blah, blah, woof, woof. These are our leaders speaking.

I'll support any system that gives parents choice. That is the only way to institutionalize educational improvement, because I trust parents much more than people like Gates, Coleman, and Gingrich.