The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made grants totaling more than $10.5 million to develop Common Core-compliant curricula—including by the non-profit group Common Core, Inc.—demonstrating the foundation’s intent to reach far beyond broad educational standards with its Common Core initiative to remake America’s schools.
Responding to parents and educators who have expressed concerns about the academic quality and experimental aspects of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Common Core advocates have often claimed that the initiative seeks only to nationalize school standards, allowing total freedom over curriculum.
At the same time that the Gates Foundation was funding curriculum development, Bill Gates himself was publicly speaking as though no curriculum needed to be intentionally developed. “When the [standardized] tests are aligned to the common [core] standards, the curriculum will line up as well,” Gates said in a talk at the 2009 National Conference of State Legislators.
But The Cardinal Newman Society has discovered 13 grants from the Gates Foundation amounting to more than $10.5 million to develop Common Core curricula, some even apparently made before the nationalized standards were released.
"The claim that Common Core was all about standards but not curricula was never believable, because standards can only impact education when they influence teaching methods and curricula,” said Patrick J. Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society. “And for the Gates Foundation to effectively nationalize education, it can’t stop at broad standards and testing. These grants prove this, and anyone who claims Common Core is simply a standards initiative should be challenged with the facts."
Several state departments of education received multi-million dollar grants to adopt “high-quality curriculum to accelerate common core state standards implementation.”
Grants also have supported a wide variety of smaller programs, including $25,000 to Filament Games for “a web-based tool for teaching well-structured argumentation that will allow teachers to effectively and efficiently meet Common Core literacy standards across the curriculum and grade levels,” and nearly $700,000 to JUMP Math “to support aligning its K-12 mathematics curriculum to the Common Core State Standards.”
In December 2009, the Gates Foundation also made a grant of $550,844 to Common Core, Inc.,“to develop K-10 [English Language Arts] curriculum aligned to the Common Core standards,” which were still under development. According to data on the Gates Foundation website, it appears Common Core, Inc., was the first organization to receive grant money, in “2009 and earlier,” specifically to develop a curriculum based on the standards.
According to Common Core, Inc.’s website, “with the advent of the Common Core State Standards in 2010, we decided to begin designing a library of content-rich, standards-based curriculum materials. Two months after the standards were finalized, we released the Common Core Curriculum Maps in English Language Arts. The first truly CCSS-based ELA curriculum tool, these maps (now renamed The Wheatley Portfolio) are in use by tens of thousands of teachers nationwide.”
Although the Common Core State Standards were not released until June 2010, the bio for Common Core, Inc.’s president and executive director, Lynne Munson, claims, “In six short years Lynne has made Common Core… a noted provider of CCSS-based curriculum tools.”
“‘Common Core’ is now a curriculum unto itself, developed in tandem with the very standards it is based on,” stated the Newman Society’s Reilly. “It is difficult to understand how Common Core, Inc.—or any other organization for that matter—could have begun to develop a Common Core State Standards-specific curriculum in 2009 unless it had direct access to the standards prior to their release.”
Despite the overlap between corporate branding, mission, funding and leadership, Common Core, Inc., claims that it is “not affiliated” with the Common Core State Standards.
Moreover, CommonCore, Inc., is now publishing materials through Wiley’s Jossey-Bass publishing division, with texts simply labeled Common Core Mathematics, Common Core Maps in Mathematics, Common Core Maps in English Language Arts and Common Core Curriculum for World History. The author is simply identified as “Common Core.”
The Common Core State Standards Initiative copyright is held jointly by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), both also grantees of the Gates Foundation. It is unclear if there is any agreement between Common Core, Inc., the NGA and/or the CCSSO for use of the Common Core brand name.
CCSS has stated that its main focus is math and English language arts; yet Common Core, Inc.,does not limit their CCSS-based curriculum to just those subjects. Common Core, Inc., touts its history program, “The Alexandria Plan…that helps you tap the excitement of history’s most compelling and significant stories,” and a forthcoming art curriculum that will demonstrate how “fine art and architecture can be ‘read’ like texts and serve as the basis for teaching to the new standards.”
Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who is a trustee of Common Core, Inc., also serves as chairman of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Innovation Fund advisory board. The AFT Innovation Fund was launched in 2009 with a $2.8 million grant that was given, in part, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Explaining why the Gates Foundation supported the AFT Innovation Fund’s launch, Vicky L. Phillips, the Foundation’s director of education, said, “The AFT Innovation Fund can help put teachers at the forefront of bold reforms like common state standards….” The AFT Innovation Fund has received additional Gates Foundation grants for more than $4 million in 2010, and $4.4 million in 2012.
Another Common Core, Inc., trustee, Antonia Cortese, has AFT connections, having served as the union’s secretary-treasurer.
While maintaining that Common Core, Inc., is “not affiliated” with the Common Core State Standards, Munson nonetheless laments “the noise generated by CCSS critics lately,” in a February 11 blog post.
In the same post, Munson appears to confirm the fears of parents that the “standards-not-a-curriculum” mantra is a red herring, stating, “[S]tandards are just standards. And even world-class standards like the CCSS will succeed only if they are implemented with fidelity. High-quality curriculum…[is] the [key] to our students’ success.”
At the writing of this article, Common Core, Inc., has not responded to repeated requests from Catholic Education Daily for additional information and interviews.
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