Bill Gates's 2009 annual letter on what the Gates Foundation is up to says:
Nine years ago, the foundation decided to invest in helping to create better high schools, and we have made over $2 billion in grants. The goal was to give schools extra money for a period of time to make changes in the way they were organized (including reducing their size), in how the teachers worked, and in the curriculum. The hope was that after a few years they would operate at the same cost per student as before, but they would have become much more effective.I don't know the full history of the "small learning communities" fad, but one important proponent was Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist and extremely distant acquaintance of President Obama, who set up the Small Schools Workshop in Chicago in 1991 with his sidekick, Mike Klonsky.
Ayers, with others, then put together a proposal that got $50 million (plus matching contributions) for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge out of Old Man Annenberg, a famous GOP donor. Barack Obama was recruited in 1995 to become Chairman of the Board of Ayers's baby, which gave handouts to "community organizations" to help them relate to the Chicago public schools. Years later, a quantitative study found that the Obama-Ayers plan had done nothing for test scores (but it had done a lot for the Obama brand name among the activists who got the moolah).
Indeed, Ayers' Small Schools Workshop and Obama's Chicago Annenberg Challenge had the same mailing address from 1995 to 1999: 115 S. Sangamon St., Third Floor. Whether Ayers's Small Schools Workshop and Obama's Chicago Annenberg Challenger operated out of the same office or whether they had separate offices across the hall from each other is unknown. Obama's outfit gave over $1 million dollars to Ayer's outfit, which presumably made things matey on the elevator each day.
What's the relationship between Bill Ayers and the Gates Foundation? The first Google entry I came up with was a 2001 article entitled "Can 'Small Schools' Save Berkeley High?' In it, a school administrator named Rick Ayers was quoted as saying:
"In the transition, we're gonna have a half-million dollars from the feds and close to a million from the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation—that's what we're asking for," Ayers says. "But a million and a half isn't a hell of a lot of money , and you don't want to prop up a program on just that. But that money will put teachers into a position to lead these changes. We have to demonstrate that we can do the Small Learning Communities with the budget that we have. It isn't just small schools; I wish it were."I said to myself, "I betcha Rick Ayers is Bill Ayers's brother."
Sure enough. Rick spent seven years on the lam from his days in the Weather Underground with his brother Bill and Bill's fork-loving wife Bernardine Dohrn before serving ten days in jail.
It's not totally clear whether Rick got in on the small schools racket from his brother's example or vice-versa, but I would guess that Bill is the dominant personality among the Ayers siblings.
Rick Ayers long headed the small learning community within Berkeley called Community Arts & Sciences (CAS). The Berkely Daily Planet reports:
CAS students take on internships at hospitals, schools and other community institutions. They have traveled to foreign countries like Cuba and Mexico to learn about social justice. They participate in media literacy projects: the Berkeley High School Slang Dictionary, a class project where students contribute to an index of contemporary teen argot, is the most prominent example.The Revolution has not failed. The Revolution has been betrayed. Only the complete conquest of the Revolution will reveal the benefits of the Revolution.
But the small schools experiment has not reached the heights Ayers hoped it would. Ayers and other small schools advocates are convinced the advantages of small schools can only be fully realized if all of Berkeley High is divided into small communitiesâ€”which isnâ€™t expected to happen anytime soon.
The Gates Foundation grant of $1,000,000 to implement Rick Ayers's plan to create four small schools within Berkeley High ran out in 2007. Apparently, it was not renewed. Math test scores in Rick Ayers' CAS hit disastrously low levels by 2007.
What about Bill Ayers and Bill Gates?
I've found Bill's Sancho Panza, Mike Klonsky, boasting/complaining that the Small Schools Workshop brought the Gates Foundation to both Chicago and Baltimore, along with a lot of kvetching about the Gates Foundation that makes it sound like Bill Gates never quite pulled the trigger and wrote a check to Bill Ayers (unlike the megabuck he gave to Rick Ayers).
Back to Bill Gates's 2009 Annual Letter:
Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve studentsâ€™ achievement in any significant way. These tended to be the schools that did not take radical steps to change the culture, such as allowing the principal to pick the team of teachers or change the curriculum. We had less success trying to change an existing school than helping to create a new school.So, basically, Bill Gates has finally found out that Bill Ayers's big idea doesn't actually make kids smarter. Perhaps it has now dawned upon the Microsoft zillionaire that Bill Ayers advocated "small learning communities" as a political tool. (Among other advantages, it gives radical teachers more time to indoctrinate a core cadre of their students in leftism.)
Even so, many schools had higher attendance and graduation rates than their peers. While we were pleased with these improvements, we are trying to raise college-ready graduation rates, and in most cases, we fell short.
And, you know, it seems to have worked pretty well at politics, helping launch Ayers' extremely distant acquaintance Barack Obama's career all the way from the third floor of 115 S. Sangamon to the White House.
I wrote in VDARE.com last summer that educators need to stop falling for this year's Solution of the Century every year.
A huge amount of time is wasted reorganizing schools and retraining teachers for the latest fad, which, typically, was tried and discarded so long ago that nobody can remember anymore. (So don't take these ideas I'm tossing out all that seriously!)Not surprisingly, Bill Gates is now calling for more teachers to be charismatic superstars like the ones they make inspirational movies about:
Many teachers and administrators don't mind all the reorganizations because sitting around playing office politics versus each other is more fun than trying to get students to memorize the Times Tables.
The dogma of racial equality helps explain much of the educartel's susceptibility to the latest cult craze. Nobody has ever been able to get blacks and Hispanics to consistently perform as well as Asians and whites on a large scale. And, since the obvious implication of this reality is unthinkable (in many minds, quite literally), then it must be the schools' fault. What else could it be?
This logic is then used by reformers to justify implementing their pet obsessions. If the schools are small, for instance, that could be the reason for the racial gap. So, make them bigger. If they are big, then make them smaller. Just do something!
For example, the insanely rich Gates Foundation has been pressuring public schools to deconstruct themselves into "small learning communities"â€”which was what Americans were trying to get away from back when they built big learning communities.
One way to gain a wiser perspective on K-12 fads is to think about how you chose which college to attend. For some reason, ideology tends to get in the way less in individualsâ€™ college choices than in debates about public school policy.
Did you pick a small college or a big college?
And did you make the right choice?
You may have a strong opinion on the subject of the optimal college size. But, whatever it is, you have to admit that other people disagree with you. After all, both Caltech (864 undergraduates) and University of Texas at Austin (36,878 undergraduates) seem to have done pretty well for themselves over the years. Different sizes come with objective advantages and disadvantages. For example, when I attended huge UCLA, there were professors on campus expert on practically every topic under the sun, but my parking lot was a half-hour walk away. Moreover, different people flourish best in different size schools.
Education fads are seldom motivated by statistical research, since it's hard to move the needle noticeably for a large number of schools. As we've known since the Coleman Report during LBJ's Great Society, the students are more important than the school.
Instead, education vogues are launched by statistical outliers.
Small schools are particularly likely to be outliers, because they are small. There are so many of them, and unusual things can happen more easily when fewer people are involved.
These flukes aren't necessarily false results. When the right principal, right teachers, and, especially, right students come together, good things can happen.
Not surprisingly, though, outliers are hard to replicate on a large scale.
Lots of new educational fads are launched by charismatic individuals who can personally make them work. Charisma can accomplish amazing things. Rasputin apparently could stop the Crown Prince of All the Russias' internal bleeding just by talking to him. Nevertheless, "Hire lots of Rasputins!" is not a reliable strategic plan for hemophilia clinics.
Similarly, there are millions of schoolteachers in America. As the law of large numbers would suggest, most of them are not charismatic superstars like the ones they make inspirational movies about.
It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one. Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.
Whenever I talk to teachers, it is clear that they want to be great, but they need better tools so they can measure their progress and keep improving. So our new strategy focuses on learning why some teachers are so much more effective than others and how best practices can be spread throughout the education system so that the average quality goes up. We will work with some of the best teachers to put their lectures online as a model for other teachers and as a resource for students.
Yeah, I'm sure that will do the trick.
Look, it's hard to be a good teacher throughout your whole career. It's not all that hard for a new charter school to find teachers who are experienced enough to know what they are doing but not so experienced they are worn out. It's especially hard to keep caring so much about other people's children after you have children of your own. Lots of school systems down through the ages — e.g., Eton and Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge, 1950s Catholic parochial schools, and Jesuit high schools — have had a solution for that particular problem of teachers running out of energy for dealing with other folks' kids after they have had kids of their own: celibacy.
Somehow, I don't think that's going to work in the public schools.