Tag Archives: Bill Gates

What do Businesses and Billionaires Sometimes Have in Common?

Flip BESE 2

Recently I read an article from Barry Erwin about will Louisiana be honest when PARCC scores comes out. Almost immediately afterwards, a friend linked me to a Washington Post article about billionaires from outside the state pouring money into our local Board of Elementary and Secondary Education elections.

I guess thirty pieces of silver is no longer the going rate for demonizing the teaching profession and abusing students as young as kindergartners with more and more tests.

Business and Billionaires, I thought, are trying to continue their strangle-hold on the present BESE Board, where they possess—some say bought—a solid majority of votes in favor of endless testing and attempting to quantify student results in a way that compares us to other states.

The Post article factually reported that Eli Broad, California-based billionaire, and Alice and Jim Walton, heirs to Sam Walton’s fortune, have poured some $650,000 into Empower Louisiana, a PAC founded and funded by Baton Rouge millionaire Lane Grigsby. The PAC, in turn, funnels money for flyers and ad space for the BESE candidates who favor continuing the test-till-you-drop method of student and teacher accountability, and increasing the flow of public money to private, charter institutions.

I guess thirty pieces of silver is no longer the going rate for demonizing the teaching profession and abusing students as young as kindergartners with more and more tests.

I think I donated $25 once to a campaign. I wonder how much bang I might get for my buck.

I also didn’t realize that our BESE Board elections were so interesting to outsiders that they felt compelled to pour that much money to get certain candidates elected. How about the simple merits of their positions and the strength of their arguments?

Naïve me. Those things don’t win anymore in this modern age.

Or do they?

I sincerely hope that the public realizes that groups like Council for a Better Louisiana, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Stand for Children, Teach for America, and numerous others have been bought and paid for with Bill Gates’ money. He’s the ultimate billionaire who funded the price tag to create the behemoth called Common Core.

I sincerely hope that the public views the video “2011: When the Billionaires Bought BESE.” It’s an eye-opener about the election some four years ago that set us on this disastrous path.

Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Alice & Jim Walton, John Arnold, Paul Tudor Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, just a few of the billionaires out there trying to drown out educators’ and parents’ voices with their hefty pile of dollar bills.

People of Louisiana, don’t be fooled by this glittering display of money that would have been better served helping children get out of poverty. Avoid the slick words of the snake oil salesmen who think so little of Louisiana parents and teachers. Make an informed choice, devoid of the spectre of the loudest, bawdiest people who try to outshine integrity with their vulgar display of wealth.

And then I realized, in this fateful moment, what business and billionaires have in common: they’re bullies, trying to buy their way to what they want because of the paucity of their ideas.

It’s time to stand up to the bullies.

Business, Billionaires, and Bullies: what a devastating combination for Louisiana’s children, educators, and parents.



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Billionaires Everywhere Want to Fix Education

Money doesn’t buy everything, and it shouldn’t. I wish these billionaires would resist the urge to tinker in unproven educational reforms.

In an education course, I learned a wonderful term, metacognition: knowing what you know as well as what you don’t know. I wish that our friendly billionaires could grasp that concept, because there is a lot they don’t know.

My life mission has been to teach. I was lucky enough to discover that goal at age 13, and I haven’t wavered in thirty-two years. I know what I do well, and more importantly, I know what I am incapable of doing. I would never presume to tell a doctor, accountant, or lawyer how to do their job. I am not qualified to lecture real estate agents, engineers, public relations people, pharmacists, or software designers. So what exactly gives billionaires the right to attempt to revamp education? Their years of classroom experience? Their background in pedagogy? Their under-graduate or graduate courses in education? No. It is simply their money.

Money doesn’t buy everything, and it shouldn’t. I wish these billionaires would resist the urge to tinker in unproven educational reforms.

The worst example is Bill Gates, that thrifty philanthropist who has pumped over half a billion dollars either directly or indirectly in the reform du jour called Common Core. When the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers launched the effort called Common Core, they lacked the funds to design it, but Bill Gates footed the majority of the bill and has subsequently funneled funds to various groups to support it, e.g. Parent Teacher Associations, National Education Association, Stand for Children, and Educators for Excellence. He has also partnered with Harvard University to devise a new system of teacher evaluation, as yet still undeveloped.

In 2010, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook donated $100 million to the Newark Public School System, and the first $50 million was earmarked as bonuses for teachers who were ranked highly effective in the teacher evaluation system. New Jersey didn’t have the funds to pay those bonuses, but Zuckerberg did, further reinforcing the flawed idea that teacher effectiveness can accurately be evaluated and only paid for by outsiders.

John Arnold is a Texas billionaire who has donated millions to Teach For America, whose teachers rarely last more than three years in education, Knowledge Is Power Program, a series of charter schools, and Students First, a professional lobby formed by former Washington D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Billionaire Paul Tudor Gates has also stepped in. Originally his organization Robin Hood was attempting to fight poverty, a noble effort indeed, but he altered his goals when he stated in a Forbes magazine article that “The breakdown of our public education system is the single largest threat—internal or external—that we have in this country.” His answer: starting a training school where teachers are simultaneously teaching a class while pursuing a master’s degree. Those teachers-in-training will only earn that degree if their students reach a certain level of academic success. He wants longer school days and years, better teacher and principal training, and, like a true business-model-disciple, true evaluation and accountability.

Please understand: these are not bad people. They are human beings, financially successful ones at that, filled with empathy and dignity, faults and shortcomings. They understand that any system can be improved, but any improvements must involve the primary movers in the system: the educators themselves. These top-down systems, supported and funded by billionaires, are doomed to fail when they ignore the very souls who have carry these burdensome reforms designed by people who spent so little time in the classroom.

Here’s a suggestion: educational facilities across America are aging and are in desperate need of repair and technological upgrades. How about offering to fix or rebuild the structures we already have in place, instead of trying to reform education from the outside in? If I had billions of dollars, that’s where I would direct the money. It is frightfully expensive to retrofit an older school or simply build a brand new one. And while merit pay is a noble idea, it’s also a naïve one. I can clearly measure who’s an effective salesperson by looking at sales numbers. It is infinitely harder to determine teacher effectiveness when there are no tests that can accurately measure that, and student scores are not an effective measure of that.

Metacognition: knowing what you know and what you don’t know. We should all be aware of what we don’t know.

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My Analysis of the Leaders With Vision Debate on Common Core

On November 21, 2013 Leaders with Vision (LWV) hosted a luncheon about Common Core (CC) and Louisiana’s haphazard implementation of the program. LWV regularly has forums that informs voters about national, regional, and state issues. Supporting CC were Stephanie Desselles, Vice President for Public Policy of the Council for a Better Louisiana, and Stand for Children parent and educator Wiley Brazier V. Opponents included Lee S. Barrios, former St. Tammany Parish teacher and Save Our Schools representative, and Mercedes Schneider, a public school teacher and prolific blogger on educational issues.

In general, the opponents came armed with facts and specific examples of CC’s disruptive effects on education, while the proponents satisfied themselves with generalities about how behind Louisiana is and that our students deserve better. 

Barrios spoke first and make ten cogent arguments, many of which I have covered in previous blogs. They include

  1. CC was written by 27 persons, none of whom were K-12 educators, and most of whom received paychecks from testing companies. (She also pointed out that Bill Gates has funded almost $200 million dollars to both compose the new standards and “purchase” support from such organizations like the Stand for Children organization mentioned above.)
  2. CC process for making learning rigorous—their catchword—violates what years of observation and data have shown about how children learn and when they are developmentally appropriate for the material. (I have noticed in my observations of CC is it simply moves complex material down to a lower grade level when children aren’t ready for it.) Barrios then mentioned how no early childhood development experts served on CC and over 500 have now signed a letter in opposition to CC.
  3. CC is driven by a market-based model where students and teachers can be compared and ranked. Hand in hand with that is a national marketplace where certain educational companies will reap huge profits from developing and selling ways to improve students test scores and teacher outcomes.
  4. CC creates an inflexible set of expectations, standardizing all learning as if children uniformly develop at the same rate. Teachers know this is not the case. Students are unique and do not learn on a straight, upward-sloping trajectory. Just as puberty causes huge growth spurts, students often learn in a similar manner, and labeling them a failure early on because of this hurts the very people we’re supposed to be mentoring.
  5. CC will be measured by high-stakes tests, swallowing valuable time and money like a black hole. Students will now take more and longer tests that are only presentable on computers that most Louisiana schools don’t possess. Many school districts are now faced with the horrific choice of firing teachers to pay for the new computer systems needed for these new tests.
  6. CC’s proficiency rates are lower by design. The designers of the test know that students will struggle with these harder questions. New York recently conducted their first round of such tests, and only 31% of their students passed the test, thus labelling nearly 70% of their students as failures. (Telling a 3rd grader that he failed a college-readiness test is quite stupid. Anyone with intelligence knows a 3rd grader is not ready for college.)
  7. CC narrowly believes education produces workers for a future workforce, hence the term career and college ready, instead of the tradition purpose of education: to produce “educated, well-rounded contributors to society.” (That is the motto of Lafayette High School, the A-rated high school where I teach.)
  8. CC relies on data collection that often violates the privacy of students and families.
  9. CC has no standards-based research to support its lofty claims. It has never been tested and since it is copyrighted, it cannot be altered. The best some states can do is augment the materials with 15% more information, but cannot delete any of the materials embedded in CC.
  10. CC does not address the largest problem in US education: the growing number of children in poverty. There is a distinct correlation between low performing schools and the poverty rate of the school’s district. Until that problem is effectively addressed, students will struggle in their educational endeavors.

Those are ten clear arguments about which all stakeholders should be holding a conversation. Barrios set the beginning of what should have been a debate about CC.

Desselle then got up and said that she would not rebut the ten points, finding them “unfounded” and saying there’s lots of research out there that refutes what Barrios said.

Well. I guess the debate’s over then. Desselle personally doesn’t believe the ten arguing points about CC, so that’s the end of that.

I participated in Speech and Debate at both the high school and collegiate level, and any novice debater knows that you support your position with FACTS. Desselle committed the most fundamental error in debating: believe what I say with no supporting information. She essentially forfeited the argument and should have sat down.

Desselle then went on to say the CABL has talked to thousands of educators and that CABL supports these new standards because Louisiana ranks so low with the rest of the nation. She pointed out that in the latest round of NAEP tests, the national tests which ranks the 50 states, Louisiana was ranked 47th. She also noted that around the nation, all states are struggling with a changing world and an evolving economy.

The third speaker was Schneider, who gave an analogy about health and fitness. She likened Common Core to a situation where people aren’t healthy, so a group of individuals got input from “board room,” not “classroom” personnel on what healthy people look like. Based on that very selective input, those individuals have designed a “health suit” and have told all students—sorry, people—that in order to be healthy, you must wear this suit. What’s worse, since this outfit is based on “research”—never clearly defined what that research is—it cannot be changed, even though it will be painful for many to fit into this outfit. And if that weren’t difficult enough, teachers—sorry, doctors—will be judged on how their patients get into the health outfit, and can possibly lose their jobs based on these outcomes.

Schneider then pulled her two decades of teaching experience—remember, that’s more than the composite experience of all the authors of CC—to make the connection. She says that CC has been forced on her and all Louisiana teachers, regardless of where the students are now, and her job is on the line. The PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) will be piloted in Louisiana February 2015, tests that have never been attempted or evaluated with years of data. When she concluded, she stated emphatically that if she ever had to choose between the welfare of her students and Common Core, she would also choose her students.

The fourth speaker was Wiley Brazier V, a Baton Rouge native, a member of Stand For Children, and an educator with thirteen years’ experience. He has served as an inspiration for “at-risk” students in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Dallas, TX and Lewisville, TX. As an educator, he reiterated the importance of the classroom teacher and their connection to the students. He does use statistics, pointing out that while in Louisiana, our students against other Louisiana students might score in the 70th percentile in proficiency, on the NAEP, those same students rank only in the 20s. Common Core, according to Brazier, is designed to help out students compete globally.

For a summary of Stephanie Desselles’ performance in the debate, check out my previous post. The LWV provided a valuable service, allowing both sides to debate an important issue, and the two sides never turned nasty, though some degrading comments were aimed at teacher unions and the state of Iowa. In general, the opponents came armed with facts and specific examples of CC’s disruptive effects on education, while the proponents satisfied themselves with generalities about how behind Louisiana is and that our students deserve better. Both sides have valid points, genuinely believe in their positions, and those positions deserve to be heard.


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Don’t Call Them State Standards; They Are Anything But That!

“In short, twenty-five people with no classroom experience just radically altered the classroom experience for millions of students in America.” 

Having taught Sophomore English, I am quick to identify misplaced modifiers, as I take writing very seriously. Perhaps the inappropriate adjective that infuriates me most is the third word in the phrase “Common Core State Standards.”

Let me state this clearly and bluntly: these are not STATE standards. They were written by twenty-five people, NOT by the states. They were merely adopted by the states, and since they are copy-righted, they cannot be changed. Some forty-five states are now saddled with this laundry list that is actually in some states weaker than the program that had already been in place.

The designers of Common Core were specific in using the word “state,” in order to disguise the overwhelming goal of Common Core: to align all fifty states into covering the same material. (In the 1990s, the US tried to create a set of national standards, and it failed miserably.) Part of their goal is understandable. A student moving from Wyoming to Florida should not have to suffer wildly different curricula as they travel from state to state.

While that sentiment is understandable, it’s not constitutional. The Constitution clearly states in the tenth amendment that powers not granted to the federal government are reserved to the states. Education is a state issue, a fact conveniently and frequently ignored by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Each state has the sovereign right to establish their own standards and curricula to meet those standards.

Common Core has robbed the states of their ability to set their own standards, except for those states who did not adopt them. Supporters argue it is not curricula and each state is free to create their own paths to meeting Common Core. They conveniently ignore the fact that the starting point, Common Core, is the same for forty-five states, so exactly how dissimilar will they be? A horrific side-effect has been that certain states, like New York, have taken the lead in developing curricula, so other states, like Louisiana, simply adopt their already-developed work, no matter how strange it may be and how foreign it can be to the South.

Twenty five individuals wrote the standards in two committees, one in English Language Arts and in Mathematics, with four members serving on both committees. No states sent representatives to this selective organization paid for with Bill Gates’ grant money. No states served on the equally selective feedback committee or validation committee. In short, twenty-five people with no classroom experience just radically altered the classroom experience for millions of students in America. Many states and their state education boards backed the Common Core before it was even finished being written—Louisiana’s state legislature supported this plan in 2010, never having carefully observed the finished product—but this wholesale hijacking of the educational system was not ratified by the people or the parents who are now watching the frustration on their children’s faces as they now struggle with age-inappropriate materials and/or badly-designed handouts made by people with little educational experience.

Let’s just call a spade a spade: this is a corporate take-over of public education, funded with Gates’ money and coerced on several states, who took badly needed money in the Race to the Top grants from the US Department of Education. But don’t call it State Standards. Call it the Gang of Twenty-five’s standards, but last I heard, twenty-five people do not a state make.

Vincent P. Barras

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October 23, 2013 · 1:24 am