Monday, November 25, 2013

Carol Burris: Following Common Core money: Where are millions of dollars going?

From The Washington Post, 11/24/13

By Carol Burris

My music teacher, Doreen, brought me her second-grade daughter’s math homework.  She was already fuming over Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s remark about why “white suburban moms” oppose the Common Core, and the homework added fuel to the fire. The problem that disturbed her the most was the following:
3. Sally did some counting. Look at her work. Explain why you think Sally counted this way.

177, 178,179,180, 190,200, 210, 211,212,213,214.
It was on a homework sheet from the New York State Common Core Mathematics Curriculum for Grade 2, which you can find here.

Doreen’s daughter had no idea how to answer this odd question. The only response that made sense to her was, “Because she wanted to.” My assistant principal and math specialist, Don Chung, found the question to be indefensible.
The teachers in her daughter’s school are also concerned.  They are startled to find that the curriculum is often a script. Here is an excerpt to teach students to add using beads from the first-grade module.
T: How many tens do you see?
T: How many ones?
S: 6
T: Say the number the Say Ten way.
S: Ten 6
Scripts like this are commonplace throughout the curriculum.
Similar headaches exist at the secondary level as well. A relative, who is required to teach Common Core Algebra from the modules, shared her worries about the curriculum’s conceptual gaps, disjointed and illogical concept progressions, and insufficient time to complete lessons.

The Origins of the New York State Mathematics Curriculum           
Teaching from modules is a new experience. Suburban teachers are used to working with a curriculum that they themselves develop based on state standards.  However, because of the rushed Core rollout in New York, along with the dramatic shift in standards, many schools did not have the time nor funds to develop a thoughtful local curriculum, making the state curriculum modules their only real alternative.
Where did this unprecedented scripted curriculum come from?

The New York State mathematics curriculum was developed by an organization located in Washington D.C. known as Common Core, Inc. According to reporter Jessica Bakeman of Capital New York, Common Core Inc. was awarded three large contracts from the New York State Education Department: $3,323,732 for K-2 curriculum, $2,715,958 for grades 3-5, and $8,108,919 for grades 6-12.
That is a total of  $14,148,609 — or more than $1 million per grade level project. Bakeman broke the story about the high costs of the New York State modules, which you can read here.  To put this expenditure in perspective, my school district, Rockville Centre, generally pays less than $1,000 for a grade level curriculum project.

According to the story, New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch bragged that New York State is the only state using its federal Race to the Top dollars to develop curriculum; it has spent in excess of $28 million on curriculum in English and mathematics.  That begs the question, “Why”?
Why would New York State spend such a large sum of money on an optional curriculum, when district curriculum designed to meet local needs could be developed, given a state-provided Common Core course scope and sequence and sufficient time?

Common Core Inc. and Gates Foundation

To understand the answer, one needs to go back to 2007.  That is the year that Common Core Inc. was founded, three years before the standards were made public. In 2009, it received over a half million dollars in the form of a grant from the Gates Foundation to write curriculum for standards that had not yet been released nor adopted by states.

Last week, Catholic Education Daily reported on the connection between Common Core Inc. and the Gates Foundation in a story entitled “Common Core is Curriculum, Contrary to Advocates’ Claims.”
The story reports that despite Bill Gates’ claim that there was no need to build national Common Core curriculum, he has, through his grant program, quietly funded its development in excess of  $10 million, with Common Core Inc. being the first to receive a grant. According to authors Gigante and Archbold, “Despite the overlap between corporate branding, mission, funding and leadership, Common Core Inc. claims that it is ‘not affiliated with the Common Core Standards’.”  The article suggests that although some advocates of the Common Core claim that they want to only nationalize standards, their true intent is to nationalize a still experimental curriculum. Despite repeated attempts, Common Core Inc. has not responded to their inquiries.
The Gates Foundation appears to have a partner in New York State when it comes to curriculum development. The New York State Regents Research fund has received millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation to further its reform agenda. But more importantly, the State Education Department has helped finance the effort to create curriculum by using more than $28 million in Race to the Top federal taxpayer dollars. And it appears that one of the recipients, Common Core Inc., intends to influence curriculum beyond New York State. A search of the Common Core Inc. site shows that the organization will sell textbook editions of the work that they did for New York, thus leveraging New York’s tax dollars to launch a textbook series.

I do not believe that any of the players in this project are evil people trying to control the minds of kids.  Rather they are true believers with an ideological allegiance to untested curriculum. The Common Core has some features that are good and others that are awful. We have been through this before—the New Math program from my childhood and Whole Language when our daughters were in school. Although both programs made some positive contributions, those who wholeheartedly and uncritically adopted them did a terrible disservice to their students. One of my colleagues, Maureen Dockery, tells how when she was an elementary teacher she would close her door and teach students some phonics because of the damage done to her own son’s literacy development by purist Whole Language instruction.
What saved us in the past from wrong-headed reforms was that they were not mandated by state or federal government. They could therefore be adapted or abandoned at the local  level. Now that standards and curriculum are connected with Race to the Top money, high-stakes tests and teacher evaluations by standardized test scores, it is exceedingly difficult to do the careful and critical review that every new program deserves.

Why do New York State Education Commissioner John King and Tisch refuse to slow down New York’s rushed Core implementation, despite outcry from the public?

If parents, teachers and taxpayers had the time to critically examine the curriculum, they would ask the hard questions that would lead to its unraveling. This is not just a math problem. There are English/Language Arts vendors producing $14 million worth of New York curriculum as well. Recently ELA modules were ridiculed at a local school board meeting in upstate New York.

There are big questions that the press needs to ask about Common Core Inc. and all of the vendors that are receiving public money. There is also an overarching question that should be asked: Is this an attempt to create a national curriculum by having federal tax dollars flow to New York State and then out again to an organization committed to Common Core curriculum development?  And to all of the business leaders who so enthusiastically support the Common Core—do you want your future workers to count like Sally? Is this the best curriculum that more than $28 million can buy? I think not.  It is time we take a look with eyes wide open.

Albany Times Union: Education Reform Backed By Wealthy

Education reform backed by the wealthy
Some educators fear Regents Research Fund has its own agenda, is unaccountable to public
Updated 12:56 pm, Monday, November 25, 2013

  • Kate Gerson, senior Regents Research Fund fellow speaks public school teachers at a training session Friday morning Nov. 15, 2013 for the Common Core curriculum in Albany, N.Y.     (Skip Dickstein / Times Union) Photo: Skip Dickstein / 00024651A
    Kate Gerson, senior Regents Research Fund fellow speaks public school teachers at a training session Friday morning Nov. 15, 2013 for the Common Core curriculum in Albany, N.Y. (Skip Dickstein / Times Union)
A team of two dozen well-paid analysts embedded in the State Education Department is having a dramatic impact on a reform agenda that's causing controversy throughout New York.

None are public servants.

Supported with $19 million in donations from some of the nation's wealthiest philanthropists, the Regents Research Fund team makes up a little-known think tank within the education agency. It is helping drive reforms that affect the state's 3.1 million public school students and employees of almost 700 school districts.
The three-year-old operation, which now comprises 27 full-time staffers and a half-time intern, is unique in public education systems nationwide.

The group is an institute charged with helping the state Board of Regents and Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. find ways to improve student performance and ensure graduates are ready for college or careers.
Barely heard of outside education circles and a mystery even within them, the "Regent fellows" are paid from entities such as the Gates Foundation and some salaries approach $200,000 a year. The arrangement is stirring concern in some quarters that deep-pocketed pedagogues are forcing their reform philosophies on an unwitting populace, and making an end run around government officers.

"We're a public education system," said Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Long Island's Rockville Centre. "Having the wealthy pay for it, you're seeing an agenda that is being pushed ... at a rapid pace, and outside the system of public accountability."

The fellows program grew out of former Education Commissioner David Steiner's 2010 decision to use an existing charitable group to give birth to a research arm of his bureaucracy. At the time, the department was being challenged by Washington to improve school results and by Albany to do more with less. Confronted by the department's loss of staff through cuts and early-retirement incentives and federal pressure to adopt reforms under the Race to the Top initiative, Steiner, his then-deputy King and Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch tried something different: They leveraged private donations, starting with $1 million from the private foundation established by Tisch and her husband, Loews Corp. CEO James Tisch, to infuse the Regents Research Fund with dollars to hire education consultants.

What was envisioned as a short-term, relatively small augmentation to SED staff has grown exponentially. Fellows operate independently and communicate regularly with King and many interact regularly with state workers, but are not bound by Public Officer's Law or ethics rules imposed on government officials.
The Regents appear serious about expanding the group. Fellows who signed on for two-year stints have been extended, new research and policy analysts have been hired, and state officials cannot say if or when the experiment will end. Fellows say they don't know when they'll be done, but expect their assignments will run their course.

Earlier this year, Tisch and King tried to recruit James Malatras, a top policy adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to become the RRF's executive director and senior communications fellow. Malatras chose to remain on Cuomo's team, but this summer joined the State University of New York as chief of staff to the chancellor.

The RRF is currently managed by its full-time fundraiser with oversight by SED officials, who also clear its expenditures and procurements.

"We created the fellowship program to reinvigorate the research arm of the department," Tisch said in an interview, adding that she stays at arm's-length from the researchers. "All I did was provide that first gift."
Since that $1 million commitment, other philanthropists have opened their wallets. The Hewlett Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Tiger Foundation, Robin Hood Foundation, the Helmsley Trust and General Electric are among 19 donors that have underwritten the program.

The fellows have been involved in mapping teacher and principal evaluations, redoing student exams and working through the state's implementation of the Common Core standards — reforms that have moved with a speed that many parents and teachers across the state have protested as hasty and harsh.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, D-Queens, chairwoman of the chamber's Education Committee (which appoints the Regents), said she can't explain what the RRF does. "I don't know anything about it," Nolan said.

Dennis Tompkins, King's communications director, said the fellows offer unique skills and expertise. "They're like rock stars," he said, adding that without their help "we would be struggling."

Burris, named the 2013 Principal of the year by the state School Administrators Association and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, calls the fellows agents of destructive policies. She and other question who they are serving — the Board of Regents, or the wealthy patricians who pay the fellows' salaries.

Two powerful unions, New York State United Teachers and the Public Employees Federation, have complained to the State Education Department.

"You have some extremely bright people but with no education background at all presenting research and rationales for decisions to the State Education Department, who I guess make the final decisions," said Richard C. Iannuzzi, president of NYSUT. "The extent of their role certainly isn't clear enough for me to say where advice ends and real influence begins." He said if you follow the positions of foundations donating to the Regents Research Fund and the positions the Regents are taking, "There are similarities."

PEF Local 194 President Kevin Kroencke, who works at the Education Department, said the fellows seem to be bossing civil servants around. "They're supposed to be advisers," Kroencke said. "They're not supposed to be implementing public programs; they're private sector employees."

Many administrators say the fellows don't listen to comments from the field, and act as de facto representatives of the state agency. "It is unsettling to watch the dismantling of public education by inexperienced employees hired from a special fund," said Katie Zahedi, a middle school principal in Red Hook. "The fellows have taken the work out of the hands of appropriately hired, official NYSED employees and are acting as policy entrepreneurs."

SED officials say the fellows have no authority over state employees, and emphasize that the Regents set the policies that the fellows are there to support.

Tisch said these exchanges sound like healthy debate amid the tumult of reform. Such criticisms, she said, are "a sexy thing to say in this environment."

The key group of senior fellows was assembled in November 2010. Matthew Gross, the first executive director of the fund, who had previously worked for an organization that gets business leaders to partner with schools, joined Kristen Huff, a former College Board research director who has been developing the student learning assessment program. She was the highest-paid fellow last year with total compensation of $192,909, which would have been second only to King's salary of $212,500 if she was on SED's payroll.
Other senior fellows include Amy McIntosh, a former New York City Department of Education administrator who works on teacher and principal effectiveness strategies, and Kate Gerson, a former New York City principal who is doing teacher training workshops.

Gross left about 18 months ago to form a new venture aimed at improving reading. In an interview, Gross said the fellows were "an outside-the-box solution to an outside-the-box problem."

Gross described the fellows as nationally recognized "thought leaders" to help lead the implementation of "next-generation" assessments and other education reforms surrounding Common Core. New York secured almost $700 million through the federal program to bring about changes.
Gross said he helped raise $9 million from foundations to build the RRF. He turned over development efforts to another recruit, Joshua Skolnick, who has tapped several charities to keep the money rolling in, approximately doubling the sum Gross secured. Skolnick did not return calls and emails. Other fellows, including former NewsChannel 13 reporter Beth Wurtmann, declined to discuss their work or referred questions to Tompkins' press office.

The office made two fellows available: Huff and Peter Swerdzewski, two members of a team of five psychometrics specialists who help figure out ways to assess teachers and students.
"There aren't a whole lot of us out there with this training and experience," said Huff. She said the fellows aren't given to a particular philosophy or bias as critics suspect. "It sounds inaccurate to me; it doesn't reflect the way we work."

Swerdzewski said he is trained as a scientist and applies those skills to accomplish the Regents' goals while working alongside state employees. "The working relationship is great," he said.
Representatives of the foundations that support the RRF say donations to the fund are made in the spirit of improving public education. Documents accompanying grants indicate support of the fellowship program, the reform agenda or, in the case of the Carnegie Foundation, to help the fellows design and implement virtual learning. "We are not prescriptive," said Deborah Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has committed $3.3 million to the fund.

Tiger Foundation and its primary backer, hedge fund investor Julian Robertson, are providing $560,000 because they support King and his goals, said spokesman Fraser Seitel. "One of (Robertson's) basic tenants is that teachers should be paid well for good performance," he added.

Donald Juron, chief financial officer for SED, said he assumes the fellows will be working at least through the fall of 2015 if the extensions on implementing New York's Race to the Top plan are approved by the federal government. Meanwhile, the fund is advertising to hire another fellow. Juron and other department officials say the fellows are not replacing state staff.

"Any state would be proud to have people of this capacity working as an arm of the state education department," said Tisch, emphasizing her regard for staff staffers. "They couldn't do it without the leadership, without the people who work for the department."

Parents Demand More Accountability in the Appointment of Members of the Board of Regents

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 25, 2013
More information contact: 
Eric Mihelbergel (716) 553-1123;
Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190;
NYS Allies for Public Education -

Parents Demand More Accountability in the Appointment of Members of the Board of Regents

Parents across New York State are demanding that members of the Board of Regents up for re-appointment this March, Regents Christine Cea, James Jackson, James Cotrell, and Wade Norwood, publicly clarify their positions on the current education reforms.

“Those members of the Board of Regents who do not support an agenda that includes an immediate moratorium on high stakes Common Core testing and the sharing of student data must be replaced with new members who will recognize their responsibility to protect our children and our schools,” said Eric Mihelbergel, a public school parent in Buffalo and a founding member of the NYS Allies for Public Education. Mihelbergel went on to say, “the people of New York have lost confidence in Commissioner John King, Chancellor Merryl Tisch and the current Board of Regents to call a halt to these destructive education policies.”

Lisa Rudley, a public school parent in Ossining and a founding member of NYS Allies for Public Education, said “As evidenced in the Albany Times Union Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, the Regents’ policy on allowing privately funded fellows with little to no public education experience to drive curriculum calls into question the integrity of the system.  We need an educational plan in New York not a marketing plan.”

The process of electing Board of Regents members has long been an elusive process that has not been widely understood by the public.  Persons wishing to apply for a position submit a resume to Assemblywomen Catherine Nolan, Chair of the Education Committee, and Deborah Glick, Chair of the Higher Education Committee, by January 31, 2014.  In-person interviews are then conducted in Albany in February by Nolan and Glick. 
Although all legislators vote in early March, the process is controlled by the Democratic Majority of the Assembly.  Many Republican members abstain from the voting process altogether, because it is so strongly controlled by the Democratic Majority and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Legislators are typically given less than 24-hour’s notice of the vote, and up to now, a current Regent is almost automatically re-appointed until they resign or retire. 
"As a parent of four school-aged children, I am shocked at how the majority of Regents members have not listened to the protests of their constituents -- parents, educators and members of the communities whose interests they are supposed to serve, and have been silent while the Commissioner imposes one damaging policy after another. It is time for REAL change at the Board of Regents and at the NYS Education Department" said Tim Farley, a parent and a principal of the Ichabod Crane School in Kinderhook, New York.
NYS Allies for Public Education is proposing parents adopt an Action Plan to lobby their legislators to appoint four Board of Regents members who will support a call for a moratorium on high-stakes testing, data sharing, and the Common Core modules and curriculum.  In alignment with this goal, the organization will be sending out a survey to the current Regents members whose terms are up, as well as other applicants for these positions, to seek and publicize their views on these critical issues.

Jeanette Deutermann, public school parent in Bellmore and Long Island Opt-Out Facebook founder, says, “Parents will no longer allow Board of Regents members to be re-elected when they are not doing their job for children.  We will hold legislators accountable for their votes for or against individual Regents.  New Regents must be elected that support a moratorium on current practices.”
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters and a founding member of NYS Allies for Public Education said, “Many educators have pointed out the high costs and low quality of the Common Core modules adopted by the NYS Education Department.  These critics include Carol Burris, an award-winning NY Principal who in the Washington Post, pointed out that NYSED paid more than $14 million for faulty math modules produced by a company called Common Core Inc.  At the same time, this same company has received millions from the Gates Foundation, which also spent $100 million to fund inBloom Inc., a corporation that is collecting highly sensitive and personal student information without parental consent, and putting it on a data cloud, so that it can more easily be shared with for-profit vendors.” 
Though seven of the nine original inBloom states have pulled out, Commissioner King says he is determined to go ahead with this data-mining project, and is sharing the personal information for the entire state’s public school students with inBloom, despite the protests of parents, school board members, and Superintendents, as well as a lawsuit filed in court two weeks ago.  The Gates Foundation is also helping to pay for the salaries of the Regents fellows who have been placed in charge of implementing the Common Core and this data-sharing project.
“This evident conflict of interest calls into serious question who is controlling education policies in this state, and whether private funders have been allowed undue influence over our children,” says Bianca Tanis, a public school parent in New Paltz and steering member of Re-Thinking Testing Mid-Hudson Region.
New York State Allies for Public Education represents forty-five grassroots parent groups from every corner of the Empire State. The organizations are proud to stand with the parents, community members and fellow educators in NYSAPE to call for a change in direction and policy beginning with new leadership at the New York State Education Department.

ACTION ALERT:  The following Board of Regents members have terms that are set to expire, and we MUST affect the appointment process:

           Christine Cea (Staten Island)
           James Jackson (Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster)
           James Cottrell (at-large)
           Wade Norwood (at-large)

Never before has the Board of Regents appointment process been held to public scrutiny.  But this year WE WILL MAKE AN IMPACT.  The interests of our children MUST be represented by our elected NYS Assembly Members.
Here is what we all must do:

1.) Call and email:
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D)            Phone: 212-312-1420 and                                                     Assem Dem Maj Leader Joseph Morelle (D)    Phone: 585-467-0410 and
Governor Andrew Cuomo                          Phone: 518-474-8390 and

2.) Call and email Assembly Education Committee Chairpersons:
Catherine Nolan         (D)     Phone: 718-784-3194 and 518-455-4851
Deborah Glick (D)      Phone: 212-674-5153 and 518-455-4818

3.) Call and email each of the following Assembly members:
          To affect Christine Cea appointment:
Matthew Titone (D)     Phone: 718-442-9932 and 518-455-4677
Michael Cusick (D)      Phone: 718-370-1384 and 518-455-5526

          To affect James Jackson appointment:
Aileen Gunther (D)     Phone: 845-794-5807 and 518-455-5355
Keven Cahill (D)         Phone: 845-338-9610 and 518-455-4436
John McDonald (D)      Phone: 518-455-4474               
Patricia Fahy (D)        Phone: 518-455-4178               
Phil Steck (D)            Phone: 518-377-0902 and 518-455-5931
Angelo Santabarbara (D) Phone: 518-382-2941 and 518-455-5197

          To affect James Cotrell appointment:
Catherine Nolan         (D)     Phone: 718-784-3194 and 518-455-4851
Deborah Glick (D)      Phone: 212-674-5153 and 518-455-4818

          To affect Wade Norwood appointment:
David Gantt (D)         Phone: 585-454-3670 and 518-455-5606
Harry Bronson (D)      Phone: 585-244-5255 and 518-455-4527

4.) Tell them:
          - There are 4 Regents up for re-appointment
          - You demand the appointment of NEW Regents who support an immediate moratorium on                      Common Core, high stakes testing, and data sharing
          - The public will hold NYS Assembly members accountable for their votes for or against the                      appointment of the NYS Board of Regents members.

Here is a sample letter to email that you can also use as a script to guide you on the phone:


This year 4 members of the Board of Regents are up for re-appointment, Cea, Jackson, Cotrell, and Norwood.  New candidates will be interviewed by the Education Committees in February, and you will be voting on these re-appointments in March of 2014. I am writing to let you know that I am very concerned about the damaging effects of Regents Reform Agenda and that this year, the public will hold NYS legislators accountable for their votes for or against the appointment of individual Regents. Therefore, I am asking that you support the appointment of new Regents who supports an immediate moratorium on Common Core, high stakes testing, and the uploading of student information to the inBloom cloud. The Regent’s Reform agenda in NYS is destroying public education and violating student privacy. As an elected NYS legislator, you MUST represent the interests of our children and the will of the people.
Background Information on the NYS Board of Regents:
Candidates wishing to apply to become a Board of Regents member must send a resume to the Assembly Education and Higher Education Committees before January 31.  In-person interviews are conducted by Assemblywomen Catherine Nolan and Debra Glick in February.  Legislators vote in early March, but they are generally given one or two nominees to vote on, less than 24 hours before the election, that are selected by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.  Although the public is told that the entire legislation votes, in reality it is Sheldon Silver that chooses.  Many legislators abstain because the process is so dysfunctional.  WE MUST CONTACT THE ELECTED OFFICIALS ABOVE SO THAT WE CAN INFLUENCE THE BOARD OR REGENTS APPOINTMENTS.
The Regents preside over the New York State Education Department and SUNY.
The Board consists of 17 members; 1 from each of the State's 13 judicial districts and 4 members who serve at large.

The Board is headed by the Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch.

Those serving on the Board of Regents come from diverse backgrounds and fields. Some are former educators but most are not.

The duties of the Board of Regents include: setting graduation requirements, testing regimens and curriculum and approval of the State Education Department's budget.

The regents are not paid a salary and are not required to have any educational training or background.
Why is this important?

The Board of Regents is responsible for the appointment of the Commissioner of Education. They also have the power to replace the Commissioner of Education.

While Commissioner King may have proposed the haphazard and incompetent implementation of the Common Core and subsequent testing, The Board of Regents approved this rollout.

The process by which one becomes a regent is not widely understood. Members of the NYS Assembly may nominate a potential regent. Their appointment is confirmed by a joint vote of the legislature. The Democratic Majority in the State Assembly currently controls the selection process.
Although a regent’s term expires after 5 years, historically a current regent is automatically re-appointed and will serve until they resign or retire.

The Board of Regents wields a great deal of power, and they must be held responsible for their actions. Many parents have appealed to individual Regents and asked for their support of parent efforts to resist harmful education reforms.  Likewise, powerful advocacy representing parents, teachers and school administers have also appealed to the Board of Regents but they are not listening.