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Bill Gates says education reform is tougher than eradicating polio, malaria or tuberculosis

Published: Wednesday, July 2 2014 10:40 a.m. MDT

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Co-Chair Bill Gates gestures while speaking at a ceremony to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Land Grant Act, Tuesday, June 26, 2012.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

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Bill Gates says education reform is tougher than eradicating polio, malaria or tuberculosis, and he's putting his money where his mouth is.

Speaking to employees at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Gates said that American education hadn't improved much in the last 50 years and noted his foundation's support for the Common Core standards.

Gates' comments on infectious diseases were in the context of noting that his foundation is also pushing hard on those fronts, funding research on polio, malaria and HIV, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

But Gates is all in on reforming American education.

"You name it, we have been passed by," Gates said of the country's math and science programs, the AP reported from Los Alamos, and he sees limits to how much technology can change that. "And the one thing we have a lot of in the United States is unmotivated students," Gates said.

To be fair, Gates is looking at much more than education.

Politico noted in February that "he’s broadening his focus to take on agricultural policy, immigration reform and even clean energy. Just this week, his foundation pledged financial support for a $25 million fund to provide college scholarships for undocumented immigrants. On the global stage, meanwhile, Gates has sharply criticized the powerful livestock industry as he talks up his vision for solving world hunger by promoting vegetarian diets."

But Gates has become a driving American education proponent for the past few years, with heavy investment in the Common Core.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.

"Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision between states’ rights and national interests that had undercut every previous effort, dating from the Eisenhower administration," The Washington Post reported in June.

"The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards," the Post reported.

Gates is also a major backer of Parent Revolution, which is the driving force behind the controversial "parent trigger" used to give parents leverage over school districts and teachers' unions. New York University's education guru Diane Ravitch is not the first to note the growing role of big money is shaping education policy.

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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