Gates Is All About That Base…Ten. Plus The Ongoing Freelance Problem…

Coming Attractions

On Nov. 9, I will be at the American Enterprise Institute with a few other edufolks to analyze the election and its education impacts. This excites and delights a certain kind of edunerd:

Should be a good discussion, some real education implications. With the important caveat that it’s still a few weeks out and there could be surprises the polls are missing — at this point it looks like the fundamentals are still the fundamentals. Gas costs a lot, almost everything costs more, and the President’s approval rating is stuck in the low 40s. The median voter, including the median Democratic voter, seems to care more about these issues than the average MSNBC viewer or Twitter user does. Democrats might catch a break in some Senate races because of the Mad Lib quality of Republican candidate recruitment. Overall, however, it’s a tough year for the incumbent party made tougher by not talking about the economy when the voters really care about, you know, economic conditions (and instead focusing on a bunch of things they really don’t.)


Sun Tzu reminds us that “water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows” so “the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe for whom he is facing.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation just announced it’s going all in on math.

Privately, a lot of people are grumbling about this for various reasons: ideological fights around math content and pedagogy, philanthropic skepticism, political concern, and questions about this emphasis overall. I don’t know how much of that you’ll hear or the foundation will hear because there is not a lot of return in criticizing one of the largest philanthropic entities in the world, no matter how much everyone says they want honest feedback.

It’s not out of the blue. They’ve been telegraphing this shift- and doing a lot of math work already. And at one level, it’s not surprising that an emphasis on math — and math at scale — would appeal to an executive who thinks in terms of numbers and scale (and that this would then appeal to the team supporting him). In some ways, this brings the foundation’s education giving more in line with a scale approach they take with regard to global public health.

It might do some good. I am increasingly convinced math — and probability and other related themes — is keenly linked to concerns about our civic discourse, mis-and disinformation, and our dysfunctional politics. And, obviously, we have a huge pandemic recovery challenge — that will come into even starker relief next week.

Still, there’s an elephant in the room that’s hard to miss. It seems odd and paradoxical that at a time we’re focused on structural issues in this country in terms of opportunity, equity, and economic mobility, that the most powerful entities shy away from tackling those issues head on and try to find more oblique ways in.

Freelance Work

We’ve talked a few times about how much of the concern about DEI or other culture war issues stem from teachers freelancing with stuff they pulled off the internet. It’s bread and butter for social media,

When I’ve written here that a lot (though not all) of the stuff animating social media around “CRT” or gender or whatever is teachers freelancing, this is in part the kind of thing I’m referring to. That account’s bread and butter was not teachers talking about the formal curriculum and it was not made up. It’s why the way through a lot of this is better curriculum not leaving it to teachers.

So here’s an activity from a suburban D.C.-area high school.

Besides wondering exactly what happens to the kids who identify as being in the ruling class, a couple of things jump out. For starters, it’s good to make people aware of tribal history in Virginia. Virginia had an Indian boarding school, for instance, though those schools are generally taught as a thing that happened out West. But the tribes on this sheet don’t represent tribes that were present in the Chesapeake watershed — where this school is located. You can’t download or cut and paste “cultural competence.” Likewise, Latin@ is not going to be a term many Hispanics identify with if 5% or fewer ID use Latinx. And deciding Hispanic (Latin@) is a race not an ethnicity seems … a little presumptuous for a public school? This is why teachers need quality curriculum (and quality training and PD, natch).

Finally, there’s a basic “Sir, this is a Wendy’s” problem. This whole exercise was a project in a high school Spanish class.

In her newsletter this morning Nellie Bowles noted how the rush to new sex ed curriculums fueled by the insatiable desire to show the world allyship is creating a backlash that’s bad news for gay kids. (We talked about this backlash last week in the context of the rush to have schools get in front of families on LGBT questions.) This sort of thing, too, may originate with good intentions but nonetheless alienates people from their public schools. There’s plenty of real estate between making sure all identities are respected and included in the life of a public school and a politically all-thumbs approach like this. Public school advocates had better find their voice to make that clear or the drain of students and political backlash will continue. There, too, maybe don’t take your cues from MSNBC and Twitter.