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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Normal dissent of Common Core national education standards was subtly muffled by hundreds of millions in Gates Foundation cash, effectively circumventing discussion in states and among states' citizens that would usually take place, and which had thwarted every previous attempt to institute national educational standards-Washington Post, June 2014

June 7, 2014 article 

"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."...More than $200 million Gates money "built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes."...In 2009, the Obama administration "leveraged stimulus money to reward states that adopted common standards."..."We were in the middle of an economic meltdown....States saw a chance to have a crack at a couple of million bucks if they made some promises.” (per member of Gates funded group, AEI)..."“You had dozens of states adopting before the standards even existed, with little or no discussion.""...

6/7/2014, "How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution," Washington Post, Lyndsey Layton

"A new era of influence"

"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....

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.
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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....

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....

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....

The (Kentucky) chamber (of Commerce) 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....

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..... 

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.

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.

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....

Critics on the left and right...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...

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 (2014), 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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