We need education reform and this is the best way to fix school for our kids.
Last month, Melinda and I published our foundation's annual letter, about myths that block progress for the poorest. We focus on myths about global issues, like the myth that foreign aid is a big waste, but when it comes to domestic issues we're in the grip of mythology, too. And these myths aren't just wrong; they're harmful, because they can lead people to fight against the best solutions to our biggest problems.
Take the example of America's schools. Right now, 45 states are implementing new academic standards, known as the Common Core, which will improve education for millions of students. Unfortunately, conversation about the standards is shrouded in myths.
I want to explain why Common Core is among the most important education ideas in years.
The standards are just that: standards, similar to those that have guided teachers in all states for years, except these standards are inspired by a simple and powerful idea: Every American student should leave high school with the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and in the job market.
Today, 80% of students say they expect to go to college while only 40% of adults have an associate's degree or higher. Clearly, the old standards didn't help them achieve their goals. Common Core was created to fix that. And at least 75% of teachers support them, according to several surveys.
Common Core also has the benefit of consistency. Americans move more than 10 times over the course of a lifetime. Inconsistent standards like the ones we've had until now punish students who have to switch schools. Either they're expected to know material they've never been taught, or they're re-taught material they already know. But with standards that are not only high enough but also consistent, students will be able to move without falling behind.
Since the standards mark a big change, it makes sense that parents, teachers and students are asking questions. But in the back-and-forth, dangerous misconceptions are starting to crystalize.
Myth: Common Core was created without involving parents, teachers or state and local governments.
In fact, the standards were sponsored by organizations made up of governors and school officials. The major teacher unions and 48 states sent teams, including teachers, to participate. The Gates Foundation helped fund this process because we believe that stronger standards will help more students live up to their potential. More than 10,000 members of the general public commented on the standards during drafting. Each of the 45 states that have adopted them used the same process used to adopt previous standards.
Myth: Common Core State Standards means students will have to take even more high-stakes tests.
Common Core won't necessarily add to the number of annual state tests students take. States will introduce new math and language arts tests based on the standards to replace tests they give now. Most states are taking a cautious
approach to implementing the new tests, giving teachers and students time to adapt before scores lead to serious consequences. What's more, unlike some of today's tests, the new tests will help teachers and students improve by providing an ongoing diagnosis of whether students are mastering what they need to know for success after graduation.
Myth: Common Core standards will limit teachers' creativity and flexibility.
These are standards, just like the ones schools have always had; they are not a curriculum. They are a blueprint of what students need to know, but they have nothing to say about how teachers teach that information. It's still up to local educators to select the curriculum.
In fact, the standards will give teachers more choices. When every state had its own standards, innovators making new educational software or cutting-edge lesson plans had to make many versions to reach all students. Now, consistent standards will allow more competition and innovation to help teachers do their best work.
Americans want students to get the best education possible. We want schools to prepare children to become good citizens and members of a prosperous American economy. The Common Core standards were carefully conceived with these two goals in mind. It would be a shame if myths and misunderstandings got in the way.
Bill Gates co-chairs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates says opposition to the Common Core education standards is based on a lack of understanding, and he thinks they eventually will be a "big win" for education in the United States.
The controversial new standards for math and language have been adopted by 45 states with $4 billion in funding from President Barack Obama's stimulus package. But some of those states, including New York, have begun to back away as teachers and parents have complained they are being poorly implemented.
Conservative groups have complained that the national standards amount to a federal takeover of the education system.
But in a pre-recorded interview aired Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Gates insisted that isn't so. He and other business groups have produced an ad advocating implementation of Common Core.
"It doesn't tell you how to teach. It's not a federal takeover. Nobody's pushing for that," Gates told ABC.
Like the diverse group opposing Common Core, some unlikely bedfellows favor it. In addition to businesses, President Barack Obama, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush back the tougher standards.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have produced TV ads aimed at conservatives who oppose Common Core. They are set to begin airing on Fox News Channel and other outlets on Sunday.
"I think it's such an exciting thing to have high standards, to have quality standards, and to have consistent standards," Gates said. "I'm thrilled this is moving forward and disappointed that through confusion and various groups, its implementation is actually at risk in some states."
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, recently said, "You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of Common Core is worse."
Gates pointed out the rollout is being done on a state-by-state basis and admitted, "In some locations they have a legitimate point."
In New York, legislators are calling for a two-year moratorium after test scores sank there. Only a third of elementary and middle school students passed.
"When we go to higher standards there is a transition where you'll see the way we've been teaching math is not good enough," Gates said.
America is falling behind other countries because, even though those countries teach less per year, they make sure students understand what they are taught, he said. In the United States, students are taught a larger amount, but "you're getting shallow knowledge on a regular basis."