After Bill Gates spoke to the National Governors Association in February, 2005, I wrote "You Bill Gates! If You're So Rich How Come You Ain't Smart?" To me, Gates' speech was just another illustration that when experts in one field speak out in another, they can say some really stupid things. No one would publish my screed. Maybe it just wasn't well written.
But Gates is at it again. Saying really dumb things. This time in the September 23 edition of Parade. I don't generally read Parade because I think it is generally garbage and it has a long history of saying nasty and erroneous things about public schools. But my wife peruses it and I had to listen to her read out loud the very short piece that is not headed with a by-line. I suppose the author was embarrassed.
Gates is quotes as saying "Testing is the only objective measurement of our students. It's incredible that we have not national standard." Testing is not "objective" when different students have different opportunities to learn what's on the tests. Why is it incredible that we have no national standard? Remember "Only in America?" It used to be a statement of pride that we did things different from the rest of the world. National standards in and of themselves mean nothing. A study of the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study in 1995 found that in math, 8 of the 10 highest scoring nations had centralized curricula and national standards. But so did 8 of the 10 lowest scoring nations. In science 8 of the 10 highest scoring nations had national standards, but so did 9 of the 10 lowest scoring countries.
He says that the 20% of U. S. students who take honors classes and go to college get an education as good as any in the world. "It's the other 80% where the U. S. is weak." Where on earth does he get these figures? There are no data looking at college education across nations. And if only 20% of our kids were getting good college education, why would millions of students flock to American universities. Why would everyone consider them the best in the world? A ranking from Shanghai Jiao Tong University placed 19 U. S. colleges in the top 25 (along with only 3 from the U. K., 2 in Japan and one in Canada).
"When we gave up phonics, we destroyed the reading ability of kids." Not even the National Reading Panel, which went too far towards phonics, went that far. Those of us who learned to read before we started school...well, I guess we couldn't have done that, huh, Bill? (There are many documented cases of people learning to read without instruction).
He says we should end the disparities between urban and suburban high schools. Well I'm all for that and he's at least put his money where his mouth is there, but he doesn't really say what he means. Test scores, I guess.
But you have to wonder about Gates. He must giggle every time he enters his 11,500 square foot house. He's smart enough to know he's pulled off one of the great scams ever. If GM, Ford or Chrysler had marketed a product as lousy as Windows, they'd have long since been bankrupt. The "Bill Gates Wealth Clock" is no longer functioning because something is wrong with the real-time data suppliers, but when I wrote my last book in 2006, the clock registered $65 billion (the URL is here when it functions).
The Parade article observes that it's been two years since Gates made his grim predictions about the economic decline of the U. S. if our schools didn't shape up. And indeed, since then, we have fallen from first to 6th in the annual Global Competitiveness Ranking from the World Economic Forum. But it's a funny thing. If you read their explanation of why we've slumped you end up with only two words: Bush policies (new rankings will be out in a month or two).