Bill Gates has “careless disregard for accuracy” in his education statements

Those of you with concerns over Bill Gates’ influence on education policy ought to read Richard Rothstein’s Economic Policy Institute piece.

Rothstein challenges Gates’ statements in a recent Washington Post op-ed, including, “over the past four decades, the per-student cost of running our K-12 schools has more than doubled, while our student achievement has remained virtually flat,” and “spending has climbed, but our percentage of college graduates has dropped compared with other countries.”

I am delighted that Rothstein addresses the spending question and cites the same information that I repeatedly offer here:  The cost of educating the regular student without any special needs has not risen much at all. What has jumped is the money going to the education of children with disabilities.

(Which is why the private school spending comparison that many of you offer is fallacious.  The per-pupil averages that systems spend include the children with special needs who are costing $25,000 a year or more to educate. And if the parents of those children sought private schools, they would have to look far and wide to find ones willing to accommodate their child and would likely spend $30,000 a year.)

Here is part of Rothstein’s rebuttal, examining Gates’ statements one by one: Please look at his actual piece in the link above, as he goes into more depth:

The only longitudinal measure of student achievement that is available to Bill Gates or anyone else is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP provides trends for 4th, 8th, and 12th graders, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and poverty, since about 1980 in basic skills in math and reading (called the “Long Term Trend NAEP”) and since about 1990 for 4th and 8th graders in slightly more sophisticated math and reading skills (called the “Main NAEP”).

On these exams, American students have improved substantially, in some cases phenomenally. In general, the improvements have been greatest for African-American students, and among these, for the most disadvantaged. The improvements have been greatest for both black and white 4th and 8th graders in math. Improvements have been less great but still substantial for black 4th and 8th graders in reading and for black 12th graders in both math and reading. Improvements have been modest for whites in 12th grade math and at all three grade levels in reading.

Bill Gates says: “The per-student cost of running our K-12 schools has more than doubled.”

Here, Bill Gates is nominally correct, but misleading. When properly adjusted for inflation, K-12 per pupil spending has about doubled over the last four decades, but less than half of this new money has gone to regular education (including compensatory education for disadvantaged children, programs for English-language learners, integration programs like magnet schools, and special schools for dropout recovery and prevention). The biggest single recipient of new money has been special education for children with disabilities. Four decades ago, special education consumed less than 4% of all K-12 spending. It now consumes 21%.

Bill Gates says: “Spending has climbed, but our percentage of college graduates has dropped compared with other countries.”

This is the Bill Gates claim that can properly be called demagogic. It attempts to agitate readers by presenting a positive development in a negative light. A climb in spending should produce an increase in the percentage of college graduates. And it has. In the last four decades, the percentage of college graduates in the United States has nearly doubled. In 1970, 16% of young adults (ages 25 to 29) were college graduates. Today, it is 31%. The improvement has been across the board: the share of African-American young adults who are college graduates has gone from 10% to 19%; for whites it has gone from 17% to 37%. Somehow, Bill Gates saw fit to present this as an indictment.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog.

61 comments Add your comment

UGA Student

March 22nd, 2011
11:49 am

First?

I would argue that spending nearly a fifth of the education budget on the disabled is, although the politically correct thing to do, a poor distribution of funds when it seems the priority in this country should be to strengthen the ability to learn for our future leaders, as opposed to leaving everyone at an almost-equal, mediocre level of education.

Patrick Crabtree

March 22nd, 2011
12:15 pm

Finally, someone is questioning Mr. Gates. Why has everyone been so supportive of Mr. Gate’s lack of researched based practices? Just like “A Nation at Risk” it all sounds good and right, yet lacks real facts and truths, only beliefs. You think public schools are bad, just wait for when vouchers and charters take over. You have been warned.

Shar

March 22nd, 2011
12:27 pm

Bill Gates has given a great deal to public education and should be thanked by all of us for his contributions. However, he also rather famously dropped out himself and that worked out alright. While I appreciate his energy and support for public education, he needs to accept that his contributions do not make him an expert on successful models, nor do they buy him a right to set policy.

teacher&mom

March 22nd, 2011
12:29 pm

Thank you for this post.

Below is another link that disputes the Gates Foundation study that “supported” VAA’s:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-learning-about-teaching

HS Public Teacher

March 22nd, 2011
12:53 pm

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…..

Why don’t we leave education and the policies of education to the experts in the field of education? Do we allow people without expertise in medicine perform surgery? Do we allow people with expertise in law practice law?

Why is it okay for any Tom, Dick, or Harry to suddenly claim to be an expert in education and we ACCEPT it????

Dontcha think that this is a major reason education is Georgia is sooooooo screwed up? We have been following an education path set by politicans, by administrators, by everyone else EXCEPT the classroom teachers!

Ernest

March 22nd, 2011
1:08 pm

HS Public Teacher, I can agree with you but what could you offer as an objective measure to demontrate that actual learning is taking place? Children are not widgets so scorecards and dashboards from the business world may not provide the insight most desire. Thoughts???

It was good to see this post as it demonstrates how one can use data to mislead, albeit inadvertent or on purpose. Makes you also wonder of those government initiatives to ‘dictate’ that 65% of the school budget go for instruction. An arbitrary number without any foundation behind it.

Mac

March 22nd, 2011
1:12 pm

The idea of Failing American Schools is a myth! It is simply a bogey man created by Gates and others to sell products and drum up public support through fear propaganda and keep the money flowing for all the ‘reformers’ out there that haven’t taught a class in years if ever.

Derrrrr

March 22nd, 2011
1:32 pm

Judging by what I read in the comment sections of the AJC, clearly the our country’s (or maybe it’s just the state of GA) schools are piss poor. Lots of morons here.

Paulo977

March 22nd, 2011
1:33 pm

UGA student?

Did you really say this?
“budget on the disabled is, although the politically correct thing to do, a poor distribution of funds”… choose your next courses with some help from the counselor!!

Beck

March 22nd, 2011
1:38 pm

I teach regular and special needs students in a team-taught setting. Often the special needs students are some of the best and brightest, they just need a little extra time or a little special tweaking along the way.

Please don’t doubt the other abilities of those with learning disabilities.

Henry County Teacher

March 22nd, 2011
2:09 pm

So much gang activity here in our schools over the last month. Bullies thrive at Walnut Creek Elementary.

UGA Student

March 22nd, 2011
2:13 pm

@Paulo

I did yesterday, actually, thank you very much.

The fact is, we are falling behind in the increasingly global world, smarter people from poorer countries are coming here to work for less, and this needs to stop. 21% is too high, but 4% is too low. I think 10% makes sense. If more money isn’t spent making education higher quality for the average student, they will become stupid enough to warrant special education (as I personally noticed at my alma mater)

Carol DuPraw

March 22nd, 2011
2:20 pm

I am a retired teacher and I agree with HS teacher. There is a lack of respect(discipline) in the schools. We must make everyone accountable-parents, students and educators.
Cell phones, clothes, language, attitudes and safety all need a big change in schools.
Our educational standards were once used in China; now China laughs at our educational systems.
My husband is handicapped, but was never given any physical help in schools. He was treated as a normal students; no govt. funds for being handicapped.

td

March 22nd, 2011
2:28 pm

UGA Student

March 22nd, 2011
2:13 pm

We spend enough money on Education. Some of the money is probably allocated incorrectly but we spend enough. The system is producing great minds. I am sure you can give us examples of 20 great students and 20 horrible students in you HS? The material was there for the 20 best and the 20 worst, the environment was the same during the school days and the teachers were the same. Why was there 20 bright students and 20 horrible students? What was the differences in their life’s that caused some to excel and some to not?

This is the questions Gates and other educational leaders need to be finding answers to instead of blaming the teachers or the curriculum or what ever else they want to blame. I am afraid they do not want to really know the answers.

Frontier

March 22nd, 2011
2:46 pm

Bill Gates is like Bill Cosby in that they both speak hard truth in non-PC terms to constituencies that don’t especially want to hear it (Gates to educators, Cosby to blacks). Happily both have the clout and influence that demands they be heard, and it’s fun to watch their targets squirm. As the saying goes, the truth hurts.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

March 22nd, 2011
2:50 pm

According to the NAEP, Gates is correct about flat student achievement in Reading but wrong about student achievement in Math’s being flat.

But absent from the tsunami of NAEP-produced statistics are data which illustrate the academic efficacy of all GA public schools and public school systems since all do not participate in NAEP testing. Georgia needs nationally-normed testing of all our schools and school systems if each parent is to determine how his/her child’s school and school system measures up to national competition.

HStchr

March 22nd, 2011
2:51 pm

Ernest: Instead of one big test at the end of the year, we should have much shorter benchmark checks throughout the year (elementary already does this in most subject areas). We could also use evidence-specific (rubric driven) projects or portfolios to show a child’s growth throughout the year. Kids would show great improvement in overall yearlong growth, IMO, if we used “standardized” tests as smaller, progress assessments through the year. Just a thought from a longtime teacher who has NEVER seen the worth or reliability of one long test at the end.

Independent

March 22nd, 2011
2:52 pm

Thank you, Maureen! Finally someone is admitting what I suspected all along – that we don’t spend that much on educating the “average” student. It is the spending on special education students that is driving the increases in education spending. Thank you!

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

March 22nd, 2011
2:54 pm

My mistake: “(M)easure” not “measures.”

catlady

March 22nd, 2011
2:54 pm

Bill Gates=Michelle Rhee=Bev Hall What do they have in common? Lies.

Really

March 22nd, 2011
2:55 pm

td- Why was there 20 bright students? This is the questions? Why wasn’t you in English class?

How is you proving your own point so well?

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

March 22nd, 2011
2:58 pm

Speaking of Special Education, have any comprehensive studies of the efficacy of Special Education programs been completed in the last 35 years?

Dan

March 22nd, 2011
3:00 pm

Why does no one question the designation of “special needs” students? The article trots out the increase in special needs kids as if there is an indisputable objective measurement. I suspect many kids are deemed special needs, because a teacher/parent/administrator doesn’t want to work a bit harder in a regular class. As opposed to the implication that there are more such kids now. So the comparison in dollars spent on education is a reasonable one, and the recalculating the effectiveness by removing “special needs” is the fallacious argument because now you are comparing a group where the “special needs” are removed with a group where they were present if not designated.

disgusted

March 22nd, 2011
3:02 pm

Didn’t Bill Gates drop out of college himself? Seems like he’d be aware of the dangers of using such a narrow metric for educational success.

td

March 22nd, 2011
3:06 pm

Really

March 22nd, 2011
2:55 pm

Why do have to be such a smart A$$ on a serious blog? Why do you not crawl back in your hole you elitist pig? How bout them English for ya?

TnGelding

March 22nd, 2011
3:19 pm

TnGelding

March 22nd, 2011
3:20 pm

TL

March 22nd, 2011
3:25 pm

I won’t argue that students with disabilities should get additional help to allow an opportunity to be successful. However, the legislature has dictated a level of unfunded assistance/support that has become a significant drain on the local school system budgets. Only about 17% of the costs are born by the federal government to meet their legislated requirements. Bottom line, if you are going to require schools/school systems to do anything, provide full funding for it.

No thanks

March 22nd, 2011
3:30 pm

Well, if you look at the demographic shifts going on in this country you can see that things will only get worse for public school education… letting in the poorest and least educated immigrants of already dirt-poor countries isn’t exactly how you burn up the charts with high CRCT scores.

Lyla Singfield

March 22nd, 2011
3:30 pm

Why has nobody done in research on the increase of children with special needs? Spending from 4% to 21% is a lot. Are children just being labeled special needs and really aren’t?

LeeH1

March 22nd, 2011
3:30 pm

Teachers are the problem. Like they are doing in Wisconsin, they need to be paid less and work harder. Teacher unions have ruined education by mollycoddling teachers. They can be replaced by Mothers and other volunteers who will charge next to nothing to teach their own children. Teachers are the problem, and they are paid too much for an easy job.

td

March 22nd, 2011
3:33 pm

We must remember that Gifted is considered special ed also.

Ernest

March 22nd, 2011
3:36 pm

Thanks HStchr. I can agree with shorter benchmarks, even to a point of possibly developing an IEP for each student. It would mean that those assessing ‘teacher effectiveness’ couldn’t use a ‘cookie cutter’ method in doing so. This would take more time which also equates to more money. I’m not sure if taxpayers are willing to do this.

TnGelding

March 22nd, 2011
3:57 pm

Lyla Singfield

March 22nd, 2011
3:30 pm

How many vaccines have they received? I know autism is a lot more prevalent than it used to be, or maybe we’re just more aware of it.

In answer to your question, probably. But also the spending per student has gotten way out of hand. We simply can’t afford it.

tiptster

March 22nd, 2011
3:57 pm

Uh, Frontier, I hate to bother you with trivial details, but did you read the above article before you made you most eloquent statement?

Cindy Lutenbacher

March 22nd, 2011
3:59 pm

First of all, it’s not that easy to be labeled “special needs.” In DeKalb, children must go through an extensive battery of tests, observations, and assessments in order to determine if they have special needs and if so, what they need. No teacher or parent or administrator who “doesn’t want to work harder” has the power to cause such a label to be applied.
Secondly, some comments here seem to question the “value” of children with special needs. Am I misinterpreting or is this question being implied?
Thirdly, I think it’s a real problem that we seem to be debating the issue of taking from one child to feed another. If we could simply demand that the wealthiest corporations and individuals pay their fair share of taxes (devoid of loopholes, exceptions, special exemptions, offshore bookkeeping, etc.), then we wouldn’t even need this discussion. For example, according to THE ECONOMIST, the parent company of Fox News paid an effective tax rate of 6%, thanks to loopholes and offshore books. Tax breaks to corporations have not been creating jobs here in the U.S. They been funding massive “bonuses” and salaries to heads of corporations pouring jobs into overseas locations. I find it so hard to understand why we don’t raise hell about these kinds of abuses and inequities, rather than arguing about which child deserves more.

Just A Teacher

March 22nd, 2011
4:15 pm

Bill Gates knows more about micro chips than I do, but I believe I know more about educating children than he does. The only reason anyone listens to him about anything is because he has a lot of money. In American society, that is the very shallow way that we determine the value of someone’s opinion. It’s rather comical when you realize that the manner in which most of these people gained their wealth was either through inheritance or by questionable (f not blatantly immoral) business practices. I wonder if Steve Jobs (co-founder of Microsoft) would take Bill’s advice on anything after Gates virtually stole the company from him.

Why are we listening to a man whose entire career is based on stealing (yes, I said it) from not only his coworkers, but from the research and development team at XEROX?

If Mr. Gates is so smart, I wish he would explain to me how we can manage to finance 3 wars simultaneously, but must cut spending on educating our young people.

Lyla Singfield

March 22nd, 2011
5:04 pm

Cindy, some kids are labeled “special needs” when they really aren’t. How many students that have been labeled “bad” are shifted to the special needs classes? And some of the quiet kids and kids that do excellent work are labeled “gifted”?

It happens.

East Cobb Parent

March 22nd, 2011
5:06 pm

@td Gifted is no longer considered a special need in GA

Lyla Singfield

March 22nd, 2011
5:06 pm

And it is true that a lot of children that aren’t special needs are overlooked. Schools don’t want to group kids by abilities because parents raise cane.

Ga Values

March 22nd, 2011
5:17 pm

1 thing about education, you can find a study that says anything. Bill Gates has spent a lot of his money trying to improve education. The last thing that the educational establishment is an outsider actually improving the system. In business we use “best practices”, the Educational Establishment wants to keep remaking the wheel.. only problem they tend to make square wheels.

GeeMac

March 22nd, 2011
5:26 pm

Thank IDEA and the makers of Ritalin for the increase in educational costs. I’m not saying that kids with special needs and/or disabilities shouldn’t receive special services, but the “OHI” category opened the floodgates for students receiving IEPs, thus driving costs up.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

March 22nd, 2011
5:40 pm

LeeH1 “They can be replaced by Mothers and other volunteers who will charge next to nothing to teach their own children. ”

Oh, I have no doubt some mothers and volunteers could teach… some of them would make great teachers. They are naturals and I would love to have them as a part of our profession. But try to get anyone to do my job and get paid next to nothing? LOL! What a hoot. That would last about one day. Are YOU willing to work from 6:30 am till 5:30 PM with one 30 minute lunch break, and maybe a run or two to the bathroom? And I mean WORK, – no down time. No surfing the net. No personal phone calls. No chatting at the water cooler. No playing games on your I-Pad. No checking the latest online news. No coffee breaks. No runs to the bank. And be prepared to take another hour or two’s worth of work home with you. Do all that and get paid next to nothing? If so, please go volunteer at your local school – and tell them you are willing to do their job for next to nothing. :)

As to teaching their own children… again, not a skill everyone has… or I wouldn’t have those handful of parents every year who claim they simply cannot get little Johnny or Julie to do their homework. “We spent two hours on it, and she just cried and hid under the table!” Funny that, as I can usually sit Johnny or Julie down and have that homework whipped out in 15 minutes.

“Teachers are the problem, and they are paid too much for an easy job.”

Oh… that old chestnut. Odd how many posts I have read over the years from folks who used to be in another line of work, and then went into teaching and claim they have never worked as hard in their lives as they have teaching. On the other hand, I have NEVER (and I do mean never, because I look for them) read a post from someone who left teaching and claims they now work harder in some other field. I will never understand why people who have never actually DONE my job feel they are qualified to judge how hard I work.

catlady

March 22nd, 2011
5:51 pm

Lyla, actually, many kids are going UN diagnosed, thanks to the delaying tactics of RTI. Dramatic drop in sped placements, NOT because these kids aren’t out there, but they are not getting diagnosed until they are go ahead and drop out, or their lack of help makes educating their peers increasingly difficult because of the unmet needs of the undiagnosed kids. We are not talking about a few children here.

RTI requires increasingly intensive interventions with the goal of showing “improvement”. Of course, if you teach one on one the same skill for weeks on end, almost anyone will likely make some progress. If so, they don’t get additional testing. As soon as they are not getting the intensive help, they are “unsuccessful” again, and so the parade continues. If they are not successful after the intensive intervention, then apparently they aren’t getting what they needed and they get ANOTHER round of intervention. Delaying tactics. If a child is in third grade and is 2 years behind, there is SOMETHING the matter! We have seen these go on for years!

Are there kids labeled “sped” that are not? I have seen a couple, in 38 years. At least in our area, it isn’t common.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

March 22nd, 2011
6:39 pm

I have seen a significant drop in the number of students who are being referred for Special Educational services…. and a huge increase in the amount of paperwork and flaming hoops teachers are required to jump through to get a student evaluated. This is very deliberate. The system is designed to be so tedious and time consuming that many teachers (already overworked and stressed) simply give up. I doubt most of you (other than fellow teachers) would believe the amount of paperwork and endless “interventions” and required documentation necessary to get a child evaluated these days. It is not at all “easy” as some of you suggest. Teachers can’t just get a child labeled just because they are too “lazy” to teach them. (Any more than we could get a child ‘put’ on Ritalin just because we were too lazy to deal with them – which used to be tossed around all the time as well…like teachers were able to prescribe medication!) Only people with absolutely no understanding of how the system works would even suggest such a thing. If a child makes ANY progress – even if it means they go from answering five questions on a math probe to answering six questions correctly over a matter of months, they are obviously “making progress” and the teacher is told to “continue making interventions!” You make interventions and document it for several weeks, and if that doesn’t work, you make different interventions and document it for several weeks – cycle and repeat until the next year, when the new teacher has to start the process all over.

They system does not WANT to place children in Special Ed services, because that means they will show up on those troublesome statistics. And it does not look good to have too many “special needs” students out there. For, as you know, when by 2014 all our children are going to be “average” and doing just fine! So instead, we leave them in the regular classroom, and teachers burn themselves out trying to meet their needs while still challenging the gifted and teaching the average. Many of the special needs students in our school are hard working and sweet, but they require time and close supervision, and often one on one instruction that I, as a regular education classroom teacher dealing with 22 other students, simply do not have! And more and more of them are *in* my classroom without receiving any type of services! I have never referred a child because I didn’t want to “work harder” with them – but I have referred them because I knew they needed more specific assistance than I could provide. I am NOT Special Ed trained, and I should not be a position where I am trying to teach a regular education classroom, while a student with unmet special needs is knocking everything off his desk and shrieking at the top of his lungs because that is the only way he knows to express his frustration.

Frankly, I resent the suggestion that the only reason a teacher would refer a child is to save them some work. What about doing so because they genuinely feel it is in the best interest of the child and the other children in the class?

Dr. John Trotter

March 22nd, 2011
7:17 pm

@ Catlady: You are right about the lies. Yes, Bill Gates needs to stick to computer softward. I like his Windows 7 and Microsoft Word. His ideas about public education are way off the mark. He knows about as much about public education as I know about softward. Nothing.

Veteran teacher, 2

March 22nd, 2011
7:31 pm

About time this came out.

GeeMac

March 22nd, 2011
7:40 pm

@I love teaching- I feel your pain completely! RTI has come about as a direct result of over-identification through the “other health impairment” designation. I feel very fortunate that my son’s Asperger’s was diagnosed prior to RTI and that I had a relatively easy time getting a F@D plan put in place for him. (His accomodations are minor: copies of notes, quiet testing, visual information, advance notice on schedule changes.) The same goes for a close friend who has discalculia. Kids who need additional help should get it, preferably from a teacher with specialized training. Delaying needed assistance helps no one in the classroom.

GeeMac

March 22nd, 2011
7:45 pm

504 plan…wrong shift key!

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

March 22nd, 2011
8:00 pm

LOL! GeeMac, I was wondering about that F@D plan… I thought there was some new fangled education acronym out there of which I was unaware!