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Bill Gates and the Common Core failure

In this year’s version of their annual letter to supporters of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the billionaire couple admitted that their efforts on U.S. education, including their financial backing of “Common Core” standards, has “hit a ceiling.”

“If you’d asked us 20 years ago, we would have guessed that global health would be our foundation’s riskiest work, and our U.S. education work would be our surest bet. In fact, it has turned out just the opposite,” Melinda Gates wrote in the letter. “When it comes to U.S. education...we’re not yet seeing the kind of bottom-line impact we expected.”

In an interview about educational freedom with Corey DeAngelis, director of school choice at the Reason Foundation, Freedom Media Network founder Curt Mercadante asked DeAngelis about the problems with top-down education models, such as Common Core, proposed and funded by “technocrats”, such as Bill Gates.

“There's a ton of stuff wrong with that model,” said DeAngelis. “First is this whole way of thinking tends to come from a lot of very smart people. And I'll never say that Bill Gates is not a smart person. I'll never say that academics calling to end voucher programs based on test scores aren't smart people. I think they're very intelligent people. It's just they think that they're so smart that they think, to quote Adam Smith, that they're the “man of the system”, that they can just, that people are just pawns on chess boards that they can move around and configure to make the world perfect.”

Adam Smith, Scottish philosopher and economist, coined the term ‘man of the system’ in his 1759 book, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” to describe someone who believes the best way to direct and control human behavior is by that person centrally planning behavior.

“The man of system…is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamored with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it,” wrote Smith. “He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that in the great chessboard of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it.”

DeAngelis said that when it comes to the education system, many such central planners believe they can rearrange the “chess pieces” according to test scores.

“The thing is children's education is much more complicated than a standardized test score,” he said “There are so many different dimensions of quality. We've got academics, which are slightly covered by math and reading standardized test scores and science standardized test scores. But you’ve got things like civic outcomes, you have social and emotional learning, you have character building, you have morality building. Is the kid going to be involved in a gang when he goes to school? Is he getting beat up? Is there bullying going on? So there's a ton of different things that go into this process that the regulators just, they do not have that information. And even if you started reporting on this stuff, it just becomes infinitely complex that people from the top down cannot manage these systems no matter how smart you are.”

DeAngelis said it’s a “knowledge problem,” as Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek wrote.

“The knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form, but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess,” wrote Hayek in “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” a 1945 article published in The American Economic Review.

“Even if we bought the argument that test scores were perfect proxies for success, which they're not because effects on test scores very often don't predict these longer term outcomes that we actually care about,” said DeAngelis, “But even if we bought the argument that test scores were perfect proxies for longterm outcomes, none of these regulators perfectly control for the differences in students being served by the schools. So what we end up doing is punishing schools for serving disadvantaged students because we either just look at the average test scores, or we look at things like test score growth, which is a little better, but different types of students grow at different rates.”

He added, “Less advantaged students grow at different rates. So even if you're looking at test score growth, that's a flawed metric as well. And the unintended consequence is that you're punishing schools for trying to serve disadvantaged kids. And you reward schools for serving the kids who just come from well-to-do families. And that's no way to build the system. We should be trying to help every student.”

You can watch Mercadante’s full discussion with DeAngelis by clicking here.

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