Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Charter Schools: The Real Deal Video

 
Education Activist, Fordham University Professor Mark Naison debunks Charter School mythology in this episode of Education News. Comparing the Charter School explosion to the subprime mortgage collapse, Naison reveals the startling failures and false promises of the Charter mystique.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Charter Schools: A Crisis In SubPrime Education

TUESDAY, JULY 8, 2014

Why Charter School Scandals Resemble the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

 
To understand why  we may be approaching a charter school crisis that resembles the one that developed around subprime mortgages, you need to understand how investment banks and credit rating agencies seized upon an instrument to make homeownership available to people with limited resources as a vehicle to make fortunes and advance careers, leaving the tax payers with a large bill. I think something similar is happening today with charter schools, once seen as an opportunity to provide better educational opportunities for families in low and moderate income neighborhoods. In each instance,  an institution initially aimed at expanding opportunity for those with limited resources became, because of government favoritism and lack of oversight, a vehicle for profit taking on a grand scale by the very privileged that sometimes left those the institution was designed to help in very bad shape
 
  The subprime mortgage was a loan offered by banks and financial institutions to people whose credit rating and financial position was too weak to qualify for a normal 20 to 30 year mortgage at the prevailing interest rate.  To protect the lender, this was done by making the interest rate much higher, with the penalty, in the case of default, being repossession of the home that was purchased. This was obviously a high risk endeavor for the borrower. But because the nation was becoming more economically polarized, with working class incomes plunging and middle class incomes stagnant, the Clinton administration and federal lending agencies started pushing this instrument as a way of keeping the dream of homeownership alive in the nation, especially among working class people and people of color.  Banks, savings and loans, and mortgage companies rose to the challenge, writing millions of these mortgages to people whose incomes and collateral did not qualify them for a conventional mortgage.
 
At times, they aggressively marketed these mortgages, pushing them on people who never dreamed they could purchase a home, triggering a wave of new residential construction in many parts of the nation.  It seemed like a democratic moment in the nation’s history- millions of new home owners, many of them people of color, a boom in residential construction, work for lawyers and bankers specializing in residential loans.
 
 But underlying this boom were shady practices that elected officials chose to ignore. Many of the mortgages were written in ways that hid the risks borrowers were taking with variable rates that rose sharply after the first few years.   There was no way  borrowers were going to be able to pay their mortgages with the rates they would have five or ten years after they were initially written and many  would lose the homes they had purchased.  Worse yet, investment banks began to bundle these mortgages into bond offerings, and sell them as a safe investments to insurance companies, pension funds, government institutions, and high end investors around the world, raking in huge commissions as they did so.  And here, corruption on a grand scale turned a risky lending practice into a destabilizing force of deadly proportions in the global economy.  
 
Rating agencies, seeing huge profits being made by their best customers, the large investment banks, started giving triple A ratings to bonds based on the bundling of individual mortgages which, were they rated, would have been giving a rating of “F.” This practice ended up spreading the risk into every corner of the global economy, as investors rushed to gobble up the bonds, more mortgages were written and sold to meet the demand. And for a while it all seemed to work. Millions of people who never had homes how had them, while fortunes were being made in the writing, bundling and marketing of these mortgages.
 
   But inevitably, the boom turned to bust.  When the high rates on the mortgages started kicking in, millions of people defaulted on their loans, not only losing their homes but setting in motion a chain reaction which destabilized not only the banks which had written the mortgages, but the financial institutions which had bundled them, along with their customers. Some of the largest banks and insurance companies in the nation failed and went under, and others had to be rescued through an injection of funds from the federal government at huge expense to tax payers.  And as the economy plunged into near Depression, the residential housing market was shattered, and along with it the dream of widespread home ownership among the poor. Today, there are 13 million abandoned homes and commercial properties in the US, while large numbers of families live doubled and tripled up in properties which were designed to be private homes
 
      While the comparison is not exact, there are some powerful similarities between what happened to subprime mortgages and what is currently taking place with charter schools, another “short cut” to opportunity which has been seized upon by elites for financial and political gain, to the detriment of those for whom the charter school was initially designed to help.
 
     Charter schools, which are public funded schools which have their own boards of directors and can set their own hiring policies, curricula, and patterns of student recruitment and discipline independent of the regulations governing public schools , were initially created to promote greater experimentation and innovation in public education.  Many early charter schools were created by teachers and parents and promoted innovative pedagogies. Some still do.
    But somewhere along the line, public officials began to see charter schools as a way of circumventing expensive labor contracts with teachers unions and of providing an alternative to public schools in inner city communities which had been battered by disinvestment, job losses and drug epidemics. They invited foundations and the private sector to come in and create charter schools on a far larger scale and with a very different model than parent/teacher cooperatives, using private money as well as public money.  The professed goal was to give inner city parents and students safe alternatives to battered, underfunded and often troubled public schools, something many parents welcomed, but inviting powerful interests to help shape what was essentially an alternate school system free from public regulation and oversight proved to be as dangerous as it was tantalizing.
 
    By the end of the Clinton Administration, “Charter School Fever” had started to spread through Corporate America and Wall Street, spurred on by an investment tax credit that offered huge tax breaks for those who invested in charter school construction.  Not only did the number of charter schools rise exponentially in every city in the country, but self- described “education entrepreneurs” began creating  charter school chains, some of them non profit, some of them for profit,  which attracted  private funding along with public money, headed by powerful “CEO’s” who were sometimes relatives and friends of powerful politicians, and in a few instances, politicians ( or ex-politicians) themselves. Flush with funding the chains began building new schools in inner city neighborhoods where public schools were starved of funding, or in some cases, colonizing existing public school buildings and seizing the best facilities.  
 
Founders of the new chains eagerly embraced the corporate model of management, giving their executives far higher salaries than their counterparts in public education, and creating a climate of insecurity and fear for their teachers, along with data driven performance targets, with the expressed goal of vastly outperforming inner city public schools on the standardized tests which had become the central component of school evaluation following the passage of No Child Left Behind.   
 
    By the middle of the Bush administration, hundreds of new charter schools had been created in cities throughout the country and charter schools were rapidly emerging as the favored strategy for inner city education among an unprecedented array of interests including Wall Street and Silicon Valley, Civil rights organizations, Hollywood and the media, and the Democratic and Republican leadership. The prospect of creating great schools in inner city communities while  offering opportunities for profitable investment, all without raising taxes or increasing school budgets proved irresistible to  a broad spectrum of the nation’s leadership. 
 
Charter Schools, like subprime Mortgages, were increasingly marketed as a Win/Win proposition for all concerned, a way to help the poor while unleashing the creative power of the private sector. The power and breadth of this emerging coalition was revealed for all the nation to see when Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans in 2005.   
 
Charter School advocates literally seized upon Katrina as the “Perfect Storm,  putting forth a plan to turn New Orleans into all Charter School district by phasing out and closing all public schools in the city. During the last three years of the Bush administration, the plan was put into effect with the full support of the city administration and the state legislature, leading to the closing of scores of New Orleans public schools and the firing of thousands of teachers, many of them teachers of color, replacing them with charter schools staffed by mostly white teachers supplied by Teach for America.
 
   But in terms of Charter School Fever and Charter School Favoritism, the Bush years proved to be only a prelude to what was to transpire in the Obama Administration.  With the appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and the launching of Race to the Top, President Obama not only made Charter School Favoritism official national policy, he put hundreds of billions   dollars of federal funds behind an effort to force municipalities to close “failing” public schools (defined as failing exclusively on the basis of student test scores) and replace them with charters. 
 
 At a time when the nation had fallen into a severe Recession, municipalities eagerly complied as a way of getting much needed federal funds, closing public schools en masse and creating thousands of new charters, often with little oversight and only the most perfunctory investigation of the school founders and boards of directors.  Ironically, this was done even though the available research showed that charters did NOT outperform public schools in the same neighborhoods, with comparable student populations.  But data and evidence, when its results were inconvenient, did not deter the President and Secretary of Education from promoting Charter Schools as their preferred solution to problems of educational inequality, a position affirmed for all to see when the President celebrated “National Charter School Week” rather than “Teacher Appreciation Week.”
 
       It is in the Obama years, with the financial incentives of Race to the Top sparking rapid charter school growth with little oversight, that the abuses associated with charter schools began to take on proportions akin to those associated with the subprime mortgage crisis. In the case of the charter school industry, the abuses took two forms:  mistreatment of students, teachers, and families, and fiscal issues ranging from mismanagement to outright embezzlement and fraud.
 
   Many of the educational abuses of charter schools stem from their determination to make sure their test scores surpass those of neighboring public schools, thereby justifying the favorable treatment they receive, and hope to receive in the future.  These abuses include:
 
** Discrimination against Special Needs students and English Language learners. In every city in the nation, charter schools enroll far lower number of such students than public schools in the same neighborhoods.
** Expulsion or harassment of student who do not test well, sometimes right before state tests. In some cities, public school teachers have called this “The Charter School Dump” as they can expect an influx of charter schools students, who they HAVE TO accept, shortly before test time.  On one instance a famous charter school operator in NY expelled his entire 8th grade class because of their disappointing performance on tests
** Draconian discipline policies which would never be tolerated in public schools such as putting students in closets, having them stare at walls, or wear special articles of clothing to indicate they are being punished when they violate school behavior codes.
** Telling students, parents and teachers to avoid all contact with their counterparts in co-located or neighboring public schools lest they be “polluted” or “corrupted” by such contact.
** Failure to hire or retain teachers of color. Charter schools have far lower proportions of such teachers than public schools with comparable student populations.
 
Not all charter schools practice these forms of discrimination. But enough do, with the number growing every day, that the issue cries out for investigation at the city, state and federal level.
 
The same is true of fiscal abuse and political favoritism, which, if anything, may even be more prevalent. These include
 
**Inflated salaries for Charter School CEO’s and founders of charter school chains. One charter school operator in Washington DC is under investigation for drawing more than 3 million dollars in compensation a year.
** Putting public officials, and relatives of public officials on the boards of charter schools seeking public funding. Instances of this have been uncovered in Indiana, Florida, California, and Tennessee and can probably be found in most other states.
**Outright embezzlement of funds by charter school operators, instances of which have been uncovered in New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Connecticut.
** Involvement of charter school operators in real estate fraud with the intention of inflating the value of properties in neighborhoods where new charter schools are being built.
** The creation of on line and for profit charter schools, without serious oversight, even though such entities have no track record of effective instruction.
** The granting of charter school franchises, in some states, to religious institutions which teach creationism and biblical literalism, and exclude students who do not share those beliefs.
 
  What we have here, to put it bluntly, is a pattern of discrimination and fraud that hurts the very families 
the charter schools were intended to help, allows ambitious individuals to enrich themselves at public 
expense, and ultimately undermines the quality of public education in cities throughout the nation. 
The entire charter industry, riddled with fraud, corruption and discrimination, is poised to slowly build 
to a public education collapse if the trends of cherry picking the best students, dumping the high needs 
kids into public schools then closing them for under performing continues.
 
 It is time that all forms of Charter School Favoritism come to an end, that Charter Schools be subject to the same level of oversight that public schools are, that closing of public schools to make way for Charters stop immediately and that there be no further expansion of charter schools until their patterns of governance and operation fully investigated

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Disclaimer:


Any views or opinions presented on fliers and web sites are solely those of the author (The Paul Robeson Freedom School) and do not necessarily represent those of the Citywide Coalition for Public Education. Individuals are required not to make false statements and not infringe or authorize any infringement of copyright or any other legal forms of communications. Citywide Coalition for Public Education will not accept any liability in respect of such communications, and any individual responsible will be personally liable for any damage or other liability arising.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

CharterSchool Wars

The Perfect Storm: How New Orleans Became All Charter All the Time


A Perfect Storm: The Takeover of New Orleans Public Schools Part One 17 Days in November from N.O. Education Equity Roundtable

A Perfect Storm: The Takeover of New Orleans Public Schools is the first in series of short videos, that reveals the real story behind the creation of the nation's first all charter school district. These videos are made possible with the support of the The Schott Foundation and The New Orleans Education Equity Roundtable. They are produced in partnership with Bayou and Me Productions.

For the past seven years, state education officials and corporate school reformers have touted the dramatic turnaround of New Orleans public schools. National media outlets have published numerous articles and TV news stories of the miracle in New Orleans citing unprecedented academic achievement where parents finally had School Choice.

This first Perfect Storm video focuses on the illegal takeover and the academic failure of The Recover School District. The film features interviews with leaders in the New Orleans education community who were faced with the daunting task of reopening schools immediately following
Hurricane Katrina.

Credits
Directed by
Phoebe Ferguson
Dr. Raynard Sanders
Produced by
Phoebe Ferguson
Dr. Raynard Sanders
Cinematography by
Phoebe Ferguson
Tobias Arturi
Lily Keber
Editor
Tobias Arturi
Graphic Designers
Noël Anderson
Tobias Arturi
Production Assistants
Kelsey Noble
Kendrick Royal
Transcripts
Elizabeth Jeffers
Interviews
In order of appearance
Louella Givens
Rev. Torin Sanders
Dr. Barbara Ferguson
Karran Harper Royal

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Billionaire Bill Gates Bumrushed the Common Core State Standards


How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution

Five questions with Bill Gates
Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates is taking heat from education groups, which say the Gates Foundation’s philanthropic support comes with strings attached. Here, he responds to his critics in an interview with The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton.

Written by Lyndsey Layton
Published: June 7-- washingtonpost.com
The pair of education advocates had a big idea, a new approach to transform every public-school classroom in America. By early 2008, many of the nation’s top politicians and education leaders had lined up in support.

But that wasn’t enough. The duo needed money — tens of millions of dollars, at least — and they needed a champion who could overcome the politics that had thwarted every previous attempt to institute national standards.

So they turned to the richest man in the world.

On a summer day in 2008, Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist for the standards movement, spent hours in Bill Gates’s sleek headquarters near Seattle, trying to persuade him and his wife, Melinda, to turn their idea into reality.

Coleman and Wilhoit told the Gateses that academic standards varied so wildly between states that high school diplomas had lost all meaning, that as many as 40 percent of college freshmen needed remedial classes and that U.S. students were falling behind their foreign competitors.
The pair also argued that a fragmented education system stifled innovation because textbook publishers and software developers were catering to a large number of small markets instead of exploring breakthrough products. That seemed to resonate with the man who led the creation of the world’s dominant computer operating system.

“Can you do this?” Wilhoit recalled being asked. “Is there any proof that states are serious about this, because they haven’t been in the past?”

Wilhoit responded that he and Coleman could make no guarantees but that “we were going to give it the best shot we could.”

After the meeting, weeks passed with no word. Then Wilhoit got a call: Gates was in.
What followed was one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.

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 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.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

One 2009 study, conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute with a $959,116 Gates grant, described the proposed standards as being “very, very strong” and “clearly superior” to many existing state standards.

-------------------------------
Notes: Also may include grants to raise academic standards as a precursor to CC, and grants to develop tests geared to Common Core. In 2010, Minnesota adopted the reading standards but not the math standards.
SOURCE: Washington Post analysis of Gates Foundation data. GRAPHIC: Darla Cameron, Ted Mellnik and Cristina Rivero - The Washington Post. Published Saturday, June 7, 2014.
 --------------------------------------

Gates money went to state and local groups, as well, to help influence policymakers and civic leaders. And the idea found a major booster in President Obama, whose new administration was populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates. The administration designed a special contest using economic stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards.
The result was astounding: Within just two years of the 2008 Seattle meeting, 45 states and the District of Columbia had fully adopted the Common Core State Standards.

The math standards require students to learn multiple ways to solve problems and explain how they got their answers, while the English standards emphasize nonfiction and expect students to use evidence to back up oral and written arguments. The standards are not a curriculum but skills that students should acquire at each grade. How they are taught and materials used are decisions left to states and school districts.

The standards have become so pervasive that they also quickly spread through private Catholic schools. About 100 of 176 Catholic dioceses have adopted the standards because it is increasingly difficult to buy classroom materials and send teachers to professional development programs that are not influenced by the Common Core, Catholic educators said.

And yet, because of the way education policy is generally decided, the Common Core was instituted in many states without a single vote taken by an elected lawmaker. Kentucky even adopted the standards before the final draft had been made public.

States were responding to a “common belief system supported by widespread investments,” according to one former Gates employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the foundation.

The movement grew so quickly and with so little public notice that opposition was initially almost nonexistent. That started to change last summer, when local tea party groups began protesting what they viewed as the latest intrusion by an overreaching federal government — even though the impetus had come from the states. In some circles, Common Core became known derisively as “Obamacore.”

Since then, anti-Common Core sentiment has intensified, to the extent that it has become a litmus test in the Republican Party ahead of the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination process. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, whose nonprofit Foundation for Excellence in Education has received about $5.2 million from the Gates Foundation since 2010, is one of the Common Core’s most vocal supporters. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who, like Bush, is a potential Republican presidential candidate, led a repeal of the standards in his state. In the past week, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), a former advocate of the standards, signed a law pulling her state out, days after South Carolina’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, did the same.

Some liberals are angry, too, with a few teacher groups questioning Gates’s influence and motives. Critics say Microsoft stands to benefit from the Common Core’s embrace of technology and data — a charge Gates vehemently rejects.

A group calling itself the “Badass Teachers Association,” citing opposition to what it considers market-based education reform, plans a June 26 protest outside the Gates Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle.

In an interview, Gates said his role is to fund the research and development of new tools, such as the Common Core, and offer them to decision-makers who are trying to improve education for millions of Americans. It’s up to the government to decide which tools to use, but someone has to invest in their creation, he said.

“The country as a whole has a huge problem that low-income kids get less good education than suburban kids get,” Gates said. “And that is a huge challenge. . . . Education can get better. Some people may not believe that. Education can change. We can do better.”

“There’s a lot of work that’s gone into making these [standards] good,” Gates continued. “I wish there was a lot of competition, in terms of [other] people who put tens of millions of dollars into how reading and writing could be improved, how math could be improved.”

Referring to opinion polls, he noted that most teachers like the Common Core standards and that those who are most familiar with them are the most positive.

Gates grew irritated in the interview when the political backlash against the standards was mentioned.

“These are not political things,” he said. “These are where people are trying to apply expertise to say, ‘Is this a way of making education better?’ ”

“At the end of the day, I don’t think wanting education to be better is a right-wing or left-wing thing,” Gates said. “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.’ ”

Whether the Common Core will deliver on its promise is an open question.

Tom Loveless, a former Harvard professor who is an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, said the Common Core was “built on a shaky theory.” He said he has found no correlation between quality standards and higher student achievement.

“Everyone who developed standards in the past has had a theory that standards will raise achievement, and that’s not happened,” Loveless said.

Jay P. Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, says the Gates Foundation’s overall dominance in education policy has subtly muffled dissent.

“Really rich guys can come up with ideas that they think are great, but there is a danger that everyone will tell them they’re great, even if they’re not,” Greene said.

Common Core’s first win
The first victory for Common Core advocates came on a snowy evening in Kentucky in February 2010, when the state’s top education officials voted unanimously to accept the standards.

“There was no dissent,” said Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s education commissioner. “We had punch and cookies to celebrate.”

It was not by chance that Kentucky went first.

The state enjoyed a direct connection to the Common Core backers — Wilhoit, who had made the personal appeal to Bill and Melinda Gates during that pivotal 2008 meeting, is a former Kentucky education commissioner.

Kentucky was also in the market for new standards. Alarmed that as many as 80 percent of community college students were taking remedial classes, lawmakers had recently passed a bill that required Kentucky to write new, better K-12 standards and tests.

“All of our consultants and our college professors had reviewed the Common Core standards, and they really liked them,” Holliday said. “And there was no cost. We didn’t have any money to do this work, and here we were, able to tap into this national work and get the benefits of the best minds in the country.”

“Without the Gates money,” Holliday added, “we wouldn’t have been able to do this.”

Over time, at least $15 million in Gates money was directed both to the state — to train teachers in Common Core practices and purchase classroom materials — and to on-the-ground advocacy and business groups to help build public support.

Armed with $476,553 from Gates, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s foundation produced a seven-minute video about the value and impact of the Common Core, a tool kit to guide employers in how to talk about its benefits with their employees, a list of key facts that could be stuffed into paycheck envelopes, and other promotional materials written by consultants.

The tool kit provided a sample e-mail that could be sent to workers describing “some exciting new developments underway in our schools” that “hold great promise for creating a more highly skilled workforce and for giving our students, community and state a better foundation on which to build a strong economic future.”

The chamber also recruited a prominent Louisville stockbroker to head a coalition of 75 company executives across the state who lent their names to ads placed in business publications that supported the Common Core.

“The notion that the business community was behind this, those seeds were planted across the state, and that reaped a nice harvest in terms of public opinion,” said David Adkisson, president and chief executive of the Kentucky chamber.

The foundation run by the National Education Association received $501,580 in 2013 to help put the Common Core in place in Kentucky.

Gates-backed groups built such strong support for the Common Core that critics, few and far between, were overwhelmed.

“They have so much money to throw around, they can impact the Kentucky Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Education, they can impact both the AFT and the NEA,” said Brent McKim, president of the teachers union in Jefferson County, Ky., whose early complaint that the standards were too numerous to be taught well earned him a rebuke by Holliday.

The foundation’s backing was crucial in other states, as well. Starting in 2009, it had begun ramping up its grant-giving to local nonprofit organizations and other Common Core advocates.

The foundation, for instance, gave more than $5 million to the University of North Carolina-affiliated Hunt Institute, led by the state’s former four-term Democratic governor, Jim Hunt, to advocate for the Common Core in statehouses around the country.

The grant was the institute’s largest source of income in 2009, more than 10 times the size of its next largest donation.
Full interview: Bill Gates on the Common Core
Bill Gates sat down with The Post’s Lyndsey Layton in March to defend the Gates Foundation’s pervasive presence in education and its support of the Common Core. Here is the full, sometimes tense, interview: http://wapo.st/1hGqByl

With the Gates money, the Hunt Institute coordinated more than a dozen organizations — many of them also Gates grantees — including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, National Council of La Raza, the Council of Chief State School Officers, National Governors Association, Achieve and the two national teachers unions.

The Hunt Institute held weekly conference calls between the players that were directed by Stefanie Sanford, who was in charge of policy and advocacy at the Gates Foundation. They talked about which states needed shoring up, the best person to respond to questions or criticisms and who needed to travel to which state capital to testify, according to those familiar with the conversations.

The Hunt Institute spent $437,000 to hire GMMB, a strategic communications firm owned by Jim Margolis, a top Democratic strategist and veteran of both of Obama’s presidential campaigns. GMMB conducted polling around standards, developed fact sheets, identified language that would be effective in winning support and prepared talking points, among other efforts.

The groups organized by Hunt developed a “messaging tool kit” that included sample letters to the editor, op-ed pieces that could be tailored to individuals depending on whether they were teachers, parents, business executives or civil rights leaders.

Later in the process, Gates and other foundations would pay for mock legislative hearings for classroom teachers, training educators on how to respond to questions from lawmakers.
The speed of adoption by the states was staggering by normal standards. A process that typically can take five years was collapsed into a matter of months.

“You had dozens of states adopting before the standards even existed, with little or no discussion, coverage or controversy,” said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, which has received $4 million from the Gates Foundation since 2007 to study education policy, including the Common Core. “People weren’t paying attention. We were in the middle of an economic meltdown and the health-care fight, and states saw a chance to have a crack at a couple of million bucks if they made some promises.”

The decision by the Gates Foundation to simultaneously pay for the standards and their promotion is a departure from the way philanthropies typically operate, said Sarah Reckhow, an expert in philanthropy and education policy at Michigan State University.

“Usually, there’s a pilot test — something is tried on a small scale, outside researchers see if it works, and then it’s promoted on a broader scale,” Reckhow said. “That didn’t happen with the Common Core. Instead, they aligned the research with the advocacy. . . . At the end of the day, it’s going to be the states and local districts that pay for this.”

Working hand in hand
While the Gates Foundation created the burst of momentum behind the Common Core, the Obama administration picked up the cause and helped push states to act quickly.
There was so much cross-pollination between the foundation and the administration, it is difficult to determine the degree to which one may have influenced the other.

Several top players in Obama’s Education Department who shaped the administration’s policies came either straight from the Gates Foundation in 2009 or from organizations that received heavy funding from the foundation.

Before becoming education secretary in 2009, Arne Duncan was chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, which received $20 million from Gates to break up several large high schools and create smaller versions, a move aimed at stemming the dropout rate.

As secretary, Duncan named as his chief of staff Margot Rogers, a top Gates official he got to know through that grant. He also hired James Shelton, a program officer at the foundation, to serve first as his head of innovation and most recently as the deputy secretary, responsible for a wide array of federal policy decisions.

Duncan and his team leveraged stimulus money to reward states that adopted common standards.

They created Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion contest for education grants. Under the contest rules, states that adopted high standards stood the best chance of winning. It was a clever way around federal laws that prohibit Washington from interfering in what takes place in classrooms. It was also a tantalizing incentive for cash-strapped states.

Heading the effort for Duncan was Joanne Weiss, previously the chief operating officer of the Gates-backed NewSchools Venture Fund.

As Race to the Top was being drafted, the administration and the Gates-led effort were in close coordination.

An early version highlighted the Common Core standards by name, saying that states that embraced those specific standards would be better positioned to win federal money. That worried Wilhoit, who feared that some states would consider that unwanted — and possibly illegal — interference from Washington. He took up the matter with Weiss.

“I told her to take it out, that we didn’t want the federal government involvement,” said Wilhoit, who was executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “Those kinds of things cause people to be real suspicious.”

The words “Common Core” were deleted.

The administration said states could develop their own “college and career ready” standards, as long as their public universities verified that those standards would prepare high school graduates for college-level work.

Still, most states eyeing Race to the Top money opted for the easiest route and signed onto the Common Core.

The Gates Foundation gave $2.7 million to help 24 states write their Race to the Top application, which ran an average of 300 pages, with as much as 500 pages for an appendix that included Gates-funded research.

Applications for the first round of Race to the Top were due in January 2010, even though the final draft of the Common Core wasn’t released until six months later. To get around this, the U.S. Department of Education told states they could apply as long as they promised they would officially adopt standards by August.

On the defensive
Now six years into his quest, Gates finds himself in an uncomfortable place — countering critics on the left and right who question whether the Common Core will have any impact or negative effects, whether it represents government intrusion, and whether the new policy will benefit technology firms such as Microsoft.

Gates is disdainful of the rhetoric from opponents. He sees himself as a technocrat trying to foster solutions to a profound social problem — gaping inequalities in U.S. public education — by investing in promising new ideas.

Education lacks research and development, compared with other areas such as medicine and computer science. As a result, there is a paucity of information about methods of instruction that work.

“The guys who search for oil, they spend a lot of money researching new tools,” Gates said. 

“Medicine — they spend a lot of money finding new tools. Software is a very R and D-oriented industry. The funding, in general, of what works in education . . . is tiny. It’s the lowest in this field than any field of human endeavor. Yet you could argue it should be the highest.”

Gates is devoting some of his fortune to correct that. Since 1999, the Gates Foundation has spent approximately $3.4 billion on an array of measures to try to improve K-12 public education, with mixed results.

It spent about $650 million on a program to replace large urban high schools with smaller schools, on the theory that students at risk of dropping out would be more likely to stay in schools where they forged closer bonds with teachers and other students. That led to a modest increase in graduation rates, an outcome that underwhelmed Gates and prompted the foundation to pull the plug.

Gates has said that one of the benefits of common standards would be to open the classroom to digital learning, making it easier for software developers — including Microsoft — to develop new products for the country’s 15,000 school districts.

In February, Microsoft announced that it was joining Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher, to load Pearson’s Common Core classroom materials on Microsoft’s tablet, the Surface. That product allows Microsoft to compete for school district spending with Apple, whose iPad is the dominant tablet in classrooms.

Gates dismissed any suggestion that he is motivated by self-interest.

“I believe in the Common Core because of its substance and what it will do to improve education,” he said. “And that’s the only reason I believe in the Common Core.”

Bill and Melinda Gates, Obama and Arne Duncan are parents of school-age children, although none of those children attend schools that use the Common Core standards. The Gates and Obama children attend private schools, while Duncan’s children go to public school in Virginia, one of four states that never adopted the Common Core.

Still, Gates said he wants his children to know a “superset” of the Common Core standards — everything in the standards and beyond.

“This is about giving money away,” he said of his support for the standards. “This is philanthropy. 
This is trying to make sure students have the kind of opportunity I had . . . and it’s almost outrageous to say otherwise, in my view.”
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The people behind the Common Core State Standards

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation bankrolled the effort to create and spread the Common Core State Standards across the country with astounding speed. While the idea of common academic K-12 standards came from governors and state education officials around the country, the work to turn it into reality was orchestrated by a tight-knit group of influential people, who circulated among the Gates Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education and non-profit education organizations. Here are some of those key players.

Bill Gates

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Co-chairman
Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, is co-chairman of the world’s wealthiest charity, with a $40 billion endowment. With the help of the foundation's money and influence in education, the Common Core State Standards spread across the country with astounding speed.

Melinda Gates

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Co-chairman
Melinda Gates, Bill Gates's wife, is co-chairman of the Gates Foundation.

Vicki Phillips

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Director of the U.S. education program
Vicki Phillips has been director of the U.S. education program at the Gates Foundation since 2007. She was secretary of education in Pennsylvania and ran the Portland Public Schools in Portland, Ore.

Gene Wilhoit

Student Achievement Partners
Partner
Gene Wilhoit, was executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) from 2006 to 2012. He was Kentucky’s education commissioner from 2000 to 2006. CSSO has received about $28 million from the Gates Foundation since 2009 to help it advance the Common Core State Standards. In 2013, Wilhoit became a partner in Student Achievement Partners, replacing David Coleman.

Michael Cohen

Achieve, Inc.
President
Michael Cohen is president of Achieve Inc., a non-profit created by the National Governors’ Association and the business community to push for higher common standards and better college preparation. Achieve, a major beneficiary of the Gates Foundation, oversaw the writing of the Common Core State Standards and then formed one of the two consortia of states that is now crafting standardized tests aligned to the Common Core. 

Judith Rizzo
Hunt Institute
Executive director
Judith Rizzo is executive director of the Hunt Institute, founded by former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, a major proponent of common academic standards. The Gates Foundation has heavily invested in the Hunt Institute, which in turn hired pollsters and strategists, including former Obama strategist Jim Margolis’ firm, to craft talking points and other communication to be used by proponents of the Common Core. The institute has convened regular conference calls among groups advocating for the standards, which were led early on by Stefanie Sanford of the Gates Foundation.

David Coleman

College Board
President
David Coleman worked at McKinsey, and with his fellow Rhodes scholar, Jason Zimba, founded Grow Network, a consulting firm that analyzed test data for school districts and states. While at Grow Network, Coleman did work for Vicki Phillips while she was education commissioner of Pennsylvania. The company also worked for the Chicago Public Schools while Arne Duncan was chief executive. After selling Grow Network to McGraw Hill, Coleman and Zimba founded Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit devoted to creating higher academic standards. Along with Sue Pimentel, also of Student Achievement Partners, was a lead writer of the Common Core standards in English language arts. In 2012, Coleman became the ninth president of the College Board, a non-profit that oversees the SAT college entrance exam. Student Achievement Partners has received $6.4 million from the Gates Foundation. 

 
Jason Zimba
Student Achievement Partners
Founding partner
Jason Zimba, is a physicist and mathematician who met David Coleman when both were at Oxford University as Rhodes scholars. Later, he founded Grow Network and Student Achievement Partners with Coleman. He was the lead writer of the Common Core standards in math.

Susan Pimentel

Student Achievement Partners
Founding partner
Susan Pimentel was a consultant to the American Diploma Project, a project of Achieve Inc., which was heavily funded by the Gates Foundation. She became a co-founder of Student Achievement Partners, along with David Coleman and Jason Zimba. She and Coleman were the lead writers for the Common Core standards in English language arts.

Stefanie Sanford

College Board
Chief, Global Policy Advocacy
Stefanie Sanford was director of advocacy at the Gates Foundation under Vicki Phillips and oversaw the foundation's strategy to build political support for adoption of the Common Core standards. In 2013, Sanford left the foundation to perform similar work at the College Board under David Coleman.

Arne Duncan

U.S. Department of Education
Secretary
Arne Duncan received Gates Foundation funding while he was chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, where he got to know Margot Rogers, the program officer for Chicago from the Gates Foundation. He was appointed U.S. Education Secretary under President Obama in 2009.

Margot Rogers

Parthenon Group
Vice Chairman and Senior Advisor
Margot Rogers was a special assistant to Vicki Phillips at the Gates Foundation and moved to the U.S. Department of Education in 2009 to become Arne Duncan's chief of staff. She left the department in 2010 to work at Parthenon Group, a consulting firm that helped Tennessee and other states with their applications for Race to the Top, efforts that has been funded by grants from the Gates Foundation.

James Shelton

U.S. Department of Education
Deputy Secretary
James Shelton was a program director for the education division of the Gates Foundation and moved to the U.S. Department of Education in 2009, where he is now the deputy secretary under Arne Duncan. Prior to working at the Gates Foundation, Shelton was a partner at the New Schools Venture Fund, a venture philanthropy group that invests in charter schools and educational technology. New Schools Venture Fund receives heavy support for the Gates Foundation.

Joanne Weiss

Weiss Associates
Independent Consultant
Joanne Weiss was a partner and chief operating officer at New Schools Venture Fund, which is heavily supported by the Gates Foundation. She moved to the U.S. Department of Education in 2009 to oversee the Race to the Top competition. She later became chief of staff to Arne Duncan before leaving the department in 2013 to run her own consulting firm.

Matt Gandal

Education Strategy Group
President
Matt Gandal was the executive vice president at Achieve, Inc., where he led the American Diploma Project, which was largely funded by grants from the Gates Foundation. Achieve was involved in writing the Common Core standards. In 2011, Gandal went to work for Arne Duncan at the U.S. Department of Education, where he oversaw implementation of Race to the Top. He left the department in 2012 to work as a consultant; among his clients have been foundations, including Gates, which want to coordinate their financial support for the Common Core.