Even The New York Times realized that Bill Gates had been completely wrong about 'small schools'... but then, when you are one of the world's richest men, you can simply buy into your next big -- even bigger -- mistake...

By the late 1990s, the gospel of corporate "school reform" promoted the notion of so-called "Small Schools." The claim was that the problem with America's high schools was singular -- they were too big. At least the high schools in America's urban areas were. At that time, I was teaching and union delegate at Chicago's Bowen High School, and like other large urban high schools serving an exclusively minority and poor (and working class) population, our size was to blame. And so, in the course of time, we were ordered to create "small schools" inside Bowen, under the supervision of an "external partner."

Bill Gates's "Small Schools" project was a complete (and racist) failure, but Gates learned nothing from the failure, despite how "disruptive" it was to hundreds of urban high schools across the USA. Gates moved straight into other corporate school reform projects without any self-criticism about his megalomaniacal versions of reality. A billionaire, in the USA at least, can get away with anything and buy as many preachers, professors and pundits as it takes to push his projects.The logic was almost Thomistic, in the sense I had studied theology years earlier: Every urban high school was "failing." How did we know? Just check the test scores; ignore the fact that the tests correlated purely with the socio-economic realities of the children we served. Paul Vallas, then the "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools ordered Bowen to have an "external partner" -- the so-called "Small Schools Workshop" of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Headed by pseudo-progressives Bill Ayers and Mike Klonsky, the Small Schools Workshop descended on Bowen, after receiving contracts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year from Vallas. At first, most of the teachers thought it had to be a joke. The two "Small Schools" gurus dispatched to teach us how to do our jobs better had little or no teaching experience, anywhere -- not just in schools like Bowen.

But as time went on, it became clear the joke was on us. As union delegate, part of my job was to fight against the violations of the union contract -- and our professional dignity -- promoted by the "Small Schools" cadre inserted into Bowen.

The big money behind the national push for "Small Schools" came from Bill Gates, who by then was deciding on of his missions in life was to "reform" America's public schools. And so the debacle of the "Small Schools Movement" was eventually reported by even The New York Times:

Bill Gates had an idea. He was passionate about it, absolutely sure he had a winner. His idea? Americas high schools were too big.

When a multibillionaire gets an idea, just about everybody leans in to listen. And when that idea has to do with matters of important public policy and the billionaire is willing to back it up with hard cash, public officials tend to reach for the money with one hand and their marching orders with the other. Gates backed his small-schools initiative with enormous amounts of cash. So, without a great deal of thought, one school district after another signed on to the notion that large public high schools should be broken up and new, smaller schools should be created.

This was an inherently messy process. The smaller schoolsproponents sometimes called them academieswould often be shoehorned into the premises of the larger schools, so youd end up with two, three or more schools competing for space and resources in one building. That caused all sorts of headaches: Which schools would get to use the science labs, or the gyms? How would the cafeterias be utilized? And who was responsible for policing the brawls among students from rival schools?

But those were not Gatess concerns. He was on a mission to transform American education, and he would start with the high schools, which he saw as an embarrassment, almost a personal affront. They were obsolete, he declared. When I compare our high schools to what I see when Im traveling abroad, he said, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow.

There used to be a running joke in the sports world about breaking up the Yankees because they were so good. Gates felt obliged to break up Americas high schools because they were so bad. Smaller schools were supposed to attack the problems of low student achievement and high dropout rates by placing students in a more personal, easier-to-manage environment. Students, teachers and administrators would be more familiar with one another. Acts of violence and other criminal behavior would diminish as everybody got to know everybody else. Academic achievement would soar.



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That was Bill Gatess grand idea. From 2000 to 2009, he spent $2 billion and disrupted 8 percent of the nations public high schools before acknowledging that his experiment was a flop. The size of a high school proved to have little or no effect on the achievement of its students. At the same time, fewer students made it more difficult to field athletic teams. Extracurricular activities withered. And the number of electives offered dwindled.

Gates said it himself in the fall of 2008, Simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for.

There was very little media coverage of this experiment gone terribly wrong. A billionaire had had an idea. Many thousands had danced to his tune. It hadnt worked out. Cest la vie.

But Gates was by no means finished. He and his foundation quickly turned to the task of trying to fix the nations teachers. They were determined, one way or another, to powerfully influence American public education.

Ive covered Gates, and his desire to improve the quality of education in America seemed sincere. But his outsized influence on school policy has, to say the least, not always been helpful. Although he and his foundation were committed to the idea of putting a great teacher into every classroom, Gates acknowledged that there was not much of a road map for doing that. Unfortunately, he said, it seems that the field doesnt have a clear view on the characteristics of great teaching. Is it using one curriculum over another? Is it extra time after school? We dont really know.

This hit-or-miss attitudelets try this, lets try thathas been a hallmark of school reform efforts in recent years. The experiments trotted out by the big-money crowd have been all over the map. But if there is one broad approach (in addition to the importance of testing) that the corporate-style reformers and privatization advocates have united around, its the efficacy of charter schools. Charter schools were supposed to prove beyond a doubt that poverty didnt matter, that all you had to do was free up schools from the rigidities of the traditional public system and the kids would flourish, no matter how poor they were or how chaotic their home environments.

Corporate leaders, hedge fund managers and foundations with fabulous sums of money at their disposal lined up in support of charter schools, and politicians were quick to follow. They argued that charters would not only boost test scores and close achievement gaps but also make headway on the vexing problem of racial isolation in schools.

None of it was true. Charters never came close to living up to the hype. After several years of experimentation and the expenditure of billions of dollars, charter schools and their teachers proved, on the whole, to be no more effective than traditional schools. In many cases, the charters produced worse outcomes. And the levels of racial segregation and isolation in charter schools were often scandalous. While originally conceived a way for teachers to seek new ways to reach the kids who were having the most difficult time, the charter school system instead ended up leaving behind the most disadvantaged youngsters.

Bob Herbert, an opinion columnist for the New York Times from 1993 to 2011, is a distinguished senior fellow at Demos, a public policy think tank in New York City. This article is an adapted excerpt from Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America (Doubleday), out Oct. 7.

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May 15, 2015 at 3:30 PM

By: Jean Schwab

CPS and Bill Gates

Both of them are Teflon- everything just rolls right off-nothing sticks.

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