Questioning Education Reform: Is Profit Driving the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative?

Christine Mazzarino I Education I Commentary I May 16th, 2013

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is often viewed as a saving grace for the educational system in the United States. The foundation states that its goal in education is "to support innovation that can improve U.S. K-12 public schools and ensure that students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college." It's a goal that sounds downright noble, and may get you believing in the altruistic nature of the founder of Microsoft. However kind-spirited and honorable the pursuit of educational excellence by the Gates Foundation may be, the website forgets to mention one detail; the tremendous profit that Microsoft has the potential to make from the educational overhaul The Gates Foundation is funding in the United States.

In the K-12 sector, The Gates Foundation has been primarily concerned with development and adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS). The concept behind CCSS is that the United States should adopt a uniform set of academic standards for grades K-12 that promotes college and career readiness. Proponents of the standards argue that the United States is lagging behind other countries in academic achievement, and that higher standards for education will make the United States a more competitive player in the global workforce and economy. Opponents contest that federal educational mandates infringe on the individual rights of the states and will result in one-size-fits-all education. To date, 45 of the 50 states have adopted the initiative, and are planning to purchase materials to align with the new standards.

Many of the programs being developed to support the CCSS involve digital technology, and therefore require the use of computers, laptops, tablets, and other digital devices to support new Common Core aligned software. Additionally, the way that student achievement will be measured under the program is through digitally administered standardized tests, to be administered between 1 and 4 times per year per subject. In other words, students will be administered high stakes standardized tests through computers multiple times per year in each subject to measure their progress under the CCSS.

When looking at The Gates Foundation's educational policies, the connection between implementation of the Common Core Standards and technology is undeniable. Not only do these new standards require the use of technology for implementation, they require technology for the measurement of student achievement as well. That means the potential use of Microsoft products at the conclusion of the year for standardized testing. It also means the potential use of tablets, computers, smartphones, and numerous other devices and software for instructional purposes throughout the school year. Not to mention the development of data-crunching tools for education administrators to use to monitor student progress according to the new standards.

The market for Common Core-aligned products is booming, thanks, in part, to The Gates Foundation's support. Interestingly, numerous technology giants, including Microsoft, stand to profit from this national shift in education standards. School districts around the country are still faced with decreased funding in the wake of the economic recession in 2008, but are scrambling to purchase new computers, tablets, e-readers, digital textbooks, and online programs to support the CCSS initiative. Teachers are being fired and class sizes are rising, yet precious resources are being devoted to purchasing the technology necessary for total implementation of the program.

While computer-based technology can be a useful tool in the classroom, it certainly is not a magic bullet to solve all of the educational woes that the United States is experiencing. A new set of "college ready" standards combined with a battery of computer based assessments is a shallow solution that fails to address the deeper socioeconomic issues that are at play in our school systems. If the United States is seeking true educational reform, it should consider revamping the educational system as a whole rather than pouring money into a set of standards and assessments that will simply propagate the current failing system. Likewise, if The Gates Foundation is serious about helping boost student achievement, it should be working with politicians to address the broad range of issues that impact student achievement rather than focusing its assets on the paradigm of standards and assessment, where it stands to profit the most.