Bill vs. Reality

Fresh off his failure to defeat political reality with his Strong American Schools—which tried to push education high on the list of presidential election concerns—as well as disappointment with his small-schools efforts, Bill Gates is trying a new fix for American education: national standards.

How much money does this man have to lose before he gives up on the socialist, monopoly system we’ve got now and starts pushing truly game-changing reforms like school choice?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against Gates trying to formulate standards and tests and convince schools to use them. I don’t distrust Gates because he’s too influential, for instance, nor do I have any problem with national standards as long as parents are free to choose schools, and schools are free to adopt, oh, let’s call them Standards Vista. I just think Gates is delusional if he thinks the inevitably politicized, special-interest-dominated public schooling system that he’s never been able to change before is going to suddenly rush to adopt really challenging standards and tests.

As I’ve repeated until I’m blue in the face (or numb in my typing fingers) really high standards and rigorous tests will never be adopted and maintained by most public school systems because they would be hard to reach and, hence, a big pain for the people with all the power: teachers, administrators and politicians. Why challenge yourself when you can get the money for free?

So let’s get first things first, Mr. Gates: Get education money to parents, and autonomy to schools, so we can have real choice and competition. Then I’ll gladly cheer on Microsoft as it battles Apple, the Educational Testing Service, Billy Mays, or anyone else who wants a piece of the suddenly competitive, innovative, and dynamic national-standards action.