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The Answer Sheet: Millions in Private Money Poured into Common Core Promotion

(By Marvin Joseph/ The Washington Post)

(By Marvin Joseph/ The Washington Post)

It cost money to implement and promote the Common Core State Standards. Here’s a post about where some of the funding is coming from, written by award-winning Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York.  Burris has  chronicled on this blog the many problems with the test-driven reform in New York (here, and here and here and here, for example). She was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010,  tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by more than 1,535 New York principals and more than 6,500 teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here. 

(Correction: Fixing first name of Regents member)

By Carol Burris

I am pleased to see the excitement in the business community for the Common Core. Businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural alliance.

 The “output,” to which the writer refers, is our children.

The above statement is from a blog authored by Allan Golston, the president of the United States Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Golston leads the foundation’s education reform efforts. The entire blog can be found here on the Impatient Optimist website.  In the blog, Golston describes a conference he recently attended in New York.  It was sponsored by The Committee for Economic Development (CED), a business-led, non-profit think tank that has education reform as a project. According to its website, CED exists to deliver “well researched analysis and reasoned solutions to our nation’s most critical issues.”

The CEO of CED is Steve Odland. At the conference, Odland committed his organization to a two-year pledge to make sure that everyone understands the Common Core standards and to ensure that business leaders have what they need to support their implementation.  Here is what he said:

 We have to be the adults in the room. It’s not about politics. It’s about great policy.

Those oppositional educators and parents who have been stereotyped as “conservative Tea Party Republicans,” “politically silly.” or  “white suburban moms” who cannot accept that their children are not “brilliant” can now sit down and be quiet. The adults have arrived to save the day.

Mr. Odland, the former CEO of Auto Zone (2001-2005) and Office Depot (2005-2010), resigned from Office Depot in 2010, a week after the company announced it settled a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation for more than a million dollars. Odland himself agreed to pay a $50,000 fine without admitting or denying the findings.

As the CEO of the Committee on Economic Development he now advises the nation on issues like the Common Core and teacher quality. Odland also blogs for Forbes about what to do on a “staycation,” and to express his concern for the people he sees who do not look healthy when walking around the malls.

His favorite quotation is by Woody Allen:  “Confidence is what you have before you understand the problem.”

When it comes to education, I wish Odland and his friends were a little less confident.

In November, the month of the blog post, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave the CED $865,593 to promote the Common Core. To put this donation in perspective, in 2012, the Committee for Economic Development received a little more than $3.5 million in total contributions for their work. For this think tank, this contribution from Gates (and it is not the first that they have received) is a substantial infusion of cash.

The CED is hardly alone.  The Gates Foundation has given in excess of $173.5 million to promote the Common Core standards to an astounding number of organizations.  In New York, the Gates Foundation has contributed $3.3 million to the Regents Research Fund to support a think tank known as the Regents Fellows. A recent story by Jim Odato of the Albany Times Union, entitled, “Education Reform Backed by the Wealthy,” documents how foundations have contributed over $19 million to fund two dozen “research” fellows, who are pushing out the implementation of the Common Core and other reforms in New York.  Odato observes that “the arrangement is stirring concern in some quarters that deep-pocketed pedagogues are forcing their reform philosophies on an unwitting populace, and making an end run around government officers.”

Other contributors to the fund include the foundation of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch ($1 million), Regent Charles Bendit ($100,000) as well as millions from the General Electric, Tortora Sillicox Family and Ford Foundations.  Others donors to the Regents Research fund that supports the Fellows are New York City charities,The Robin Hood Foundation and theTiger Foundation. Robin Hood and Tiger generously give to charter schools, including Uncommon Charters, the chain formerly led by New York State Education Commissioner John King.  The National Charter School Authorizers made a $135,000 contribution to the Regents Research Fund as well.

From the very beginning, the Fellows Program was controversial, as described in this 2011 article in the New York Times.  Since then, the program has greatly expanded and recently come under scrutiny again.

It is clear that these reforms are not arising from parental and community concerns.  They are hard-driven, top-down changes backed by those who are willing to spend a fortune to reshape our public schools.  That any philanthropic foundation would view our nation’s children as ‘output’ for which businesses are the natural consumers is, in a word, horrifying.

 Ethan Young, a high senior from Tennessee, understands the destructive nature of these reforms. During his testimony to his school board regarding the Common Core and the evaluation of teachers by standardized test scores,  he said:

The task of teaching is never quantifiable…Creativity, appreciation, inquisitiveness—these are impossible to scale. Today we find ourselves in a nation that produces workers. Everything is college and career preparation. Somewhere our Founding Fathers are turning in their graves, pleading, ‘We teach to free minds, we teach to inspire, we teach to equip’. The careers will come naturally.

Ethan Young knows that his birthright is to be more than output to be consumed by business. I would argue that this 18 year old is the adult in the room to whom we should all listen.

Here’s the video of Ethan Young, a senior at Farragut High School in Knoxville, giving testimony in November to his district’s school board:

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The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.

Valerie Strauss

Valerie Strauss is the Washington Post education writer.

Carol C. Burris

Carol Corbett Burris became Executive Director of the Network for Public Education Foundation in August 2015, after serving as principal of South Side High School...