Washington D.C. — our capital — is a place known for its revolving door of political influence. It is a place where behind-closed-doors deals are the norm. It is the perfect place for an “education reform” coalition rendezvous.
Every wonder who the big "thinkers" are that get invited to the table? How are they chosen? Why are they chosen? And what can we do when they choose the wrong course of action for our schools?
One particularly noteworthy D.C. meeting pushed Common Core National Standards to the forefront at a fast and furious pace by targeting the use of our American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) dollars.
But before opening the door on that meeting, take a peek at where the Obama education policy stood on March 10, 2009. As President Obama clarified in “Taking on Education,” his five pillars of reform were:
1) "Investing in early childhood initiatives" like Head Start;
2) "Encouraging better standards and assessments" by focusing on testing itineraries that better fit our kids and the world they live in;
3) "Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers" by giving incentives for a new generation of teachers and for new levels of excellence from all of our teachers.
4) "Promoting innovation and excellence in America’s schools" by supporting charter schools, reforming the school calendar and the structure of the school day.
5) "Providing every American with a quality higher education--whether it's college or technical training."
At the time, the politics the administration tiptoed around was described like this:
“In his new role, [Secretary of Education] Duncan will be under considerable pressure from two camps at odds over how to improve schools. One camp includes hard-charging reformers like D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee who support expanding charter schools and more teacher accountability. On the other end are the national teachers unions, which support a larger investment in teacher training and less emphasis on testing.”
And as U.S. Department of Education appointments became public knowledge, it was explained that “the Gates Foundation
has a very broad reach, so it would be difficult to staff an office with powerful people in the ed policy world without picking those who are involved with the foundation.” The same can be said of The Broad Foundation.
By the end of March, Secretary Duncan was expressing use of Recovery Act (ARRA) funds as committed to four reforms:
1) Adopt internationally benchmarked standards and assessments,
2) Build high-quality data systems that track a student’s academic career,
3) Recruit more high-quality educators to underperforming schools,
4) Support effective strategies to turn around underperforming schools.
Innocent enough? Before you answer, look closer at the controversy over Common Core’s origin
Common Core stems from the decades-old steady advancement of national standards and the fact that education “reformers,” philanthropic organizations, venture capitalists, and politicians followed this dogma, as expressed by then Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Opportunity knocked.
Entered — the Coalition for Student Achievement, aka College and Career-Ready America, who proceeded to take advantage of the “opportunity” provided by the Great Recession. In this “early” April of 2009 meeting, the assembly put together their thoughts and priorities in a document titled Smart Options: Investing the Recovery Funds for Student Success sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Eli & Edythe Broad Foundations.
The Smart Options group claimed that if states focused on this collection of “big ideas” the country would see “real educational results” by 2012.
Priority #1 “A common core of fewer, clearer, higher, evidence-based, college- and career-ready standards adopted by at least 40 states, benchmarked internationally to the best in the world and linked to common, higher-quality assessments.”
Priority #2 “More robust and user-friendly data and information systems.”
Priority #3 “A meaningful professional teacher evaluation system in every state and school district.”
Priority #4 “A focused effort in every state to close and turn around
5 percent of its poorest-performing schools. By 2012, states and districts should have shut down at least 500 of these schools and replaced them with new, higher-performing schools…including charter schools.”
Priority #5 “Targeted interventions provided to the students who are at least two years behind academically in reading, writing, and mathematics.”
Priority #1 became Common Core even though the claims of being “evidence-based” have not been substantiated. Priorities 2,3, and 4 have caused chaos. And the core theory of these “big ideas” is once again — like with “No Child Left Behind”— based on standards, testing, and the promise of accountability for “outcomes.”
What about the last priority, helping students being left behind? Usually the devil is in the details as was the case with the other priorities. But with this topic, the specifics were few and the door of opportunity created for these students by the Recovery dollars didn’t materialize into the promised “results.”
Let’s open the door on this planning meeting and take a closer look at the big thinkers.
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation had three people in attendance. The foundation focuses on governance of schools, management training of leaders, and hands out generous “prizes” to charter management organizations.
Other pro-charter groups with a seat at the table included Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (which promotes “free market” ideology through charters), Green Dot Public [Charter] Schools, California Charter Schools Association, and the Center on Reinventing Public Education. This center does research and policy analysis, supports charter and technology-based schools, and is funded by Gates, Broad, Joyce, Walton (Walmart), Hewlett, and many more foundations.
The Joyce Foundation sent one representative. Their efforts center on teacher quality as does the National Council on Teacher Quality, a private D.C. think-tank with one person in attendance. They are “national” but privately funded by Gates, Broad, Joyce, and Walton foundations among others.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation had two participants. Their education agenda is focused on “deeper learning” and now reflects the same “pillars” of reforms as the Smart Options document.
The Center for American Progress is a D.C. based progressive organization represented on this committee by an expert on standards-based education. Their funders include Microsoft and Walmart.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had four representatives directly from their parent organization. In addition to those previously mentioned in attendance with Gates connections, there were three other groups represented at this gathering that were essential to ensuring the launch of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI, as it was originally called):
Data Quality Campaign, a D.C. non-profit whose funders also include Walton’s. They state their progress openly; “In 2009, 8 states used state funds to support their P–20W data systems. In 2013, despite difficult economic times, 41 states committed state funds to ensure the long-term sustainability.”
Council of the Great City Schools is a long-standing group of 67 urban school districts that received a grant from Gates to assist in supporting member districts in implementing Common Core.
Student Achievement Partners (aka Achieve the Core, not to be confused with the Coalition for Student Achievement) is a non-profit founded by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel, and Jason Zimba, the lead writers of the Common Core Standards. David Coleman was the representative at this particular meeting of the minds. He is president of The College Board and a former McKinsey & Co. consultant.
To round out the philanthropic ventures’ lineup, there was a person from the Hope Street Group
, another non-profit funded by Gates, Broad, Joyce, Walton, Hewlett, Alvarez & Marsal
, and many more including the NewSchools Venture Fund
with two representatives present. This non-profit is a “venture philanthropy firm” raising philanthropic capital
and using that capital to support “education entrepreneurs
” including Teach for America
(who had an additional separate representative) and New Teacher Center
, not to be confused with The New Teacher Project
who also had an additional separate representative.
Present and accounted for at this gathering of 37 of the “best thinkers” was in fact nine state and district superintendents — the public school’s representation.
Then D.C. Chancellor, founder of StudentsFirst, a “would-be reformer” who went after “bad schools and bad teachers,” Michelle Rhee was there. She went on to become a member of the Board of Directors of The Broad Center, the leadership-training arm of the Broad Foundation.
The New York City Department of Education had two representatives. Photeine Anagnostopoulos was a former Morgan Stanley & Company analyst with multiple ties to the education industry. She worked on developing online learning programs for McGraw-Hill, assisted in an overhauling of the SAT at The College Board, and was vice president of business development for Classroom Connect, a teacher development program. She has since gone to work in New Jersey. Her boss at the time of this gathering was also a participant.
Mr. Joel Klein attended this early April meeting as then Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. His eight-years there has been described as “test-reliant decision making producing a regime of school closings and charter expansion….It has been asked - Who better to lead an educational revolution than Joel Klein…?” And it never hurts to be well connected.
Klein spent some time as chairman of the board of The Broad Center and is now the “CEO of Amplify, which creates digital products and services for teachers, students, and parents. Amplify is an independent subsidiary of News Corporation. Amplify partners with Core Knowledge that was founded by E.D. Hirsch…” whose work David Coleman has called “absolutely foundational.”
Another member of the Smart Options group that had served under Joel Klein was then CEO of Baltimore City Public School District, Andrés Alonso. Alonso hired, as his second in command, Major General Bennie E. Williams — a fellow of The Broad Superintendents Academy. This administration was said to have been “dogged by fiscal problems and cheating scandals.”
Also representing the public was Mark Roosevelt - a Broad Academy Alumnus and then superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools who spearheaded their school closings. He left that position “a year after the school district garnered a $40 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to be used to implement a new system to evaluate teacher performance and shape new training and incentive programs for teachers...” He is a current board member of The Broad Center.
Following in the Broad tradition, William (Bill) Hite as a Broad Academy Alumnus and then superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools was also present. Known as “a proven transformative leader” he had drawn fire and at least a couple of lawsuits concerning his practices while in Maryland. He has moved on to Philadelphia.
The current Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Broad Center, Paul Pastorek, was then in attendance as the Superintendent of Louisiana Department of Education. He is known as “an architect of school accountability measures” using high-stakes testing in a protocol for state takeovers of schools and in the process drawing complains about the disruption of neighborhoods.
He previously served as chief counsel and corporate secretary for Airbus Group Inc., a division of EADS North America who is known as a leader in the test and measurement industry as well as other communication systems. Pastorek is a founding board member of PARCC, Inc. (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), one of two testing consortiums for Common Core that received Recovery Act (ARRA) funds directly. PARCC, Inc. is a spin off of Achieve, Inc., a Gates funded organization.
Former Florida Department of Education Commissioner, Eric Smith, is another coalition attendee who was a public servant at the time. He went on to lead a venture for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The EXCELerator Project. Smith’s support for school choice , online efforts, and work “to evaluate teachers on student learning, reward excellence and end tenure” earned him high praise from Jeb Bush. Smith is a fellow at the George W. Bush Institute and is pushing for us to “stay the course” on Common Core which he described as a “grassroots movement.” He is a member emeritus for the Chiefs for Change (CCSSO – Council of Chief States School Officers) and has served on The College Board.
Smith was among many who raised eyebrows over junkets — his to Helsinki—paid for by Pearson, “one of the biggest education companies in the world, selling standardized tests, packaged curriculums and Prentice Hall textbooks.”
But as was stated in the Smart Options document, “… not everyone agreed with every word…” of the detailed plan.
Peter McWalters, then Commissioner for Rhode Island Department of Education, came to this meeting with a deep understanding that public institutions are “enormously difficult to move” and “absolutely requires political leadership” to do so. He is much respected for “his rejection of high-stakes testing when other states embraced it, and his insistence on personalizing high schools and measuring would-be graduates by more than their scores on standardized exams…”
McWalters is now a policy consultant with clients including TPAC (Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium, a Stanford University and Pearson partnership project), the Educator Workforce program of CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers that he joined in July, 2009), and at Big Picture Learning.
McWalters is currently a board member at Education Sector.
His successor in Rhode Island, Deborah Gist, transferred from D.C., is an alumnus of Broad Superintendents Academy, and was in charge when all Central High, RI teachers were fired.
But let us not jump into the blame game as has been done with the verbiage “bad teachers.” None of this is to say that these individuals should be labeled “bad people” but rather to ask the public, is this how we should govern the institution charged with educating America’s children?
Mr. McWalters was not alone in understanding how hard transformative change can be and so enters the other attendees of the Smart Options discussion group.
KSA–Plus Communications, Inc. was present for their expertise in providing “education communications and strategic consulting to set education agendas in motion.”
McKinsey & Co. known as “trusted advisor and counselor to many of the world's most influential businesses and institutions” had two representatives present. The company’s services include data analysis and transformation — boasting about having the ability to “drive adoption throughout the organization.”
And last but not least in the area of transformation was Alvarez & Marsal. They are known for “restructuring” and “turnaround” for companies including Enron and the failed Lehman Brothers (one cause of our need for recovery). “Mavericks” on the ready “when conventional approaches are not enough to activate change,” they promise to “accelerate results through decisive action.”
But for the education industry to succeed, however they define that, it needs to dictate education policy — they need to direct our public dollars.
So also in attendance was a representative from Education Counsel LLC with their “track record of forging the kind of partnerships needed to bring about meaningful and systemic change.” Their “accomplishments” include evaluating “No Child Left Behind (NCLB) programs, including alternative teacher certification...”
In addition, there were two representatives from Education Sector (aka American Institutes for Research- AIR), a D.C. non-profit education policy think tank. And as they state on their website;
“The reauthorization of ESEA (No Child Left Behind) is the nexus of all of our K-12 work, including testing, accountability, teacher quality, finance, data, and school choice.”
This was no casual meeting.
We know this is how America does business, but, are we really willing to accept the risk associated with having the education-industrial complex make the rules for how America “transforms” public education? Do these people represent the prevailing view in the country, or, has the view been propagated over the last five years using Recovery Act dollars as seed money for the change “they” sought?
This Common Core escapade isn’t one involving just a revolving door; this is a merry-go-round. It’s a game of changing the names, changing the words, and changing the faces by getting rid of a few and moving the rest around the country.
What it is not is anything new and innovative in the way of school reform. This is the outcome-based theory we have used for 30 years — standards, testing, and a false sense of accountability through choice — that became the pillars of No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB).
Now, do we close the door on this mess and let education venture capitalists, in the name of philanthropy, proceed with their plan?
Do we let the No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB) law be rewritten, renamed — Student Success Act or Strengthening America’s Schools Act — and packaged and sold as something new? Do we allow “choice” to come out of NCLB and into a law of its own so charter management organizations can pocket our eduction dollars?
Are we ready to put our trust in philanthropic venture capitalists to train our teachers, our leaders, and educate our children?
Is the public even aware that the private education industry is already doing all these things and that Common Core standards are privately copyrighted?
The Common Core controversy: Is it all politics? Or politics as usual?
Our smartest option right now is to stop this merry-go-round. This congress and our failed, long-neglected federal education law provides us opportunity. The door is open. Will American citizens step up and take control of the lawmaking process?