New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) rocked the education world — and drew strong criticism from teachers and others — by questioning why school buildings still exist and announcing that he would work with Microsoft founder Bill Gates to “reimagine education,” with technology at the forefront.
Cuomo, who in the past has angered educators by supporting controversial Gates-funded school reforms, said Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic offers an opportunity to change how students are educated, and he called Gates “a visionary” whose “thoughts on technology and education” should be advanced. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent billions of dollars on education reform projects it has conceded did not work as hoped.
“The old model of everybody goes and sits in the classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms — why, with all the technology you have?” Cuomo said at Tuesday’s coronavirus response news conference.
He showed a slide with questions about how technology can transform education, which it has failed to do so far despite the promises of its supporters. And he said a panel of experts would be convened to find a way forward with education and other issues. On Wednesday, he tapped another billionaire, former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, to lead his new blue-ribbon commission to “reimagine” New York state.
The coronavirus pandemic — which shut down schools around the country and put millions of students and teachers online for remote education — has, he said, shown just how unprepared the country was for such a transition.
“When this change come to a society, because we all talk about change and advancement, but really we like control, and we like the status quo, and it’s hard to change the status quo,” he said. “But you get moments in history where people say, ‘OK, I’m ready. I’m ready for change. I get it.’ I think this is one of those moments. And I think education, as well as other topics, is a topic where people will say, ‘Look, I’ve been reflecting, I’ve been thinking, I learned a lot.’ We all learned a lot about how vulnerable we are and how much we have to do, and let’s start talking about really revolutionizing education. And it’s about time.”
Cuomo’s comments drew immediate rebuke from teachers and others who have lived through Gates-funded education reform, which critics say have harmed public schools because they were unworkable from the start and consumed resources that could have been better spent.
There was, for example, the Common Core State Standards, which were developed and implemented with Gates Foundation money and which were rushed into classrooms in New York without sufficient time for training and curriculum development. And there was the effort to evaluate teachers by the standardized test scores of their students, with methods that resulted in New York and other states’ teachers being evaluated by students they did not have and subjects they didn’t teach. A major report on effects over six years of the foundation’s Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching (IP) initiative, which had as a key feature teacher evaluations systems similar to New York’s, found that the IP project did not improve either student achievement or the quality of teachers — and did more harm than good.
The Gates Foundation did not respond to queries about Cuomo’s
Bill and Melinda Gates said in their foundation’s irony-rich 2020 annual letter that they were skeptical of billionaires trying to use their own money to shape public education policy. Yet they spent part of their fortune trying to shape public education policy, successfully leveraging public funding to support the things they supported in reform.