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 (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/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: http://dianeravitch.net/2013/08/05/what-is-the-goal-of-common-core-testing/
See who’s in the pocket of the Gates Foundation: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database