Microsoft Not Making Money Off of Common Core, Bill Gates Says in Testy Wash Post Interview

Microsoft founder Bill Gates being interviewed by Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton, March 14, 2014.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates being interviewed by Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton, March 14, 2014. | (Photo: screengrab, The Washington Post)

In a testy exchange with a Washington Post reporter, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said there is no self-interest related to his funding of Common Core and the recent announcement that Common Core materials will be placed on Microsoft tablets for use in public schools. The $230 million his foundation spent on promoting Common Core was a "rounding error" in overall education spending, he added.

Gates was asked about the connection in a nearly 30 minute video interview with The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton. The interview was recorded on March 14 and published Saturday along with an article, "How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution."

When Layton asked Gates about the connection between his funding for Common Core and the February announcement that Microsoft would load Common Core classroom material by the education company Pearson onto its tablets, Gates appeared offended that she would ask the question.

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When Gates talks about the connection between common national standards for education and the use of technology in the classroom, some critics argue that he is driven by business interests, Layton pointed out.

Gates answered that there is no connection between his foundation's spending to promote a set of education standards for the nation and his company's efforts to sell products to schools.

"Do you think that passes muster?" he responded.

Gates then pressed Layton to "give me the logic here. You're saying it's all out of self-interest?"

Layton then pointed out Microsoft's arrangement with Pearson, the nation's largest provider of education material.

"There's no connection to Common Core in any Microsoft thing," Gates answered.

As Layton began to explain why she was asking the question, Gates interrupted, "Do you seriously think that the reason I like the Common Core is for some self-interested reason? That's what you're saying?"

Layton responded by saying it is not her view, but it is a "pertinent question" that some would like to hear answered.

"I hope I can make this clearer," he continued. "I believe in the Common Core because of its substance and what it will do to improve education and that's the only reason I believe in the Common Core. ... This is giving money away. This is philanthropy. This is trying to make sure students have the kind of opportunity I had.

"There is nothing, it's so, almost outrageous to say otherwise in my view."

Throughout the interview, Gates seemed upset at Layton's questions and complained that the questions were about the "politics" and not the "substance" of the Common Core.

Earlier in the interview, Layton asked Gates about the complaint that his $230 million donation is having too much influence on K-12 education and he is behaving like an "unelected school superintendent of the country."

"Our advocacy money is a rounding error," Gates said, in overall education spending. The money his foundation spent on Common Core is not for "political things," but is for "making education better."

"We fund people to look into things. We don't fund people to say, we'll pay you this if you say you like Common Core," he added.

Gates also implied that the Common Core standards are flexible, saying that the Common Core lets states "deviate, to some degree. Some will deviate to the full extent, some hardly at all."

NYU education historian Diane Ravitch points out, however, that there is no process for changing the Common Core if parts of it are found to not work well. The standards have a copyright, she pointed, out, so states can add to them but are not legally permitted to change them. And since the group that developed the standards has been disbanded, there is no organization that has the legal rights to change the standards based upon complaints, new research or new information.

In the article accompanying the interview, Layton takes an in-depth look at how the standards were developed. The Washington Post also posted an interactive timeline showing how the standards came about.

In part of the report, Layton wrote about the connection between Common Core and the Obama administration.

"There was so much cross-pollination between the foundation and the administration, it is difficult to determine the degree to which one may have influenced the other," she wrote.

Many of the top officials chosen to run Obama's Department of Education either came from the Gates Foundation or organizations that were heavily funded by the Gates Foundation.

Most states adopted Common Core as part of the administration's Race to the Top, a competitive education grant program. An early draft of that program mentioned Common Core by name, Layton said. States that adopted Common Core would receive extra points for Race to the Top funds.

Gene Wilhoit, one of the developers of the Common Core, warned the Education Department to take out the specific reference because they did not want the appearance of federal government involvement. So "Common Core" was removed and replaced with "college and career ready."

Since Common Core was the only "college and career ready" standards that were already available, and the Gates Foundation provided $2.7 million to help some states fill out its Race to the Top 300-page application (with a 500 page appendix), most states chose the easy route to Race to the Top funds and adopted Common Core.

You can watch the whole interview below:

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