Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Of Bill Gates, the four C's, and privitazing public education

The League of Women Voters of Monterey County hosted today a very well attended talk about ongoing efforts to privatize public education. The topic has been on my radar screen for a while, but it's one of those really hard to tackle with a news story.

I'm writing an article about the presentation for tomorrow's paper (I'll link to the story when it's finished) but one of the issues presenters discussed was the growing influence of corporations in public education. The Common Core Standards, for instance, was developed by a consortium of states and top industry leaders. Same with the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, whose early efforts were led by Apple Computers, Cisco Systems and the like.

By the Bill Gates of the world and their "charitable" foundations.

I wrote about the Partnership a couple of days ago, and a New York State teacher had some issues with my coverage. He wrote a thoughtful letter that I'll share with you here, because he asks some provocative questions not being asked elsewhere. Questions that seldom can be well addressed in a news story. I'm posting it also because they go to the crux of the privatization matter.

Here's the letter. Enjoy!

I am a New York State teacher who recently read your article "Schools partnership aimed at helping teachers." I noticed that you didn't quote any teachers in your article, which doesn't mean of course that you didn't talk to any, just that they didn't make the final draft of your article. Your article put me in mind of a speech that Bill Gates gave in 2005. As you probably know, he has been instrumental in spearheading education reform in this country. The speech was about his years at Lakeside High School, an expensive private school. Below is a link to it. Notice in the text his references to learning, or his 3C's, and ask yourself some basic questions as you do so:

1. Why is it so fantastic that Lakeside had a 16:1 student to teacher ratio, while reformers like Mr. Gates continue to say that class size doesn't matter?

2. If his definition of rigor is having teachers demand that he read their favorite books, why is it costing him a billion dollars in educational philanthropy to bring rigor and change to American schools?

3. If "unleashing" him and Paul Allen worked so effectively, why can't public schools try this method, and unleash students to pursue their talents as Lakeside did for him. Instead Mr. Gates advocates for tough standardized tests and simply harder curriculum, which will require by definition more seat time for students and thus more direct instruction, leaving little or no time for student self-directed learning?

Surely the answer can't be that public school students are somehow, by nature, intellectually inferior and can't be trusted to follow their own muses and pursue their dreams (as they apparently can for 28,000 per year at Lakeside). But if not that, then what's the answer? What is truly driving education reform in the country, when great schools like Lakeside seem to possess the right ingredients already, ingredients that could be transferred to any school with little or no added cost?

Thank you for reading this and have a nice evening,

Dave Smith

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