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Bill Gates has poured millions of dollars into public education reform in the U.S., and some teachers aren’t too thrilled about that.

About 150 instructors from the Badass Teacher Association marched through downtown Seattle toward the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Thursday evening to demonstrate their disdain for the Common Core standards that have been implemented in 45 states, thanks largely to support from the Gates Foundation.

IMG_8917The Foundation has not only put more than $200 million toward the initiative, but also helped organize the political push necessary to implement Common Core, which recommends skills students should learn in each grade but does not set a specific curriculum — that’s up to individual states.

But as detailed in this Washington Post article from earlier this month, there’s been more and more pushback recently from both teachers and politicians on the standards. Some accuse Gates for supporting Common Core not for the benefit of students, but rather for corporate interest and to help Microsoft’s bottom line because the standards support technology and data.

That sentiment was apparent on the streets of Seattle Thursday.

“We want to get corporations out of teaching,” said Tom O’Kelley, an English teacher at Tacoma’s Oakland High School. “They are trying to turn public schools into a corporate money maker and push out the voice of teachers like we have no idea what we’re doing in education. Bill Gates certainly doesn’t. He’s a college dropout. He’s a corporate money maker — that’s all he does.”

Bill and Melinda Gates at this year's Stanford Commencement.
Bill and Melinda Gates at this year’s Stanford Commencement.

Teachers also say that Common Core puts too much focus on standardized testing and restricts what students can learn.

“As teachers we’re supposed to be addressing individual needs to students, yet everything is being standardized. You can’t have it both ways,” said Tom Garrard, an elementary school librarian in the Edmonds School District. “To help kids realize their potential we have to dial back on the testing and focus on the kids.”

Garrard added that “not everybody’s going to be an engineer.”

“Kids now have less opportunities for other forms of expression and learning,” he said. “Why our country is so great has a lot to do with creativity and [Common Core] is just pushing us in the opposite direction of that.”

O’Kelley called the Common Core a “horrid, nasty thing,” that doesn’t meet the needs of students.

“It wasn’t made by teachers and child development experts,” he said. “It’s not appropriate.”

When asked by the Washington Post about the criticism of Common Core, Gates said most teachers support the standards and noted that the movement is not about politics.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think wanting education to be better is a right-wing or left-wing thing,” Gates told the Post. “We fund people to look into things. We don’t fund people to say, ‘Okay, we’ll pay you this if you say you like the Common Core.’ ”

We’ve reached out to the Gates Foundation for comment and we’ll update this story when we hear back.

Update, 2:40 PT: Here’s a statement from the Gates Foundation:

Teachers guide much of our education work at the foundation. We are engaged in a constant conversation with great teachers here in Washington State and all across the country about what they need to help all their students succeed and how we can best support them. While not all teachers agree on how best to make that happen, they are all dedicated and passionate about their students. We share that passion with the educators we work with every day.

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