Insanity: After Repeated Failures, Bill Gates to Spend $1.7 Billion More on Education


One commonly used definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Bill Gates, the billionaire education philanthropist, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars remaking education according to his philosophy but exempting his own children from his “reforms.” He apparently sees that definition applying only to mere mortals and not to himself. According to Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post, despite admitting multiple major failures of his efforts, he plans to spend another $1.7 billion over five years, with 85 percent going to traditional public school districts and 15 percent going to charter schools. About 60 percent of the funds will be used to:

…develop new curriculums and “networks of schools” that work together to identify local problems and solutions, using data to drive “continuous improvement.” He said that over the next several years, about 30 such networks would be supported, though he didn’t describe exactly what they are. The first grants will go to high-needs schools and districts in six to eight states, which went unnamed.

Probably the most concerning aspect of this latest scheme is Gates’ strong emphasis on the grants being “data-driven.” Strauss notes that emphasis and quotes him as saying the following:

Each [school] network will be backed by a team of education experts skilled in continuous improvement, coaching and data collection and analysis. [Emphasis added]

Privacy-destroying data collection, including socioemotional/psychological profiling, has long been a very key problem and major concern for parents, as well as teachers, with the Common Core effort. Many see this data being used to change the purpose of education from academic knowledge allowing children to pursue their own path and maintain our republic to narrow workforce skills preparation based on the needs and desires of corporations. This is being accomplished via competency-based education (CBE). Here is a quote from a Gates Foundation report on CBE that does nothing to dissuade those concerned about the Gates efforts:

Proficiency-Based Pathways. Education leaders have long talked about setting rigorous standards and allowing students more or less time as needed to demonstrate mastery of subjects and skills. This has been more a promise than a reality, but we believe it’s possible with the convergence of the Common Core State Standards, the work on new standards-based assessments, the development of new data systems, and the rapid growth of technology-enabled learning experiences… [Emphasis added]

There are many problems associated with CBE — and even Gates and his foundation have admitted the issues. In fact, here are just a few elements of Gates’ education vision which have resulted in failure:

Common Core

I will not attempt to list all of the well-documented problems and failures of the academically inferior, developmentally inappropriate, and psychologically manipulative Common Core standards here. The standards, tests, teacher evaluation schemes, and the like have resulted in falling NAEP math, reading and college readiness scores; complaints from college professors about student unpreparedness; and many other problems since Common Core was implemented, creating an enormous student, parent and teacher backlash. Despite Gates refusing to admit the reality of Common Core’s problems, his foundation did acknowledge the extent of that backlash, describing the problem as a “missed…early opportunity to engage educators — especially teachers — but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.”

After this admission, The LA Times editorial board summed up the problem with having un-elected crusaders like Gates pulling the strings on public education policy:

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.

Standards Based Assessments

There have been many validity and administration issues with the federally mandated state assessments. Additionally, Gates admitted in 2013 that the use of students scores on state assessments as a major component of teacher evaluation was problematic:

…as states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they’ll use hastily contrived, unproven measures. One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests…This is one reason there is a backlash against standardized tests — in particular, using student test scores as the primary basis for making decisions about firing, promoting and compensating teachers.

Data Systems

Gates heavily funded the inBloom initiative that would have put much sensitive student data into the cloud, and the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) that worked with Jeb Bush’s foundation and other like-minded corporations and groups to extol the virtues of expanding womb-to-tomb data mining in law. Yet, parental backlash against data mining has been the biggest part of the resistance to the whole Common Core system at the state and the federal levels. inBloom completely failed, as did DQC’s and CASEL’s efforts to federalize social emotional research. This corporate establishment education cartel and their actions are what ordinary American citizens instinctively resist. These privacy victories were due to a large bipartisan grassroots effort by parents unwilling to give up their children’s privacy and futures to corporate raiders.

Technology-Enabled Learning Systems

Bill Gates also admitted in May of 2016 that despite spending millions of dollars on education technology, such as in personalized/competency-based learning, “we really haven’t changed [students’ academic] outcomes.”

Other Failures

The above are only a few of the significant Gates education failures. Here are some others of which it is important to be aware:

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $100 million to Hillsborough County (Florida) to reform teacher evaluation and pay, with the county required to bring in additional $100 million. However, the county’s cost rose to $124 million, and the program is now being dismantled after largely failing, leaving the taxpayers out $124 million with nothing to show for that cost — funds that could have been spent on teaching real academics for poor children.
  • Los Angeles wasted $1.3 billion on iPads for every student that were to be loaded with Common Core software that was a Gates-Pearson joint effort. The iPads were utterly unusable and resulted in an FBI investigation for bid rigging.
  • Before moving into the Race to the Top and Common Core effort, the Gates Foundation admitted in 2009 that the Smaller Learning Community program, upon which the foundation spent at least $650 million in an effort to track children into specific types of jobs-based education as early as 8th grade, was also a failure.​

When our children make egregious mistakes that harm others and cost money, we try to explain to them why they are on the wrong path and then hope and pray that they see the error of their ways. Unfortunately, Gates and his ilk are insulated from reality by their vast fortunes. So while we fight to protect our children’s education and futures from the effects of Gates’ Common Core and data mining efforts, we must pray that he finds some other cause in which to meddle and that our officials at all levels learn that these grants come with all sorts of costly strings, cause many problems, and are a very dangerous addiction. We must stand strong, speak truth to power — and believe in miracles.

Karen R. Effrem, MD

Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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