By Teachers, For Teachers
The state Department of Education is considering offers to support the promotion and implementation of Common Core State Standards, but to date has not received any "philanthropic" money, Commissioner Stefan Pryor said.
Pryor said Monday the department has "received inquiries from some foundations and other philanthropies regarding support for Common Core related efforts in Connecticut."
The department announced in December it will invest $1 million in a public relations contract to promote CCSS. The state allotted $14.6 million over the next two years for transition to the new standards. At the time of the announcement, department spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said the state is looking for private nonprofits to help with the cost. Since then, Pryor has been approached by several private nonprofits and one of the discussions is substantially far along.
While the department doesn't have contributions from nonprofits yet, Donnelly said the state does receive "technical assistance" for the Common Core from agencies such as the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, the National Association of State Boards of Education and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Common Core was developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers in 2009. The standards are intended to make students more internationally competitive and prepared for college and career.
Connecticut adopted the standards for English, language arts and mathematics in July 2010, joining more than 40 states in the transition.
The standards have widespread support but also face criticism for being drafted by policy makers, rather than experienced educators, and being funded by private dollars. Of the 29 people who worked on either the Math or English-language Arts work groups for the standards, 28 are associated with an education company, such as ACT, Inc., Student Achievement Partners or The College Board.
David Coleman, commonly labeled "the architect" of CCSS, previously co-founded Student Achievement Partners and is now the president of the College Board.
Louisiana public school teacher Mercedes Schneider conducted an audit in August and determined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contributed more than $147.9 million to the development and promotion of the standards just between the NGA, CCSSO, Achieve and Student Achievement Partners. The Gates Foundation has a public record of its grants online.
Since August, additional grants have been awarded to support promotion and implementation of CCSS.
In November 2013 Gates awarded CCSSO $1.9 million to support "a 20-month project" to help about 10 states integrate the standards. CCSSO is a national nonprofit committed to preparing every student for "lifelong learning, work and citizenship, according the organization's website.
Gates has also awarded millions of dollars in grants to organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers, and other seemingly new foundations that "are popping up promoting common core," said New York's South Side High School Principal Carol Burris.
Burris has voiced her concerns about the standards on The Washington Post's "The Answer Sheet" and co-wrote the New York Principals letter of concern about using test scores to evaluate educators.
In October 2013, Achievement First Inc.'s New Haven office received $837,355 from Gates to support development of a Common Core aligned interim assessment, according to the Gates website.
The foundation funneled about $4.5 million into to American Federation Teachers in June 2012 to "work on teacher development and Common Core state standards," according to the Gates website. A year earlier in April 2011, the foundation gave AFT $1 million to help teachers understand and implement Common Core.
Burris said she thinks it would be difficult for AFT to accept millions of dollars to promote Common Core and then not promote it.
But in a written statement AFT CT President Melodie Peters spoke of the importance of resources.
"We need standards to ensure equal access to a quality education for all America's children," Peters said in the statement. "But they need to be done right, and that means providing teachers with support, training, and resources. What we don't support is a one-size-fits-all standard handed off to teachers with no guidance, no instructions, or no curriculum. Common Core is based on a standard that makes sense. What doesn't make sense is high stakes student testing and teacher evaluations without first assuring real progress and determining effective implementation."
AFT spokesman Matt O'Connor said, "It's very fair to raise questions about the sources of funding for our public schools" and said it's important that those contributing money to education are transparent about any agendas or intentions they may have.
State resident Wendy Lecker, senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at New Jersey's Education Law Center, said she believes allowing private organizations to develop the standards is troublesome, including for "lack of transparency." Lecker said the way the way "our state educational framework has gotten adopted in the past" changed and is not as public-inclusive a process and "here the NGA and CCSO are not subject to any kind of sunshine law, they can be private."
The federal government also incentivized states to adopt the new standards by tying them to the Race to the Top applications and ESEA flexibility requests, Lecker said. The adoption of "college and career ready standards" is noted several times throughout the application. Lecker said the phrase was a "clear and well-understood" reference to CCSS.
Burris said additional concerns when it comes to private money supporting public education: loss of funding and teaching to the test. As with anything supported by private money, the money can always go elsewhere and the entire thing could "crash," she said.
CORRECTION: In a previous version of this story, Achievement First was incorrectly listed as an "education company." Achievement First is a nonprofit network of public charter schools.