Guest post. Common Core-uption? Uncommon conflict of interest!

By H.D. Worth

Educator on the front lines.

Cross posted at Teacher/Poet/Musician Glen Brown.


Last month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $6,309,100 in grants to the NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education. The money is earmarked to help implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Wait a second!  NEA members are in a collaborative partnership with the same Gates Foundation that funds advocacy groups who want to privatize education, destroy tenure, eliminate collective bargaining, create high-stakes standardized tests, and demonize union leaders and public school teachers?  Wow!

At the same time, you may have noticed the NEA leadership has been aggressively cheerleading for the Common Core.  NEA President Van Roekel has been ratcheting up his rhetoric, challenging critics of the Common Core, saying that real teachers had a real voice in developing the new standards, which will lead to more equity amongst students.

Before the RA in Atlanta this year, the NEA’s website had a banner announcing, “Why Common Core is Good for Students.”  It made me fantasize about being a lineman, running through that banner and onto a football field in front of a sell-out crowd chanting, “Go Common Core…Go Common Core!”

I was so inspired by the banner, that I went on to read the NEA article titled Six Ways the Common Core Is Good for Students, which is a glowing report of the CCSS.  Then I scrolled down to the member comments and found out how much the rank-and-file actually hate the Common Core.  The first comment says, “Forget the union. I think we’re going to need corporate lawyers.”  The criticism gets more brutal after that.

Another NEA website article titled Bringing Common Sense to the Common Core, says, “What needs to be made clear is that the new standards (CCSS) must go hand in hand with appropriate student assessment and carefully aligned curriculum and it should all be shaped by the educators who everyday connect students with their dreams.”

Sounds so idealistic and wonderful.

Here’s the brutal, raw truth:  the most powerful leaders and forces shaping the CCSS (and the aligned tests) are politicians, CEO’s, corporate school reformers and education industry profiteers.  And it’s all tainted with Gates Foundation money.   Sorry for the buzz kill.

As you know, forty-five states adopted the CCSS after Arnie “Dunkster” Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education applied heavy pressure on them, making the implementation of the standards a requirement to receive federal Race to the Top funds.  Many have argued that this federal interference with state curriculum is illegal.

But Gates’ Microsoft donated $814,645 to Obama’s 2012 Presidential Election Campaign.  That buys influence, and it’s completely legal.

Now unionized public-school classroom teachers in Common Core states are scrambling to figure out how to implement the new standards that have been imposed on them from the top down.   And they’re starting to sweat thinking about the punitive results of the upcoming PARCC tests (brought to you by Pearson) because they know those inaccurate, unreliable tests will be used as a justification to fire experienced teachers and close public schools.   No Child Left Behind laws are still in full effect in many states.

It starts with Mr. Gates, who believes the bottom-line of success for a school can be measured with reports generated by computer programs, data bases, and standardized test scores.  Anyone who knows anything about education knows that standardized testing let’s you know the socio-economic background of a student more than anything.   And students don’t need to take them seriously since they aren’t the ones being held accountable.

According to Diane Ravitch, after  Gates’ failed  with his “small schools” reform,  he decided to invest his millions in “performance-based teacher pay programs; creating data systems; supporting advocacy work; promoting national standards and tests; and finding ways for school districts to measure teacher effectiveness…”  He wanted to find out who the bad teachers were so he could fire them.  And he needed to find his architect to figure out how to do it.

The “architect of the Common Core,” David Coleman, has no K-12 teaching experience.  That’s a joke and a punch line all wrapped up into one sentence.  Unfortunately, it’s not funny and it’s true.

According to the Atlantic magazine, Coleman, early in his career, turned down a public high school teaching position.  He instead entered the world of educational profiteering. He knew where the real money was.  It wasn’t in teaching.

Coleman co-founded the Grow Network, a company whose mission it is to analyze No Child Left Behind standardized test scores. He quickly sold that for millions and went on to co-found Student Acheivement Partners (SAP), a non-profit consultancy group that became central to the development of the Common Core.

Coleman’s SAP was given a contract to write what became the Common Core by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). All of these non-profits have been funded by the Gates Foundation; CCSSO alone has received a whopping $80 million in grants. And Coleman has been the lead Common Core writer and spokesperson.  Gates found his man.

Another reason to be concerned with Coleman’s true agenda is his quiet relationship with Michelle Rhee. She’s the Teach for America graduate with three years of classroom experience who somehow became the former Chancellor of D.C. Schools. The infamous D.C. standardized test cheating scandal occurred on her watch.  She mercilessly closed schools and fired principals and teachers based solely on high-stakes test scores.  You can find out more about Rhee by watching the PBS Frontline episode The Education of Michelle Rhee (

Now Rhee runs the advocacy group StudentsFirst, and Coleman was a founding board member and treasurer of the organization.  Therefore, Coleman must agree with Rhee’s brand of corporate reform, which includes the expansion of for-profit charter schools, high-stakes testing, parent trigger laws, state takeovers of locally controlled public school districts, the destruction of teacher pensions and unions, etc.  By the way, Rhee loves the Common Core.  Gates loves Coleman and Rhee.  It’s the Corporate School Reform Love Fest.

And that brings us back to the NEA’s promotion of the Common Core.  Although the NEA supports the actual standards, the organization has taken a strong stand against the high-stakes standardized testing aligned to them.  That’s a good thing.

Here’s the problem.  How can state standards be any good if they were mainly created with the intent of using them to test kids and prepare them for life in the corporate world?

In the end, the NEA is complicit in promoting a major piece of the harmful corporate-school-reform agenda.   Rank-and-file teachers can only wonder if the NEA is running a P.R. campaign or if they are throwing up the white flag, looking out for the organization’s own future in a country where collective bargaining, tenure, and teacher unions are completely destroyed.


Here’s a quick read from Diane Ravitch’s blog that sheds more light on the dangerous connection between David Coleman and Michelle Rhee:

See who’s in the pocket of the Gates Foundation:


No on SB1, SB2404, the cost shift and yes to changing the landscape.


The regular session of the Illinois General Assembly ends Friday.

Reuter’s reports:

The Illinois legislature, which over decades has built up a $100 billion unfunded pension liability, now is a study in gridlock. Speaker of the House Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton each are pushing competing versions of a fix and each refuses to take action on the other lawmaker’s bill.

There is no clear path toward resolution. A Madigan-backed bill is hung up in the Senate, where Cullerton controls the legislative calendar, and Madigan has Cullerton’s plan bottled up in the House, which he controls.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross said the Democratic leaders have the power to take action and need to exercise it. “When the two of them want to accomplish something regardless of its magnitude they get it done,” Cross said. “There is no upside to inaction.”

Of course there is an upside to inaction. The Republican House leader only says that because his pension won’t be cut and his pals in the Commercial Club will continue to make out like bandits.

The upside is that public employees will continue to have their promised constitutionally protected pensions.

That is why we call for legislative no votes on SB1, SB2404 and no votes on a pension cost shift.

There is a downside. The unfunded pension liability will continue to grow. That would happen anyway, since neither SB1 or SB2404 address the revenue problem.

Both continue the practice of addressing the state’s funding problems by stealing from public employee pensions and  by going after our benefits.

When the state’s political leaders argue over which bill saves more money, they mean which bill cuts more pension benefits.

Given the choices, sometimes the best thing to happen is for nothing to happen.

This is not the orientation of the state’s public employee union leaders, however.

By working with Senate President Cullerton to craft SB2404 they take the world view of my Aunt Sylvia. Aunt Sylvia had two responses to things:

“It could be worse!”

“It’s better than nothing.”

I was fond of my Aunt Sylvia. But I wouldn’t want her running my union.

This is not, as some  in and out of state union leadership suggest, an anti-union view.

It is very much a pro-union view.

Compare and contrast the views of the union that represents Chicago teachers with those of the We Are One coalition that bargained SB2404 with Cullerton.

Faced with a mayor that has become the poster child for attacks on public education, the response of the CTU leadership is, “We must change the political landscape.”

Faced with a City Council that, except for a handful of alderman, is a rubber stamp for the Mayor, the CTU is spearheading a campaign to register 250,000 city voters.

If we can reach that goal you can kiss the Mayor, along with some of his aldermanic and legislative groupies good-bye.

This is not a case of channeling a Movement into an electoral campaign.

This reminds most old-timers like me who worked the precincts for Harold Washington as channeling an election campaign into the Movement.

It also creates a stark contrast between two types of union leadership.

I loved my Aunt Sylvia, burt I wouldn’t vote for her to lead the IEA.

I’m sure Karen Lewis makes for a wonderful aunt.

And she is the very picture of what we need as a union leader.

Fighting school closings with a vote, in the streets and in the courts.


The breaking news that the Chicago Teachers Union will go to federal court on behalf of CPS parents to stop school closings has been expected for a while.

It comes on the eve of what will be two powerful events in the City in response to Rahm Emanuel’s plan to close 54 Chicago public schools.

Rahm’s planned closings represent the largest destruction of public schools in American history.

90% of the children who attend the targeted schools are African-American.

I would say that is a civil rights violation.

Meanwhile the election for CTU leadership takes place Friday.

The incumbent slate headed by President Karen Lewis is being challenged by a rag-tag coalition of ex-reformers and hacks from the old guard who once ran things. They are backed by friends of Rahm and advisors to ex-Mayor Daley.

Chicago teachers will have the opportunity to forcefully reject the fifth floor occupant of City Hall when they re-elect the Caucus of Rank and File Educators.

My prediction?

They will.

And on Saturday teachers will gather at locations on the West and South sides and start a three-day march to City Hall. We will walk past the schools targeted for closing. On Monday a major rally is scheduled.

We are fighting with votes, our feet and in the courts.

ChiTrib readers are not happy with biased anti-CTU election coverage.


Chicago Tribune cartoon of CTU President Karen Lewis.

Chicago Tribune:

Union business

This is in response to “My challenge to Karen Lewis” (Perspective, April 26), by Tanya Saunders-Wolffe, a counselor at Jesse Owens Community Academy on the Far South Side. Why is the Chicago Tribune newspaper a venue for proselytizing Saunders-Wolffe’s contention for the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union? Do other unions try to convince the public of their need for a change in leadership, and to whom does a newspaper give such an airing? Why should the public, most of whom do not belong to my union, be involved in our election — unless Saunders-Wolffe and the Coalition to Save Our Union are getting support through publishing their platform and grievances through her advertisement?

The Coalition to Save Our Union got major media play months ago as Debbie Lynch introduced the opposition to the current leadership. Karen Lewis launched her campaign in public recently. Barely a major outlet noticed.

Saunders-Wolffe has the right to opine as a citizen about any issue she wishes. The Tribune publishes what it wants. I call into question why the interests that run the paper have published her appeal but refuse to research the claims of representatives of the Coalition to Save Our Union to give a “fair and balanced” report to its patrons.

Both of my sisters-in-the-union, Lewis and Saunders-Wolffe, will have a more appropriate place to campaign for leadership: among our other union members. Campaigning can be grueling and has been known to be dirty. Does the Chicago Tribune have to contribute to this?

— Kimberly Bowsky, member, Chicago Teachers Union

Lewis support

I was disappointed to open the Tribune and read the opinion piece “My challenge to Karen Lewis.”

I am a math teacher in the Englewood neighborhood, and your readers should know that Lewis and the rest of the Chicago Teachers Union officers have the full support of the vast majority of the teachers and staff who work in the Chicago Public Schools. Our union is active, united and democratic, and I am proud to be a part of it.

I’m proud to have a union president who has the intellect and political skills to battle the mayor.

The teachers, parents and students of Chicago desperately need people like Lewis to lead us as we fight to save our schools and communities.

— Drew Heiserman, teacher, Englewood High School, Chicago

CTU election debate. The Brawl at the Electricians’ Hall.


CPS Chatter:

At the CPS Delegates Meeting tonight there were debates for President and Vice-President.  Both were pretty lopsided victories for the CORE slate as the Salvation Caucus seemed to lack any sort of coherent plan for the future of the union beyond picking away at their current leadership.   It was clear that it was going to be a long night for the Salvation Caucus when vice-presidential candidate Mark Ochoa consistently ran out of things to say before coming anywhere close to the two minutes he was allocated to answer questions.

Jesse Sharkey seemed much more capable in response, focusing on how he believed the union could best prepare to combat Mayor Emanuel in the future.  Sharkey, as usual, had great enthusiasm for the task at hand.  Ochoa, on the other hand, seemed to be hoping that once we explained to the Board that we didn’t like things like overtesting, they would simply end the offending practices.

The second debate between Karen Lewis and challenger Tanya Saunders-Wolfe was even testier.  The conflict began with Ms. Saunders-Wolfe’s opening statement, but it seemed to only intensify as the night went on.  When Saunders-Wolfe threw out accusations, Lewis was ready to defend herself and the union.  When Saunders-Wolfe said that CTU was never serious about negotiating before the strike, Lewis reminded Ms. Saunders-Wolfe that she herself was at many of the 54 meetings they had before the strike.

The most amusing moment for me, was after Ms. Saunders-Wolfe made a rambling and incoherent statement about how she would have handled the strike differently, Ms. Lewis seemed genuinely confused and tried to make sense of just what Saunders-Wolfe said.

I truly wish the entire CTU membership could have witnessed the Brawl in the Electricians’ Hall because it seemed to leave little doubt in the minds of most of those in attendance just who was best to lead the union going forward.

[Note: I was going to try and write this down the middle, but I couldn’t.  It seemed like a total blowout for Karen Lewis, Jesse Sharkey, and CORE.   I don’t pretend the above analysis is impartial.   However, it’s my honest opinion as an observer of the debates.]

The in box. “The personal attacks on (Lewis) by the UPC in the media and campaign literature appearing in teachers’ mailboxes will probably backfire.”

I’m not a fan of Karen Lewis, but I don’t question her sincerity and devotion to the union. The smears against her from the right on the blogosphere are vile, but I’m even more disillusioned by the current attacks by her political rivals in the union. When Lewis ran for union president a few years ago the incumbents were calling Lewis a radical and too extreme, now they’re attacking her for “giving everything away”-even when Lewis led the first CTU strike in a generation and had to contend with a much more politically hostile environment to teachers than any of her opponents’ coalitions ever had to face. Lewis deserves to be criticized, but the personal attacks on her by the UPC in the media and campaign literature appearing in teachers’ mailboxes will probably backfire and actually help get her coalition re-elected.
– Masked Evangelist.

Why I’m not voting for Karen Lewis and CORE. But wish I could.


One of the most popular of my Ten Minute Drawings on this site is the imaginary poster, “Karen Lewis for Mayor.”

In some of my cartoons I depict a conversation between the mouse and the chicken. 

In this particular one there is this conversation:

“When’s the election?” asks the chicken.

“Not soon enough,” says the mouse.

I originally drew the cartoon back in September during the Chicago teacher strike.

I posted it again this weekend on Facebook.

Someone will run against Mayor Emanuel. Maybe more than one person.

Rahm’s polling numbers are in the dumpster. But he has millions of his Hollywood and corporate friends’ dollars to spend. And there isn’t any opposition candidate that the neighborhoods have united around.


So the pundits are still betting on a Rahm second turn.

Barring a perfect storm.

I was here for the last perfect storm. So I know they can happen.

That was in 1983 when a formerly little-known Congressman from the south side became the first elected African-American mayor of Chicago beating not one, but two, Democratic Machine candidates. 

Including one named Richard Daley.

In fact, Daley came in third.

Of course, CORE  and Karen Lewis are not running for mayor.

They are running for re-election to the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union.

And unless you are a member of the CTU you can’t vote in the election May 17th.

The funny (or is it sad) thing is that only a quarter of the registered voters voted for Rahm in the last election.

So the outcome of the May 17th CTU election will have as much importance to the city as the last mayoral election.

We all can’t vote. But we all have a stake in the outcome.

The CTU under the leadership of CORE has done what many unions and – as a member of a teacher union, I can say this – teacher unions haven’t always done or done well.

The CORE leadership has focused on all three of the components that characterize a good teacher union:

  • Bargaining the best contract possible and defending the working conditions of its membership.
  • Fighting for the needs of the students.
  • Engaging in the political process, particularly as it impacts public education. But also as it impacts the communities where students live.

In fact, it sometimes seems that the city’s public employee unions, with the CTU in the lead, are the only thing standing before the total corporate takeover of the city and the selling off to the private sector anything that isn’t nailed down.

Harold Washington used to joke that before he was elected mayor, if you went anywhere in the world and said you were from Chicago the people would say, “Chicago? Bang Bang!” But after he was elected they asked, “How’s Harold?”

Now when I travel to another city and I say I’m from Chicago people say, “Chicago! How’s Karen?”

Real teachers, real leaders head up CORE’s slate for the CTU.


They are real classroom teachers.

And their past term as leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union has proven that they are real union leaders.

They are all members of the Caucus of Rand and File Educators.

The CTU election is May 17th.

Karen Lewis is running again as President.

Karen taught chemistry for 22 years.

She has become an iconic figure across the country as a leader with vision, humor and the spine to stand up to the corporate and political powers that run this city.

She has a Master’s in Inner City Studies from Northeastern Illinois University and a Master’s of Fine Arts from Columbia College. During her tenure, Karen has received many awards including the Senator Paul Wellstone Award from Citizen Action Illinois and the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum Gentle Warrior.  Mrs. Lewis comes from a family of educators — her father, mother and husband, John Lewis, who is now retired, were CPS teachers.

Jesse Sharkey is running again as Vice President.

During the lead up to the strike and during the strike Jesse was often the voice most often heard on the street representing the union. He is on leave from Senn High School.

“I live in Rogers Park with my wife and two children, both of whom attend Chicago Public Schools.  I am dedicated to the cause of defending public education, and hope to continue using my knowledge and skills to rebuild a powerful and respected union.”

Michael Brunson is running for CTU Recording Secretary.

Michael has been a union member for ten years.

“I am a parent and an educator. My personal life is driven by a passion for justice, faith in the power of education to liberate the individual, and the necessity of grassroots participatory democracy to inform and direct local and national governance.”

Kristine Mayle is running for CTU Financial Secretary.

Kristine is on leave from Eberhart Elementary School.

“I became a union activist when my school was placed on the closing list in 2007 because I realized that without a fight we would have no chance of saving our school.”

More info on the CORE slate can be found here.

Conversation with Karen.

Last night Logan Square supporters of the Chicago Teachers Union leadership hosted a fundraiser at Weegee’s Lounge.

President Karen Lewis, VP Jesse Sharkey and Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle were there to share drinks, food and conversation with neighborhood folks.

Weegee’s, a popular Logan Square cocktail joint, is named for the famous black and white photojournalist.

“Fred Klonsky writes the best teacher blog around,” Karen Lewis was overheard telling her supporters.