I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Why Is Bill Gates Making $#!+ Up?

Bill Gates gave a rather prickly interview last March that apparently has only been released this weekend. Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post questioned an increasingly defensive Gates about his patronage of the development of the Common Core State Standards.

I'll leave it to others to dissect the particulars of Gates' answers about the CCSS and instead address a small but still, to my mind, very telling point. As I've mentioned before, Bill Gates seems to have a problem recalling education research and facts accurately. He'd like us all to believe that he has a great command of the issues and the data, but he will often say things that are unquestionably and demonstrably wrong -- surprisingly often.

For this example, start at 12:07 in the clip:
LAYTON: So this [the Common Core State Standards] is the solution, this is the best method, you think, going forward, to cut down the remediation rate, to prepare those kids for college: higher standards, these standards in particular. 
GATES: There's a lot of work that's gone into making these good. I wish there were a lot of competition (laughs) in terms of people who put tens of millions of dollars into how reading and writing can be improved, how math could be imporved. The more R&D dollars, the more choices where people are really getting into the substance of, "Did the kids learn? Did these kids have to go to remedial classes?" The Massachusetts kids do it less. Why? Is it because of the water? Hmm.. maybe not. 
That's a substantive thing where other states would have been better off having standards with the right progression and the right expectations. So that you're not fooling a kid that when they sit and take the SAT and there's a trigonometry question, you've never seen it, because it's not on your state standard.
A short aside to bolster my point above: there is no trigonometry on the SAT (yes, you have to know something about triangles, but you don't have to know sine/cosine/tangent and all the other things considered to be standard high school trig).

Also, if Bill Gates really thinks there is a serious problem with teenagers not knowing what's on the SAT, I would suggest he visit one of the few bookstores left in America and browse the massive SAT preparation aisles.

Continuing directly...
LAYTON: But in Massachusetts, even though they've got those standards and they perform so well on the PISA, they still have a big achievement gap in that state between the poorer kids and the more affluent kids... those high standards in Massachusetts haven't helped minimize that gap between affluent kids and poor kids
GATES: The gap is lower. Those are the numbers. So, yes, it has. But has it completely solved the problem? No, it hasn't. 

Is this true? Has Massachusetts lowered its achievement gap between more-and less-affluent students? Let's use the National Assessment of Education Progress and find out. And don't worry, Bill: I made all of the charts below in Excel*!

Above are the scale score gaps for every state in the nation on the NAEP for Grade 4 Math. Massachusetts has the 5th largest gap in scores between students who are and aren't eligible for the National School Lunch Program.

These are the gaps for Grade 8 Math; Massachusetts has the 3rd largest gap in the nation.

This is the smallest gap ranking Massachusetts has: #8, on Grade 4 Reading. However...

By Grade 8, the gap increases so Massachusetts is #3 in the nation.

What then, is Bill Gates talking about? The economic gap on the NAEP in Massachusetts is one of the highest in the country: even if their standards had an effect, it is exactly the opposite effect Gates claims they've had.

Let me be clear about something: a big "achievement gap" is not always indicative that a state is failing its less-affluent students. As I've pointed out many times, New Jersey's gap is big, but that's function of our more-affluent students scoring amazingly well on the NAEP. Comparatively, our less-affluent students actually do quite well.

But let's give Gates the benefit of the doubt: maybe he thinks the standards have shrunk Massachusetts' gap over time, as opposed to comparing the Bay State to the rest of the nation. Is that the case? 

Do you even have to ask?

Over the last decade or so, the gaps between free lunch-eligible and -ineligible students in Massachusetts have stayed fairly stable. The gap in Grade 4 Reading grew, but only by 5 points; math shrank by 5 points during the same time period. Grade 8 gaps in both exams grew by 3 points since 2002.

So, no: there is absolutely no evidence that higher standards helped to shrink Massachusetts' "achievement gap," because the gap is one of the largest in the nation, and it has remained fairly stable over the last decade. Bill Gates is simply wrong when he says otherwise.

Which begs the question: why would he say this when it's just not true? Has he been misinformed? Did he forget (it happens to me all the time)?

Or does Bill Gates simply not care if he's right or wrong?

Gap, schmap...


In case you've missed it:

* For the Mac...


Seth Kahn said...

Because he's used to (getting credit for) inventing things, so why not keep doing it?

Marie Corfield said...

Other than creating computer stuff, the one thing Gates is good at is saying a lot of words that don't mean anything, but convincing the public that they do.