The 2008 Common Core Sales Job: Part Two

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Mercedes Schneider, PhD

Mer­cedes Schnei­der, PhD

In 2008, the Nation­al Gov­er­nors Asso­ci­a­tion (NGA), the Coun­cil of Chief State School Offi­cers (CCSSO), and Achieve, Inc., released a report, Bench­mark­ing for Suc­cess: Ensur­ing U.S. Stu­dents Receive a World-class Edu­ca­tion.

The report pro­motes a now all-too-famil­iar spec­trum of so-called “reforms,” includ­ing estab­lish­ing the Com­mon Core State Stan­dards (CCSS), CCSS-aligned cur­ricu­lum and assess­ment, alter teacher recruit­ment and reten­tion to reflect those of “suc­cess­ful nations,” “hold schools account­able” for “high per­for­mance,” and make inter­na­tion­al com­par­isons based upon stan­dard­ized test scores in order to “ensure glob­al competition.”


In Part One of my series on this report, I focused on the report’s absence of dis­cus­sions of nation­al debt in pro­mot­ing the faulty goal of “glob­al com­pe­ti­tion” via nation­al­ly stan­dard­ized education.

In this sec­ond post, I con­sid­er the indi­vid­u­als author­ing, “advis­ing on,” and finan­cial­ly sup­port­ing the report.

I real­ize that the over­lap among cor­po­rate reformer involve­ments pos­es a chal­lenge to read­ers. Thus, I will offer a mea­sured dose of the 2008 Bench­mark­ing report as it over­laps with select oth­er events of its time and notable deal­ings of key individuals.

Fas­ten your seat belts. Here we go.

First, some con­text on the tim­ing of the report: 2008. One year ear­li­er, in 2007, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was offi­cial­ly declared a fail­ure (FairTest refers to NCLB as “the lost decade for edu­ca­tion­al progress”). How­ev­er, NCLB, which Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester pro­fes­sor David Hursh termed “unprece­dent­ed inter­fer­ence in pub­lic school­ing,” was not offi­cial­ly aban­doned; nei­ther was it reau­tho­rized. It was left to linger on bureau­crat­ic life support.

That does not mean that edupre­neurs were not prepar­ing to jump NCLB ship in order to pre­pare for nou­veau-NCLB. David Cole­man, the man with zero class­room teach­ing expe­ri­ence who is cred­it­ed as “the archi­tect” of CCSS, had con­nec­tions to NCLB via his and fel­low CCSSlead writer” Jason Zimba’s first com­pa­ny, Grow Net­work, which ana­lyzed NCLB-relat­ed test­ing data. McGraw Hill acquired Grow Net­work (and with it, Cole­man as pres­i­dent) in 2004. How­ev­er, in 2007– the year that NCLB was evi­denc­ing bela­bored breath­ing– Cole­man (and Zim­ba, per­haps) start­ed a new, nation­al-stan­dards-writ­ing com­pa­ny (which turned non­prof­it in 2011), Stu­dent Achieve­ment Part­ners (SAP).

In 2008, Cole­man and Zim­ba sup­pos­ed­ly authored a paper, an appeal for “math and sci­ence stan­dards that are few­er, clear­er, high­er.” In a 2013 inter­view with Fred­er­ick Hess, Zim­ba states that the 2008 paper was for the Carnegie Commission:

In 2008 I co-authored a paper with David Cole­man about stan­dards for the Carnegie Commission.

Here is a copy of that 2008 Cole­man and Zim­ba paper, and it does note that it was “pre­pared for the Carnegie-IAS Com­mis­sion on Math­e­mat­ics and Sci­ence Edu­ca­tion.” How­ev­er, the offi­cial Carnegie report of a com­mis­sion orga­nized in 2007 does not include Cole­man and Zim­ba as mem­bers of the com­mis­sion– but it does include the lan­guage, “com­mon stan­dards in math and sci­ence that are few­er, clear­er, and high­er,” and more: “cou­pled with aligned assessments.”

If Cole­man and Zim­ba pre­pared their report at the Carnegie Commission’s request– or if the Carnegie Com­mis­sion decid­ed to use “few­er, clear­er, high­er” as such orig­i­nat­ed with Cole­man and Zim­ba– then Cole­man and Zim­ba should be named in the Carnegie report.

Based upon the con­tent of the Cole­man and Zim­ba paper, it appears that the terms, “few­er, clear­er, high­er” orig­i­nate with them.

Hmmm. Smells like pla­gia­rism, and I even know as much with­out CCSS to tell me so.

Here’s a curi­ous state­ment in Coleman’s and Zimba’s report:

We offer these sug­ges­tions not as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the orga­ni­za­tions to which we belong, but rather in our pri­vate capac­i­ties as con­cerned cit­i­zens and observers of Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion. [Empha­sis added.] 

Con­clu­sion: It appears that both the Carnegie Com­mis­sion and Cole­man and Zim­ba are agree­ing that Cole­man and Zim­ba should be the “silent part­ners” in the offi­cial 2008 Carnegie Com­mis­sion report.

This reminds me of the CCSS MOU (mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing) stat­ing that the CCSS work groups would be com­prised of Achieve, ACT, and Col­lege Board– not men­tion­ing SAP– but SAP was present and left unnamed.

SAP: Unac­knowl­edged by the CCSS MOU and the Carnegie Com­mis­sion but allowed to pub­licly declare them­selves as “lead writ­ers” of CCSS.

The Bench­mark­ing for Suc­cess report that is the focus of this post was endorsed by the Carnegie Cor­po­ra­tion and was list­ed along with a num­ber of oth­er reports sup­port­ing what the Carnegie Com­mis­sion termed “fun­da­men­tal school sys­tem reform.” The push behind these reports is now rote: Inter­na­tion­al test scores are not sat­is­fac­to­ry for “glob­al com­pe­ti­tion” and “inno­va­tion”; low stan­dards unaligned to assess­ments are the prob­lem; once new stan­dards pur­port­ing “what grad­u­ates should know to suc­ceed” and accom­pa­ny­ing new assess­ments are in place, then stu­dents will have the “skills” for those “21st cen­tu­ry econ­o­my”; achieve­ment gaps will be “closed”; teach­ers will be “held account­able,” and…then what? The US will become the major world pow­er that it already is???

Fab­ri­cate a cri­sis –> cre­ate a nation­al petri dish for “our edu­ca­tion­al stuff.”

Addi­tion­al reports ref­er­enced in the Carnegie report include those by McK­in­sey and Com­pa­ny, Achieve, and ACT, among oth­ers (see pages 4 and 5). (One of these oth­ers is a 2008 report by the Nation­al Math­e­mat­ics Advi­so­ry Coun­cil. It also has the words “few­er, clear­er, high­er” in it.)

In the weav­ing of this web, let me note that after David Cole­man tried to secure a New York high school teach­ing posi­tion and failed (no sur­prise giv­en he has no New York teach­ing cer­tifi­cate), Cole­man worked for McK­in­sey and Com­pa­ny, ubiq­ui­tous provider of cor­po­rate reform “lead­ers.”

Back to the Bench­mark­ing report.

The Bench­mark­ing for Suc­cess report had three co-chairs, two gov­er­nors, and one busi­ness­man: Geor­gia Gov­er­nor Son­ny Per­due, Ari­zona Gov­er­nor Janet Napoli­tano, and Intel Cor­po­ra­tion CEO Craig Bar­rett. (On Achieve’s 2009 990, Bar­rett is list­ed as a co-chair. Also, sup­posed SAP “founder” Sue Pimentel was paid $180,000 for “con­sult­ing.)

These three chaired the advi­so­ry group; how­ev­er, they hired a “con­sul­tant,” Craig D. Jer­ald of Break­ing the Curve Con­sult­ing, to “research and write” the report. (On the Achieve 990 cit­ed above, Craig Jer­ald was paid $108,000 for “con­sult­ing.)

Why does one need an advi­so­ry group if one pays a sin­gle indi­vid­ual to research and write the report?

How­ev­er, the Bench­mark­ing report did have an advi­so­ry group, which con­sist­ed of a now-famil­iar trio: NGA, CCCSSO, and Achieve.

Oth­er notable names on this advi­so­ry group include Steven Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft (read of his untime­ly exit asso­ci­at­ed with a $900 mil­lion mis­judg­ment regard­ing that “glob­al econ­o­my”); Chester Finn, Pres­i­dent of the Ford­ham Insti­tute (Exeter alum­nus who works hard to sell CCSS for oth­er people’s chil­dren); Bev­er­ly Hall, Super­in­ten­dent of Atlanta Schools (indict­ed in April 2013 with 34 oth­ers for cheat­ing on a 2009 test); James Hunt, for­mer gov­er­nor of North Car­oli­na (co-host of NGA sym­po­siums pro­mot­ing the spec­trum of pri­va­tiz­ing reform); Kati Hay­cock, Pres­i­dent of Edu­ca­tion Trust (orga­ni­za­tion heav­i­ly depen­dent for oper­at­ing expens­es upon Gates fund­ing), and Bob Wise, for­mer gov­er­nor of West Vir­ginia (part­ner with for­mer Flori­da Gov­er­nor Jeb Bush for the dig­i­tal “roadmap for reform”).

Anoth­er now-famil­iar truth: The advi­so­ry board includ­ed no cur­rent class­room teachers.

And more that is famil­iar: A prin­ci­pal fun­der of this report was none oth­er than Bill Gates. More­over, Gates is of course con­nect­ed to Microsoft, and he also funds NGA, Achieve, CCSSO, the Ford­ham Insti­tute, the Hunt Insti­tute and the Edu­ca­tion Trust.

Gates-led,” eh?

A sec­ond prin­ci­pal Bench­mark­ing fun­der is the GE Foun­da­tion– also a prin­ci­pal fun­der of SAP (also anoth­er Gates grantee, and con­spic­u­ous­ly absent from this Bench­mark­ing report).

Keep in mind that Coleman’s SAP exists in order to advance CCSS. They are draw­ing mil­lions for this CCSS gig, so wher­ev­er CCSS is, they can­not be far.

Enough for now on this 2008 Bench­mark­ing report. My goal here was to intro­duce those respon­si­ble for the con­tent about which I have yet to write.

One thing is for sure: There will be no post on class­room teacher involve­ment in the 2008 Bench­mark­ing report.

Stay tuned for the next installment.