Foundation Watch

The Gates Foundation’s Common Core Disaster

It was the beginning of my awakening. One year into my teaching career as a young, bright-eyed, and idealistic liberal, freshly brainwashed from my Law and Society degree from the University of California, Riverside. Yes, I was extensively taught in college about Critical Race Theory, and yes, I believed it. At the time, Obama was a beacon of hope to my naive mind. I remember banging a drum during a parade in my left-leaning town the night he won.

It’s an embarrassing story to tell now, but at the time, I truly believed we were going to finally have some real change in our country because, boy, was I oppressed. I had $30,000 in student loan debt, much of it spent on nicer-than-I-needed apartment, clothes, and clubs. That was peak oppression to my 24-year-old mind. Oh, and having to pay for my health care. The burdens were too much to bear. Obama was a quick fix, an escape route to an easier life for all, or so I was led to believe.

Fast forward two years, and my enthusiasm for this new young president had faded. Obama couldn’t get anything passed because of the big, scary politicians in the House and Senate who were against him. At least, that is what we were told. Poor little guy, he was only the president. It seemed like all he could do was fund wars and banks, but he did it with such good intentions and charm. Who could blame him? But I hadn’t given up hope yet.

There was still time. He could still change the world! Little did I know that Obama was working behind the scenes with Bill Gates on agendas that would make my life as a public school English teacher an uphill battle, fighting against a set of academic standards in education that handcuffed my efforts and failed our students repeatedly. That disaster is called Common Core.

The Common Core Disaster

The Gates Foundation played a crucial role in making the vision of Common Core a reality. In the past, state’s rights would get in the way of implementing such broad and national goals. Still, the foundation provided “the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision.” Money was the key factor that allowed Gates and Obama to transform our educational system, with Gates and his foundation pouring “money across the political spectrum,” uniting factions that would generally oppose each other, and Obama doing the same except using the dollars of the American taxpayer. While the Obama administration did not actually create the Common Core academic standards, they fast-tracked their implementation at the state level by making the “new college and career-ready standards a key component of applying for the grant money.”

Yet after an entire decade of implementation, “no convincing evidence exists that the standards had a significant, positive impact on student achievement.” An analysis of the results of Common Core published by the Brookings Institute belies the excuse that Common Core simply wasn’t implemented faithfully enough or that teachers weren’t trained enough. These excuses are as dishonest as the old communist claim that failed state after failed state wasn’t the fault of communism but rather that those countries just didn’t try real communism.

Don’t believe the excuses. Even in states deemed “strong implementers” of Common Core the results are, at best, mixed. Sure, many states raised their academic benchmarks, which by itself sounds like a good thing to raise the standards. Still, it’s meaningless considering that these expectations didn’t lead students to reach these standards at a higher rate.

The details of the failure of Common Core are complicated and numerous. A Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL) study showed the standards “had negative effects on student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in both 4th-grade reading and 8th-grade math.” The failure of Common Core’s academic standards-based approach has caused some researchers to question the very notion of “adopting one set of standards over another,” such as Robert Slavin of Johns Hopkins University, who concludes that this approach “makes little difference in student achievement.” Along that same train of thought, Ted Rebarber of AccountabilityWorks advocates “restoring genuine diversity in education models by removing centralized government control over K–12 school standards.” “In my view,” Rebarber observed, “[Common Core] is really the worst large-scale educational failure in 40 years.” The grades are in, and Common Core has failed.

Leaving the Left

Looking back now, the fact that Obama was instrumental in an agenda that was so destructive to my passion for teaching, so detrimental to our nation’s children and their education, was one of the pivotal moments in my life that led me to abandon him and the Left in general. I had to reflect and decide whether I wanted to be loyal to personalities and the political tribalism I was raised in or to help students like I claimed. Was I going to be a hypocrite or tear off the Band-Aid and leave the Left? I chose facts, reality, and my students.

I believe the same choice is facing educators and parents all over America today. Many have begun the exodus from this sinking ship, but many still cling to the tenets of Common Core, evidence be damned. Until we all put children first, we’ll be a nation of naive fools, not much different from 24-year-old Kali, banging pots and pans for a hope destined to fail, and our kids will be those victims.

Kali Fontanilla

Kali is serving as CRC’s Senior fellow, particularly focusing on topics related to K-12 public education. She has 15 years of experience as a credentialed educator working in public and…
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