Mar
18
2014

And Now, an Expert on America's Schools: Bill Gates

Bill Gates, schools expertWe all know that the experts you should interview about a controversial public policy are billionaires who've donated enormous sums of money to advance one side of the fight. Right?

Of course that sounds odd. But that's the odd approach some media outlets take. 

Like ABC's This Week (3/16/14), which took on the intense controversy over the Common Core, the educational standards framework that is cherished by the "education reform" crowd as a way to ensure that schools across the country are setting similar achievement benchmarks. The Common Core has been critiqued across the political spectrum; Tea Party conservatives see it as a "federal takeover" of public schools. But there are also serious and very substantive educational criticisms of the approach. 

ABC, though, explored the views of exactly one person: Common Core proponent Bill Gates. Host George Stephanopoulos explained that Gates was on the show to "fire back" at critics; this is an odd setup, since he had just explained that there is a big advertising push "by big business groups supporting the Common Core." If there are TV commercials criticizing the Common Core, I've yet to see them.

Stephanopoulos' first question to Gates was, "Did you know you were going to stir up such a hornet's nest?" There was little room for explaining the opposition to the Common Core; the closest the segment came was an apocalyptic Glenn Beck soundbite: "This is the progressive movement coming in for the kill."

But there are plenty of thoughtful criticisms of the Common Core–from the way the standards are being implemented to the role of private testing companies, which stand to profit from the increased emphasis on standardized testing. 

Diane Ravitch (DianeRavitch.com)

Diane Ravitch

And it should be noted that Gates' involvement has been substantial, as education historian Diane Ravitch (1/1/14) explained in a recent speech:

The US Department of Education is legally prohibited from exercising any influence or control over curriculum or instruction in the schools, so it could not contribute any funding to the expensive task of creating national standards. The Gates Foundation stepped in and assumed that responsibility. It gave millions to the National Governors Association, to the Council of Chief School Officers, to Achieve and to Student Achievement Partners.

Once the standards were written, Gates gave millions more to almost every think tank and education advocacy group in Washington to evaluate the standards–even to some that had no experience evaluating standards–and to promote and help to implement the standards. Even the two major teachers’ unions accepted millions of dollars to help advance the Common Core standards. Altogether, the Gates Foundation has expended nearly $200 million to pay for the development, evaluation, implementation and promotion of the Common Core standards. And the money tap is still open, with millions more awarded this past fall to promote the Common Core standards.

This is not to say that Gates shouldn't be questioned about Common Core; he should be. But shows like This Week are hardly ever going to devote this kind of attention to the issue; the last time the show covered it was in an interview with another Common Core proponent, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (10/20/13).

This means their viewers are basically hearing one side: politicians who support the standards, and the billionaire funding the policy itself. 

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.