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Disclosure: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a financial supporter of NPR’s education reporting.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is perhaps best known for funding global health programs, but in the U.S., it has focused largely on education.
The foundation has strongly backed the national education guidelines known as the Common Core. The standards in math and English that specify what skills a student should have for every grade.
“We got so interested in Common Core because we saw such a huge number of students not being prepared to go on to college,” Melinda Gates told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.
Gates attributes this to different education standards from state to state. She said it was time for something “different.” That different standard was the Common Core, which has now been adopted fully by 45 states.
“We saw the difference they could make in kids lives and we also saw that it brought flexibility to the way you were teaching and that teachers could start to collaborate with one another on lesson plans,” Gates said. “We can help come up with tools that help teachers teach the Common Core. If a teacher wants to teach ‘The Scarlet Letter’ or ‘Beloved’ or ‘The Secret Life of Bees,’ we can have tools there that then help them teach and then scaffold those lessons appropriately to meet the needs of their students.”
But Common Core has been criticized by teachers unions and parent groups, and at least three states have dropped the program this year.
“Where it got tricky was in the implementation,” Gates said. “Let’s be honest. The implementation of this is going to take some time. It has to be done carefully, it has to be done with teachers on board and they need to get some time before they can actually teach appropriately in the classroom. So you’ve got to make sure that the assessments and the consequences for teachers and students don’t happen immediately at the same time. And I think we got those two pieces overlapped and that’s why you got so much controversy.”