Los Angeles Times to Bill Gates: Stop Trying to Run the Nation’s Schools!

This is a remarkable editorial that appears in the Los Angeles Times, of all places. The headline tells a story we did not expect to read on this newspaper’s editorial page:

Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda.
Read that again. Slowly.

The editorial recaps the serial failures of the Gates Foundation in education: Small high schools (abandoned); evaluating teachers by test scores (not yet abandoned but clearly a failure, as witnessed by the disastrous, costly experience in Hillsborough County, Florida); Common Core (not abandoned, but facing a massive public rejection).

But it’s not all bad, says the editorial:
It was a remarkable admission for a foundation that had often acted as though it did have all the answers. Today, the Gates Foundation is clearly rethinking its bust-the-walls-down strategy on education — as it should. And so should the politicians and policymakers, from the federal level to the local, who have given the educational wishes of Bill and Melinda Gates and other well-meaning philanthropists and foundations too much sway in recent years over how schools are run.

That’s not to say wealthy reformers have nothing to offer public schools. They’ve funded some outstanding charter schools for low-income students. They’ve helped bring healthcare to schools. They’ve funded arts programs.

This is not the whole story, of course. They have funded a movement to privatize public education, which drains resources and the students the charters want from public schools, leaving them in worse shape for the vast majority of students. And they have insisted on high-stakes testing, thus leading schools to eliminate or curtail their arts programs. As for healthcare in the schools, there should be more of it, but it should not depend on philanthropic largesse. Two children in the Philadelphia public schools died because the school nurses were cut back to only two days a week, and there were no philanthropists filling the gap.
Knowing how destructive the venture philanthropists have been–not only Gates, but also Eli Broad and the Walton Family, and a dozen or two other big philanthropies–one could wish that they would fund healthcare and arts programs, and perhaps experimental schools that demonstrated what public schools with ample resources could accomplish.

Still we must be grateful when the Los Angeles Times writes words like these:
Philanthropists are not generally education experts, and even if they hire scholars and experts, public officials shouldn’t be allowing them to set the policy agenda for the nation’s public schools. The Gates experience teaches once again that educational silver bullets are in short supply and that some educational trends live only a little longer than mayflies.

Allowing Bill Gates or Eli Broad or the Walton Family to set the nation’s education is not only unwise, it is undemocratic. The schools belong to the public, not to the 1%.

Since the editorial mentioned Bill Gates’ devout belief that teachers could be evaluated by the test scores of their students, it is appropriate to recall that the Los Angeles Times was the first newspaper in the nation to publish ratings for teachers based on test scores; it even had hopes of winning a Pulitzer Prize for this ugly intervention by non-educators who thought that teaching could be reduced to a number and splashed in headlines. Let us never forget Rigoberto Ruelas, a fifth-grade teacher who committed suicide shortly after the evaluations were published by the Los Angeles Times, and he was declared by the Times to be among the “least effective” teachers. There followed a heated debate about the methodology used by the Times to rate teachers. That was before the American Statistical Association warned against using test scores to evaluate individual teachers. But the Los Angeles Times was taking Gates’ lead and running with it. It was not worth the life of this good man.

Credit: Diane Ravitch Blog