On Thursday AEI’s Philanthropic Freedom Project hosted Bill Gates for a conversation with AEI President Arthur Brooks focusing on the role of philanthropy in addressing poverty. During the Q & A time Michael McShane, research fellow in education policy studies at AEI, asked Gates about the controversial Common Core standards. Gates, whose foundation has donated $150 million to facilitate the promotion and implementation of Common Core — including $1 million to AEI — ran through the usual list of talking points given by proponents of the new standards, which have been adopted by 46 states.
Gates thinks that, given the prospects for driving innovation, “pro-capitalistic, market-driven people” should embrace Common Core.
“If they have two [sets of standards] they’re comparing they oughta probably pick something in common because to some degree this is an area where, if you do have commonality, it’s like an electric plug,” Gates said. “You get more free market competition. Scale is good for free market competition. Individual state regulatory capture is not good for competition.”
Economies of scale refers to reductions in a producer’s unit costs as scale of output is increased. For a variety of reasons, it’s cheaper per unit to make a million electric plugs than it is to make one hundred — raw materials can be purchased in bulk for a lower price, a larger company can afford sophisticated automation equipment, etc. Gates thinks that this economic theory can be applied to the education of children. While it’s true that curriculum, tests, and even standards can be reproduced on a mass scale for a lower price than can the same items produced on a lower scale, the same cannot be said about the minds of children.
Human beings are not electric plugs. Schools are not molding soulless plastic objects, they are touching hearts and minds. Though Gates brushes off criticism of the standards by saying they’re merely a “written explanation of what kids should achieve at various milestones in their educational career,” the evidence shows that, whatever their original intentions, the standards have evolved into something that is not rigorous (by traditional American standards) and worse, will lead to continued cultural and moral degradation in our schools. Terrence O. Moore, professor of history at Hillsdale College has said that the new standards, as they are currently being implemented in schools across the country, will destroy minds and souls and lead students down “a depressing path of a prematurely jaded, post-modern, anti-heroic view of life.”
Plenty of industries can benefit from the economy of scale and even from shared services across states, but the idea of mass-producing education across the diverse landscape of the United States will ultimately lead to a Henry Ford-style education for all: You can have any kind of education you want as long as it’s of the approved, federal-centric, progressive variety.