Is It Time to Escort Bill Gates Out of Our Schools?

Gates Protest

Dear Commons Community,

Coming on the heels of a march and protest at the Gates Foundation last week, John Thompson, historian, lobbyist, and inner city teacher, comes out swinging at Bill Gates      Essentially he calls for Bill Gates and “the billionaire boys club” to get out of education reform and to respect the “fences” of American democracy. As posted in his blog:

American constitutional democracy seeks a balance between the empowerment of individuals and the checks and balances necessary to protect the rights of the community. Bill Gates, like so many other billionaires, does not seem to respect the wisdom of poet Robert Frost. “Good fences make good neighbors.”

…When the Gates Foundation first became involved in education, it could be argued, they were not necessarily unneighborly. They should have taken the time to communicate with educators before jumping into their expensive small schools initiative. But, many of its first contributions were beneficial.

The Billionaires Boys Club was notoriously impatient, however. They were not willing to earn a seat at the head of the table. Corporate reformers quickly concluded that it was necessary to break eggs, as they saw it, to make omelets. They called it “disruptive innovation.” Destroy local school boards, university education departments, and the power of unions, and “transformational change” would presumably occur.

So, before long, Gates and the other elites replaced win-win policies, that teachers would have welcomed, with metrics for reward and punishment. For their policy preferences to win, others had to lose.

Gates and Arne Duncan were at the forefront of tearing down the walls that protect educators and students but that would have slowed risky experimentation. The most notorious example was their ridicule of the firewall between the individual teacher’s test score growth data and evaluators.

Corporate reformers were contemptuous of the very valid reasons of why some sort of fence needed to be maintained between the guestimates produced by value-added models and HR Departments.

Gates and company were just as oblivious to the necessity of a wall between administrators who conduct professional development sessions and those who evaluate teachers. Remove the barrier between the two and the free flow of ideas about teaching and learning often stops.

They were similarly obtuse about the need for a balance between the autonomy of principals and the autonomy of teachers. Without some sort of fence between the longterm needs for an open classroom culture, and the shortterm need of management to maximize test score numbers, the fundamental principles of public education were placed at risk.

The Gates Foundation has been equally dismissive of the fences designed to protect student privacy. I was shocked the first time I entered a high-performing charter elementary school and saw publicly displayed data walls that violated federal privacy and special education laws. But, then, the Gates InBloom betrayed an even greater insensitivity to the difference between the corporate use of data and the barriers needed to protect students’ rights and welfare.

And, that gets us to the reason why teachers are protesting at the Gates Foundation. We did not invite Gates into our classrooms in order to conduct reckless gambles for advancing his vision of disruptive change. We never approved of his jumping the fence and turning our students into lab rats.”

Thompson is very much correct in his analysis. Gates and company had a lot to offer public education but instead approached it like a monopolistic company (i.e., Microsoft) seeking to destroy all competition. Educators and parents need to fight back by simply refusing to cooperate with anything funded by Gates, Broad, Walton and the other billionaires.  The protest in Seattle last week by teachers at the Gates Foundation Headquarters is a step in the right direction.


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