Saturday, June 21, 2014


Gates sees himself as a neutral benevolent who is outside of (above?) the political process, and he clearly resents the idea that anyone would question his motives in funding CCSS

by deutsch29/Mercedes Schneider – from her blog |

On June 7, 2014, Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton published a blockbuster article largely based on a 28-minute interview she had with Gates following his keynote speech at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' (NBPTS) Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, DC, on March 14, 2014.

I am writing my second book, this one on the origins of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In the process of writing a chapter on the Gates bankrolling of CCSS, I transcribed the entire 28- minute interview, complete with every "uhh" and "you know."

My primary purpose in writing this post is to make my transcription available to the public:

Allow me to offer a few observations regarding both Layton's March interview and her June article:

The June Article

The layout of Layton's June article is such that one might mistake the entire article as being based upon her March interview with Gates. Not so. In fact, a key admission revealed in the article-- and the one with which Layton chooses to open her piece-- is not part of her 28-minute interview with Gates.

As one views the June article, one first sees a 5-minute video clip of Gates, an abbreviated version of the full-length, 28-minute interview.

Immediately followed by the video clip is the stunning news that former Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) President Gene Wilhoit and CCSS "lead writer" David Coleman asked Gates in 2008 to bankroll CCSS.

Even though one might believe that this Wilhoit/Coleman information was part of Layton's March interview with Gates, it is not. The Wilhoit/Coleman information came from Wilhoit.

Much of Layton's June article focuses on the information in the March interview. Further along in the article, the video link for the full, 28-minute interview is available, with the caption that this is the "full interview."

The descriptor "full interview" might lead one to believe that the Wilhoit/Coleman admission is part of this interview. Again, not so.

Layton's article also declares Kentucky as the first state to sign on for CCSS, in February 2010. Again, not so. By June 2009, 46 states and US territories had already signed the legally-binding CCSS memorandum of understanding (MOU). Most dodged the entire legislative process. In February 2010, the Kentucky legislature approved CCSS, and Kentucky was the first state to move to implement CCSS; however, the majority of US governors and state superintendents had already signed over their state education systems for CCSS.

Kentucky was also the first state to administer CCSS-related assessments and to encounter problems. New York was right behind Kentucky with CCSS assessment problems.

The March Interview

In transcribing Layton's March interview with Gates, I realized what a fine reporter Layton is. She asks Gates some probing questions that he is clearly uncomfortable answering. Gates becomes testy with Layton a number of times during the interview. What particularly appears to tick him off is Layton's insistence upon asking Gates questions related to the politics of CCSS. But Gates does not want to talk politics. He does not believe the fact that CCSS is a political land mine to be "substantive."

Gates sees himself as a neutral benevolent who is outside of (above?) the political process, and he clearly resents the idea that anyone would question his motives in funding CCSS.

There is much more that I could write here; however, I will save it for my second book.

I will note that at one point in the interview, Layton agrees with Gates that most teachers support CCSS and that the problem (here it comes) is faulty implementation.

I closely examined seven surveys that supposedly show teacher (and other) support for CCSS-- including an early-release version of the Gates/Scholastic survey-- and none hold up to any declaration that teachers "want" CCSS.

The Transcript of the 28-minute Interview is Worth the Read

And with that statement, I will close.


Interview date: March 14, 2014 | Transcript published: June 20, 2014

Layton’s interview occurred a the Washington Convention Center after Gates had delivered a keynote defending the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to one of the groups he financed to promote CCSS, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), at its Teaching and Learning Conference.

Layton (L): Do you feel, you know the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) last week announced that they weren’t going to take any more Gates money when it came to the Common Core. The assumption is there that they’re somehow being bought, by, by Gates, that they’re not voicing their own honest opinions of the Core, that there’s something compromising about it. So I wondered, are you concerned at all that, that you’re becoming a liability here, or how do you, how do you answer those concerns? People think that you’re the unelected school superintendent of the country?

[Gates waited nine seconds before answering.]

Gates(G): Well certainly… you’ve combined too many things there. [Talking over Layton, who says, “Okay.”] There’s no connection between the AFT, AFT Innovation Fund, it’s a, it was more about teacher evaluation where locals would apply for various things. Anyway, it’s not, ahh….

L: How about the simple notion that because you funding so much of the, so much of the Common Core, and charter schools, and, and the teacher evaluation that your promoting it as, advocating for it, that you have become, kind of a, you’re a very powerful figure in K-12 education right now, but you’re unelected. Some people say that’s undemocratic.

G: Well, it’s important to separate out two things. There’s how much resource and energy is going into new ideas and into trying new things out. And then there’s the question of what gets chosen to be adopted. And what gets chosen to be adopted, that’s determined by school boards, governors, superintendents, and, you know, we’re not a factor in terms of, uhh, getting in those races or speaking out in those races . So, they’ll pick, you know, they’ll talk to the teachers, they’ll talk to the parents, they’ll pick, what, what they choose to do. The role the Foundation has come in as saying okay, the number of new approaches where teachers are having an idea, are they getting funding, uh, to try out that idea? And so, if the pool of choices that are out there, for, in these political decisions to pick from, is larger, including some involve technology, some involve teachers getting more feedback than they get today, seeing, you know, studying those teachers that are amazing. You know, we did twenty thousand hours of taping; we looked at the characteristics, uhh, we want all teachers to benefit from the characteristics of the very best teachers. And, I think the, in education, every, every field of endeavor, you can say, ‘What’s its research percentage? Uhh, you know, like they guys who search for oil. They spend a lot on money on researching new tools. Medicines: They spend a lot of money finding new tools. Software: Very R and D [research and development] oriented industry. The funding in general of what works in education, even studying these great teachers, is tiny. The R and D percentage is the lowest in this deal of any field of human endeavor, and yet, you could argue it should be the highest because this is the field that’s catalytic to, are you good at jobs? Uhh, how innovative is your, your economy? And so, we are, in a technocrartic way, we are funding pilot studies of peer evaluations, like in Hurlsboro,. We are funding people doing software, uhh, things. And, so, yes, we create, if those things go well. Some do, some do not. Then, we create more options. But, you know, our voice is not there when the final choice of what to scale up is made; that’s a governor, a superintendent, a school board, who decides all those things.

L: Well, let me tell you what, what I’m hearing when I talk to people in education policy. The running joke is sooner or later, everybody works for Gates because, when you look at how the breadth of, of your funding, and in terms of the advocacy work for the Common Core, you funded on the left of the spectrum, on the right of the spectrum: think tanks, you know, districts, unions, business groups. It’s a wide variety There, there are, it’s harder to name groups, um, that are in education that haven’t received funding that, from Gates, than it is to name all the groups have. So, the suggestion is that because of that pervasive presence that you set the agenda, that it’s harder to get, to get contrasting views and to get real, honest debate because you are funding such a wide variety of actors in this field.

G: Boy, I, I, I guess we’re not going to get to any substance., uh, here, I’m sorry. Ahh [four second pause] our advocacy money is a rounding error, okay? The K through 12 education is six hundred million years of money, a year that it spent [L: Right.] and, trying to compute the R and D percentage of trying out new things…. The, the Common Core, people side, and, you know, we don’t, we don’t fund, you know, some right wing groups that we fund, and you know, some left wing group. I don’t know. I, I have no idea what you’re talking about… we, we don’t…

L: The American Enterprise Institute…

G: We don’t fund political groups. We’re not…

L: …think tanks…

G: …we don’t, like Heritage, CATO, people like that. Uhh….

L: The American Enterprise Institute…

G: That’s some experts on educational policy.

L: Fordham…

G: Say…

L: Fordham, the Fordham Institute, to do their writing….

G: These, these are not political things. These are things where people are trying to apply expertise to say, ‘Is this a way of making education better?’ But at the end of the day, it’s, I don’t think wanting education to be better is a left wing or a right wing thing. And, so making sure there’s as many experts, and, yes, some of them will have political… we’re doing evaluation. So, all, we fund people to look into things. We don’t fund people to say, okay, you like the Common Core. We’ve never, done anything like that. We do evaluations of these things. And I think the amount of analysis that goes into how do we help teachers to do better, it’s not enough. And yes, we are guilty of funding things where experts look at these things and say if they’re good or not, and they may not get adopted, and the experts may decide that they don’t like them. This one’s [meaning CCSS] come out pretty uniformly, no matter where you are politically. If you’re into the substance of, should people learn the material they are going to take on a national test. Uhh, is it fair to a student not to have been exposed to that material? Did the high standards in Massachusetts allow students to do better than students in places where that curriculum was less ambitious in terms of what those students would learn. Uhh, and so, these are factual questions. They’re not, uhh… education can get better. That’s uh, some people may not believe that, education can change, We can do better. We’re, we’re not doomed to be worse than all these other countries at how we help our, our student get better. And, yes, we’ve engaged a lot of people. It’s a rounding error. You know, education is a gigantic thing, and it deserves to have people of all political persuasions studying excellence.

L: Right. It is a gigantic budget, and, and your contributions are a slam contribution to the overall spending on, on K-12 education.

G: A rounding error.

L: Right.

G: And it’s not advocacy in our stuff, it’s not advocacy in the sense that we come in with, with a point of view. We have people study Common Core and tell us what, we have them study teacher evaluation systems. We have them study great teachers. It’s, it’s analysis to see what works.

L: Well, are you concerned at all about, let’s go to the AFT. So, uh, a week ago, Randi Weingarten sad, even though she’s a big supporter of the Common Core, she doesn’t want to take this Gates money any more for the Common Core, you know,for the Innovation work they’ve been doing around the Common Core because her members have been complaining. They say, ‘It’s tainted,or it, uh, it, it shifts the conversation, or it, it, it somehow, um, uh, tainted, uh, tainted the picture or tainted the discussion.

G: That’s politics.

L: Yeah.

G: Are we going to talk substance, about improving education?

L: I think that they’re both intertwined right now with the Common Core, There’s a lot of political pushback. In that this is a high…

G: What is the, so, let’s go to the substance? What is the thing that is being proposed as an alternative to the Common, Common Core? And let’s talk about the relative merits of the existing standards or some proposed alternate, uh, standards, not about ‘he said, she said’ politics. Is this something that can help the students? Uh, now we can poll the teachers and it’s still a very popular thing. And that’s unusual because usually the status quo wins and the new idea loses. This is a new idea that actually gets a very good majority of the teachers saying that they think it’s good. And if you look at which teachers have been the most exposed to the idea, they’re the people who are the most positive about it.

L: So, I understand that this got a lot of support from teachers, but they’re also saying that implementation is going awry. Dennis Van Roekel from the NEA (National Education Association) said it was completely botched. Randi Weingarten says it was worse than Obamacare, the rollout of Obamacare. So are you concerned that with all this effort and, to get these standards in place in forty-five states and DC, that it’s going to collapse under, under poor implementation?

G: When we talk about implementation, if we want to switch to substance land and not political land, then we should talk about particulars, we should talk about a district in a state. We should talk about going to the teachers and saying, ‘Did this go too fast? Did you need more training? What, what should happen here?’ Uh, and, you bet, this is complicated stuff. Uh, you know, look, go into a few states and get in, into particulars, and I think that you’ll find that those summaries (Gates “tainted” money?) don’t uhh, match up to the substance. But you will find things that, hey, should be changed, will change. Uhh, it takes time to roll something like this out. In the case of Kentucky, it started five years ago. In Colorado, they started four years ago. Was that enough? Did they bring the right people in? I mean, this is serious stuff. And so, over-simplistic statements about, about it, aren’t really advancing the idea that, hey, this will have kids learning math at a far better progression. We should really get into, why is this progression so much better? Why didn’t this happen earlier? That is the substance of a kid who goes to college and gets put into remedial math, uh, you know, you should, we should be talking about those examples. We should be talking about those kids.

L: Right. So this is the solution. This is the best method that you think, going forward to cut down the remediation rate and prepare those kids for college—higher standards—these standards in particular?

G: There’s a lot of work that’s gone into making these good. I wish there were a lot of competition in terms of people had put tens of millions of dollars into how reading and writing could be improved, how math could be improved. The more R and D (research and development) dollars, the more choices where people are getting into the substance of, ‘Did the kids learn? Did these kids have to go to remedial classes?’ The Massachusetts kids do it less. Why? Is it, is it because of the water? Maybe not. Uh, that’s a substantive thing. Other states would have been better off having standards with the, with the right progression or the right expectation so that you’re not fooling a kid so tha when they sit, when they take the SAT and there’s a trigonometry question, you’ve never seen it ‘cause it’s not on your, your state’s standards.

L: But in Massachusetts, even though they’ve got the, uh, uh, standards, and they perform so well on the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), they’ve still got that big achievement gap in that state between the poor kids and the more affluent kids. So, they haven’t, those high standards in Massachusetts haven’t helped, uh, minimize that gap between, between affluent kids and poor kids.

G: The gap is lower. Those are the numbers, uh, so yes¸ it has. But has it completely solved the problem, no it hasn’t. But when you raise the average, that, that means lots of kids who aren’t going into remedial math. So, it is an exemplar; it’s something to be celebrated. You should learn what went well there. It doesn’t take care of the entire problem. I mea, they still have, in terms of, how funding is done, where the best teachers show up.The country as a whole has a problem that, low income kids get less good education than suburban, uh, kids get, and that is a huge challenge, partly a resource assignment challenge: Where to the really good teachers get put? How are those resources being put in? You know, more resources should go to the students of low income. That’s not the way it works today.

L: Right. Um, let me ask you about this, which is, your, your belief in the Common Core. There are some people who, when they hear the speech that you just gave where you were talking about standardization and common standards will help drive innovation and help us have this, the online revolution in a way that, that this part of the economy has really been untouched; that it’s important that if we have common standards, then we can really open up the online, the benefits of the online revolution in education. There are people who hear that and think, ‘That’s what he’s doing. He really wants this because he wants to encourage the technology industry because he’s the cofounder of Microsoft. It’s, it’s, he’s being driven by business interests here.’ What, how would you respond to that?

G: Uh, I think, you’re, you’re sticking to the political side of this thing. Uhh…

L: I’m from the Washington Post. We’re in Washington.

G: Do you thin that passes, do you think that passes muster?

L: I, I don’t know. I am not, I, this is the first time we’ve met…

G: Okay, so give me the, give me the logic here.

L: The logic is…

G: What is it that you’re saying? It’s all a lot of self interest? It’s…

L: That, no, that that’s, that that’s one of the driving forces behind your embrace of the Common Core.

G: Meaning what?

L: Meaning Microsoft and Pearson just signed a deal to, to put the Common Core curriculum on the surface. So, you’ve got a product, Microsoft has a product now that it’s, that it’s selling…

G: Yeah, we had the old Pearson stuff. I, it, it, there’s no connection, there’s no connection to Common Core and any Microsoft thing.

L: Okay. Well I just, I want to understand this, but that’s a, Bill, let me just tell you…

G: That’s staying away from the substance, okay?

L: But it’s a question when people know, when people learn that you are promoting the Common Core…

G: Do you seriously think that the reason I like the Common Core is for some self-interested reason? That’s what you’re saying.

L: No, no. I don’t know that I believe that, and you don’t seem…

G: You don’t know. You don’t know?

L: I don’t think that I believe that.

[Gates rolls his eyes and smiles.]

L: Okay, that’s kind of a pertinent question that a lot of people who, uh, who don’t know you, are (asking), are wondering, and I would just like some response to. But, you’re saying you don’t want to talk about that, or you don’t want to…

G: I’m saying, and I’ve, I hope I can make this clear, I believe in the Common Core because of its substance and what it will do to improve education, and that’s the only reason I believe in the Common Core. And I have no, you know, this is giving money away. This is philanthropy. This is trying to make sure students have the kind of opportunity I had. You, You’ve, there is nothing, uh, it’s so, almost… outrageous to say otherwise in my view. Uhh, umm.

L: Okay. Got it. Um, the question that George raised in the, uh, the session before I actually wanted to ask you, as well. Is there a, is there such a thing as ‘too much technology’ in the classroom or in education?

G: Well, technology in the classroom doesn’t have some stellar record up until now. You know, the dream that they, when I was a kid, they rolled that TV set in and somebody showed up and taught us Spanish, yeah, that was the worst class that we had all day. They somehow thought that the guy on the TV was some, was some improvement and, uh, you know, and then they had computerized drills with training and stuff like that. So, technology has to deal with the fact that neither technology nor anything else has changed mass achievement in this country up till now. So, whatever reform, technology or otherwise, comes along, it’s good to be skeptical because even as we have intensified resources going against education very substantially, we haven’t moved achievement. Other countries have. They’ve done it very dramatically, but, but we’ve not. And so you know, the only way that you can develop a view that even limited technology works is to have teachers, you know, sit down in the classroom and see if it works—not just works in the high achievement schools where we’re already doing okay. It’s fine to improve that, but it’s not really the problem. It’s to take these tools into the inner city where you have kids who don’t think math is relevant to them and sitting there, paying attention. And we haven’t done a good job of making that what they want to do. I do think we’re seeing now, uhh, some really exciting examples where people who are using these tools—it all goes under the umbrella of personalized learning—are, are getting benefits from it.

L: Can you talk about some of those examples, what, um…

G: Yeah, uhh, the measurement is that you get about 1.5 years of learning, instead of one year of learning, in that personalized environment. And, if you ask the kids in terms about how they feel about their math skills, uh, do they enjoy it, would they go back the other way, the stuff looks really, really great. Now, we’re using particularly talented teachers, and it’s always, uh, a challenge, but, because whenever you start a pilot, the teachers who volunteer to get involved in that are not average teachers. And so, as you scale up, you have the seeds for really phenomenal results, as you’re getting into places where the hardware is less reliable, the, uh, amount of training might be less, and you’ you’re moving to a less, a teacher who’s less engaged and motivated in making this change. Does that hold up? And that’s that scale-up process. Uh, we have six, uh, district awards that are going out in the near future, but, let people really take it to that next level of scale, and see if this could be maintained.

L: So, is the, is the Common Core, I know you said that it’s not an experiment, but as you were talking about pilot programs, and trying things, and pushing the envelope, and seeing what works, it occurred to me that the Common Core standards really, they are an experiment in a way because they really haven’t been tried and tested in any kind of scale anywhere here…

G: [vigorously shaking his head] No, no the fifty [state-level] standards were never tested to see their excellent. They weren’t subject to rigorous design. The Common Core is the one that the most R and D has gone into to make sure that the progression is right. And so, you know, the, you should look at some, I mean, if you want to get into substance, you should look at the progression, where they talk to people about angles, without explaining triangles. Those fifty things (state standards) are not based on as much effort and energy and understanding as kids deserve. This one (CCSS) has gotten more. Now, you could say, ‘Hey, maybe it should get even more, and more and more. Fine. But this is the most serious effort to, on behalf of kids, make sure they go through math, and reading, and writing, that, that you’re building in a logical way that they will feel successful and they will do well.

L: Is this something that you would want for your own kids to, to, these standards, that you would want for your own kids to learn, too?

G: We all want our, our own kids to exceed… remember what this is. This is six, what you should know in sixth grade, what you should know in seventh grade, eighth grade. It’s not how it’s taught or anything like that. Yes. I expect my kids to know a superset of the Common Core standards at every single grade involved. I expect them to have the reading skills, uhh, uh, above what the reading and writing skills are in the Common Core standards. So, absolutely. I don’t see who, who would not want that.

L: Okay. You know, I realize that you don’t want to, you’re not interested in the politics…

G: Well, I’m not smart about it. You should go talk to politicians here. You want to talk about why we fund research or things like that, I, I may have some insight.

L: Okay. Well, I’m just wondering, you know, this was, the, the goal of having standards, national standards, has been long elusive, and people have tried…

G: These, these are not national standards.

L: Okay, they’re common standards adopted by forty-five states and the District of Columbia.

G: We’ll see states, at any time could change. This is a state-driven thing. At any ooint in time, some states will have these; some states won’t. The Common Core lets them deviate to some degree. Some will deviate to the full extent; some will deviate hardly at all. The states will, will make this, choose to make this work or not.

L: Can we talk about the assessments that are, that are aligned [G: Sure.] with these standards?

G: Sure.

L: Um, so, there is the two consortia that have been working on them, and, um, a number of states have peeled off, saying it’s too expensive, or, you know, they don’t agree with it and they don’t want to participate. I just wonder what you lose. How many states do you need to have commonality, and if everybody’s off doing their own state test, and you can’t really compare results across state borders…

G: You can always compare. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) didn’t compare. So, if, if the only need is to compare tests, it’s okay to have fifty. It can work. I mean, it’s not very efficient, and the amount of money that you would put into the quality of fifty different tests just won’t be as much as you could put into a, a smaller number of tests. But that’s, that’s the decision; that’s the way things work, and they, they, they bridged the NCLB scores. So test score comparability, not, not a, a huge thing. In terms of, in, in picking the Common Core, it’s not the same as picking which assessment test to pick. There can ba any number of tests aligned to the Common Core. Uh, commercial companies, other consortiums and come in and build those tests. That’s just fine. The two (PARCC and SBAC) were bootstrapped to prove that is could be done, and they took an approach. One of them works dynamic scoring, which has, requires more R and D investment but has big benefits in terms of the precision that you can deliver. And, so, making sure tests are better is somewhat orthogonal to, uh, the Common Core. Consistency will make the investments getting good spread toward students, but, when you adopt the Common Core, it doesn’t mean you pick one of those two consortiums. You don’t, you don’t have to.

L: Okay. Why do you think R and D is so minimal in this, in this sector?

G: Well, it’s a known issue in capitalism that, that, who’s supposed to fund the R and D? So, you know, a million children nearby with malaria. Who’s supposed to fund the malaria vaccine? The parents whose kids are dying don’t have money, and the people that have the money are very far away, and they don’t see that disease. So, they and their governments don’t tend to do it. And so, you want someone else to pay for the R and D and you, you can learn from it. So, in education, you know, how much has the government set aside for R and D? Is there an equaivalent, or, even a tiny portion of what we have in National Institutes of Health, or National Science Foundation. They do a tiny bit, actually of, of educational research, but not, not much. And so this idea of, what’s your favorite doctoral thesis on why good teachers are, amazing teachers are better than others? There should be dozens and dozens, but you should be able to talk and say okay, I disagree with that one, I really like this one, I think this is what is important. I mean, it’s magical. There are amazing, amazing teachers, and, the, they’re willing, if you ask them. They’re not, ‘No, I would never tell. That’s my secret. I couldn’t possibly have anyone else know what I do to teach these kids. In fact, stay out of my classroom. It’s proprietary, uh, for me.’ They want to share these ideas, and, and teachers want to give input. So the fact that we have created an environment where we study the best, we share, we transfer those best practices, that gives me a lot of hope. This “status aid thing, that, if, if the political process chooses, that can change and I, I think that’s pretty exciting.

L: One last question: Who’s you favorite teacher?

G: You know, I have a lot of good teachers. My eighth grade math teacher, uh, Mr. Stockland, uh, he told me I should have higher expectations. That, that came at a very healthy time.

L: Higher expectations for yourself?

G: Yeah. That I was, doing well enough, but being lazy, and that I could, I could do more. And he was right.

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