Tag Archives: Bill Gates

Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Schools

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For about a month in the spring of 2013, I spent my mornings at Lakeside School, a private school in Seattle whose students are the scions of the Pacific Northwest elite. The beautiful red-brick campus looks like an Ivy League college and costs almost as much to attend. The school boasts Bill Gates among its alumni, and its students come from the families of Amazon and Microsoft executives. Unsurprisingly, there is no dearth of technology: Teachers post assignments on the school’s intranet; classes communicate by email; and every student carries a laptop (required) and a smartphone (not).

In this context, what do parents do when they think their children need an extra boost? I was there as a substitute tutor for students spanning the academic spectrum. A few of them were taking honors calculus. They were diligent but wanted a sounding board as they worked on tough problems. Others, weighed down by intensive extracurricular activities, struggled in geometry and algebra. I would review material with them and offer pointers as they did assignments. Yet another group required no substantive help at all. They just needed some prodding to finish their homework on time. Despite their differences, the students had one thing in common: What their parents were paying for was extra adult supervision.

All of the content I tutored is available on math websites and in free Khan Academy videos, and every student had round-the-clock Internet access. But even with all that technology, and even at a school with a luxurious 9:1 student-teacher ratio, what their parents wanted for their kids was more adult guidance.

Lakeside parents are not unusual in their valuing of quality time with adults over technology. Other well-educated professionals agree. Silicon Valley executives send their children to Waldorf schools, where electronics are banned until the eighth grade. Steve Jobs once admitted that he didn’t give his children iPads: “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

These parents aren’t anti-technology—at work, they tend to be exuberant digital evangelists—but they apparently don’t believe that more machines in and of themselves contribute to education. What is it that they know?

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Myra Blackmon: Our Children Are Not Bill Gates’ Guinea Pigs!

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According to Myra Blackmon, who writes for the Athens (Georgia) Banner, poses a question. What if Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, came up with an idea for a drug? Would we skip clinical trials and the FDA? Would we just dispense because he said so?

That’s what Bill Gates is doing to our children, she writes, and we shouldn’t stand for it.

But that is exactly what Bill Gates, another mega billionaire, has done with education. Gates is rich, he has purchased his bully pulpit and we are swallowing his “brilliance” hook, line and sinker.
Just because he has made a lot of money. Just because he is smart. Gates is suddenly the education expert, advising the president and secretary of education on what is “best” for America’s children. He funds the development and promotion of his idea of “good” education practice.

He has never taught nor studied education. His own children went to private schools that wouldn’t touch his ideas with a 10-foot pole. But he is Bill Gates and we let him get away with it.

Gates decided, for example, that the Common Core State Standards are a great idea. And he proceeded to pour mountains of money into bringing it to market with little or no research, no clinical trials and absolutely no evidence of efficacy. He gives organizations big money to push the Common Core, which was developed in virtual secrecy, with almost no input from real teachers.

Gates also espouses “data-driven” education, in which numbers and data analysis take precedence over what teachers and parents believe is best for individual children. Their scores on high-stakes tests trump any firsthand knowledge or special circumstances that might determine the educational course for any given child.
There is no evidence that Gates’ big ideas work. We are allowing him to experiment on our children, absent even the simplest protections we would expect for a new medication or a new infant formula. We believe that because he is smart and rich, he knows what is best for our children.

Where is the moral outrage? Why on earth do we accept what Bill Gates says and deny the research that tells us not only that data-driven, test-based education doesn’t work, but tells us what can best help our children learn?

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