How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution
The pair of education advocates had a big idea, a new approach to transform every public-school classroom in America. By early 2008, many of the nation’s top politicians and education leaders had lined up in support.
But that wasn’t enough. The duo needed money — tens of millions of dollars, at least — and they needed a champion who could overcome the politics that had thwarted every previous attempt to institute national standards.
So they turned to the richest man in the world.
On a summer day in 2008, Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist for the standards movement, spent hours in Bill Gates’s sleek headquarters near Seattle, trying to convince him and his wife, Melinda, to turn their idea into reality.
Coleman and Wilhoit told the Gateses that academic standards varied so wildly between states that high school diplomas had lost all meaning, that as many as 40 percent of college freshmen needed remedial classes and that U.S. students were falling behind their foreign competitors.
The pair also argued that a fragmented education system stifled innovation because textbook publishers and software developers were catering to a large number of small markets instead of exploring breakthrough products. That seemed to resonate with the man who led the creation of the world’s dominant computer operating system.
“Can you do this?” Wilhoit recalled being asked. “Is there any proof that states are serious about this, because they haven’t been in the past?”
Wilhoit responded that he and Coleman could make no guarantees but that “we were going to give it the best shot we could.”
After the meeting, weeks passed with no word. Then Wilhoit got a call: Gates was in.
What followed was one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, convincing state governments to make systemic and costly changes.
Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision between states’ rights and national interests that had undercut every previous effort, dating to the Eisenhower administration.
The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution - The Washington Post: