Mercedes Schneider has undertaken an immense task. She decided to spend her free time -- when she is not teaching -- trying to figure out how much the Gates Foundation paid various organizations to write, develop, implement, promote, and advocate for the Common Core standards.
This is a herculean job because the foundation has been so free-handed with its money. To its credit, the Gates Foundation has a website that enables researchers to identify their grants over time. At a certain point, as you go through the list of who got how much money to "promote" the CCSS, you start to wonder "who DIDN'T get Gates money?"
This is her first post, where she shows that the Gates Foundation underwrote the organizations writing the Common Core standards: the National Governors Association, Student Achievement Partners (David Coleman), the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve. She sums up what she found: "In total, the four organizations primarily responsible for CCSS -- NGA, CCSSO, Achieve, and Student Achievement Partners -- have taken $147.9 million from Bill Gates."
This first post also includes a list of think tanks and major education organizations that received funding from Gates to promote the CCSS.
Her second post lists organizations that influence state and local decisions, to encourage them to promote CCSS.
The third post lists the state education departments and local school districts that have received grants from the Gates Foundation to implement CCSS.
The fourth post lists 16 universities that received Gates' funding to promote CCSS.
The fifth post lists the foundations and institutes that have received Gates' funding to promote CCSS.
In her sixth and final post in the series, Schneider lists the businesses and nonprofits that have received Gates' funding to promote CCSS.Schneider writes:
My desire is that the information I have presented in this series (and elsewhere on my blog) might be used as ammunition in the hands of those oppressed by the likes of Gates and his reform purchasing power. Contact your legislators. Attend those school board meeting equipped with information about the driving forces behind CCSS and other detrimental so-called reforms. Speak out, and when you are ignored, speak again.
The larger question is posed at the first post:
Bill Gates likes Common Core. So, he is purchasing it. In doing so, Gates demonstrates (sadly so) that when one has enough money, one can purchase fundamentally democratic institutions.
I do not have billions to counter Gates. What I do have is this blog and the ability to expose the purchase.
I might be without cash, but I am not without power.
Can Bill Gates buy a foundational democratic institution? Will America allow it? The fate of CCSS will provide crucial answers to those looming questions.
The bottom line is that the U.S. Department of Education badly wants national standards, but it is prohibited by law from influencing curriculum and instruction in the nation's schools.
So, a deal is struck. Gates pays to create the CCSS, and Arne Duncan uses the power of the federal purse to push states and districts to adopt them, then uses his bully pulpit to warn that the future of the nation is in peril unless these very standards are swiftly implemented.
The problem is that all this happened so swiftly, and with so little public understanding, that the public is in the dark. A recent Gallup poll showed that most people never heard of the CCSS and had no idea what they were. Instead of taking a decade to build consensus, the Gates Foundation and the Department of Education plunged ahead.
Instead of developing a democratic process in which teachers, teacher educators, scholars, specialists in the education of children with disabilities, specialists in the education of English learners, and specialists in early childhood education were consulted at every step in the process; instead of trying out the standards to see how they work in real classrooms with real children, the Gates Foundation and the Department of Education took a shortcut.
Now, they are paying a price for taking the shortcut. In the absence of knowledge, evidence, experience, and a genuine consensus, ignorance is feeding the flames of distrust and suspicion.
Conspiracy theories abound. People make wild claims about the standards, saying they will "dumb down" the children, or saying whatever they want because so few people -- aside from the ones who are on Gates' expansive payroll -- have read the standards and have any idea how we suddenly came to have national standards that every district and every school must adopt.
Some states have dropped out of the assessment consortia that Arne Duncan created to test the CCSS with a grant of $350 million of federal dollars. Some districts and some states may drop the CCSS if the opposition continues to build.
Twenty years from now, will CCSS exist? It is hard to tell at this point. If history is any guide, teachers will adapt the standards to conform to what they already know. They will be changed, they will be revised on the ground. If the CCSS assessments continue to fail large majorities of students, as they did in Kentucky and New York, parents will turn angry at the assessments, not their schools or their teachers.
It is a mess, and it gets messier every day.
In a country as diverse as this one, in a country with fifty state systems and a high degree of decentralized authority, there are no shortcuts to the democratic process. When historians look back, that is very likely the conclusion they will draw.