New York students, teachers, and parents got taken while the private funders got what they paid for.
EVEN before the latest AFT fiasco regarding Common Core, I have been doing work trying to better understand how the new NYS Common Core based Standards affected high school seniors. Along the way I fell upon what elementary and middle-school teachers have been facing for months: ENGAGENY.
I looked to see who prepared this huge website filled with everything from policy to modules (curricula) and resources. I wanted to find out where all of that came from and who designed it. The site says it is “in house”.
Being as skeptical as I am, I asked a few questions. “Is ENGAGENY really ‘in house’ as the NYSED says it is?” Where is the transparency? Who paid for all of this? Why is it so hard to “follow the money?” With whom does it partner? Who has NYSED hired to write the modules on their site?
Here is where my journey to find the answers took me.
The old adage says that, “ You get what you pay for.” Those who paid for it did indeed.
Let’s start with the source.
“EngageNY.org is developed and maintained by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to support the implementation of key aspects of the New York State Board of Regents Reform Agenda. This is the official web site for current materials and resources related to the Regents Reform Agenda. The agenda includes the implementation of the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS), Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE), and Data-Driven Instruction (DDI). EngageNY.org is dedicated to providing educators across New York State with real-time, professional learning tools and resources to support educators in reaching the State’s vision for a college and career ready education for all students.”
Meet three of the real writers:
http://commoncore.org/curriculum-tools: “Common Core offers a variety of curriculum tools (translation: prescripted modules) to help K–12 teachers. Our materials are based on the CCSS, but they are also used by educators who do not follow the new standards.”
Eureka Math “is a comprehensive curriculum and professional development platform. Born from an unparalleled collaboration of mathematicians, teachers, and CCSS-M experts, Eureka Math is peerless in its faithfulness to the new instructional shifts and mathematical progressions.”
The Wheatley Portfolio: “Our curriculum maps for English Language Arts are unrivaled for their quality, detail, and rigor. Initially released in 2010, we’ve expanded the content to showcase text studies that help you guide students through a close read of widely used literary and informational texts.”
The Alexandria Plan: “The informational text expectations of the CCSS-ELA compelled us to create a curriculum tool that helps you tap the excitement of history’s most compelling and significant stories. With 72 sets of text-dependent questions and performance assessments, you can build essential student background knowledge while reaching the CCSS-ELA with this new, K–5 curriculum tool.”
http://elschools.org: “Expeditionary Learning partners with schools, districts, charter management organizations, and states to build teacher capacity in service of a more ambitious vision of student achievement: one that joins academic challenge and scholarship to critical skills like perseverance, critical thinking, and an ethic of contribution to prepare students for success in college, career and citizenship. Our offerings give teachers and leaders practical tools and strategies that they can put to use in their classrooms right away:” (translation…prescripted modules)
www.coreknowledge.org: The Core Knowledge Foundation is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 1986 by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. “By outlining the precise content that every child should learn in language arts and literature, history and geography, mathematics, science, music, and the visual arts, the Core Knowledge curriculum represents a first-of-its kind effort to identify the foundational knowledge every child needs to reach these goals–and to teach it, grade-by-grade, year-by-year, in a coherent, age-appropriate sequence.”
After gagging and gathering this information, I decided to go right to the sources:
I sent this email to The engageny.org site:
“Please provide a list of the collaborating organizations that provided you with funding, information, data, curricula, and any other materials on the site. True transparency will provide more trust, n’est pas?
Author: Doing The Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks
Save Our Schools Treasurer”
I also checked common core.org. When you click on the link to find out which teachers wrote their ELA Wheatley Portfolio you get a 404… PAGE NOT FOUND.
My letter to them:
“To whom it may concern,
I am writing an article on ENGAGENY and its suppliers.
I am most curious about the lack of transparency regarding all the related organizations. Please tell me how you are related to them and what you supply to them.
Please report who funds you or send me a copy of your 990.
Send me a list of the teachers who wrote your Wheatley Portfolio. There is a 404 status when link to their bios is clicked.
Save Our Schools Treasurer
Author: Doing The Right Thing: A teacher Speaks”
I have received no answer as of yet.
Finally, several FB friends helped by finding other posted sources of information not offered by the NYSED. Enjoy your reading:
From Alan Singer:
Apparently one of these hired gun Regent Fellows, Kate Gerson, has gathered some “fame” and has appeared in EngageNY training videos: Here is a segment of an explanation on NPR of a “classroom experience”.
“First the teacher reads an excerpt of the story aloud. “There is an orientation aspect,” says Gerson. “We’re going to do this new thing”— understand vocabulary in context, cite textual evidence—“and we’re going to get smarter at it as the year goes on.” Then, students turn to individual close reading. They are told to reread sections and draw boxes around unfamiliar words. They write the definition of new words on Post-It notes. Forty percent of the class time—the biggest chunk of the lesson—is spent this way.”
Does this engage NY? Does it engage you? Does it engage teachers? Most importantly, does it ENGAGE KIDS? Wow. That makes me want to get into that story…
Who is Kate Gerson, Senior Regents Research Fellow, and why should we care? Alan Singer discusses and explains:
“On the EngageNY website and for the Regents Research Fund the chief salesperson for Common Core is Kate Gerson… who appears to have minimal teaching experience…. Gerson represents them at Common Core meetings across the state and is the featured Common Core cheerleader on EngageNY online videos.
“According to her LinkedIn site, Gerson has a B.A. in Women’s Studies from the University of Arizona and a M.A in Language Education from Indiana University. She began her career as a teacher in Indiana, but only worked in New York City for two years at a transfer school for over-aged-under-credited students before leaving for an organization called New Leaders for Schools where she worked from 2007 to 2010. Gerson is also associated with Frederick Hess, Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, which pushes free market pro-business solutions to educational and social issues.”
The Times Herald-Record, based in Middletown, New York, described Gerson’s performance at a staff development workshop for teachers in the Monticello school district this way:
“…. She used the word “text” over and over again.” Mostly she just repeated educational clichés – we were going to have a shift in focus, text-based instruction, rigorous standards, and students would think deeply and marshal evidence. Teaching these academic skills to real students in actual classrooms was almost a hopeful wish on her part.
I was also struck by Gerson’s lack of knowledge about the English Language Arts curriculum in New York State. According to Gerson, as part of the new rigor and higher standards, students would read To Kill a Mocking Bird in eighth grade rather than in ninth grade. But students always read To Kill a Mocking Bird in eight grade because that is when they learned about the Civil Rights movement in social studies. Students were also going to read Achebe’s book Things for Apart in 10th grade rather than in12th grade, but students always read Things Fall Apart in 10th grade because that is when they study the impact of European imperialism on traditional societies in Global History.”
WHO pays her and NYSED Research Fellows?
From NYSED 2010:
“The New York State Board of Regents announced the acceptance of an $892,500 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of the State of New York (SUNY) to support planning for the implementation of the Common Core Standards in New York – a key component of the Regents reform agenda.
The Regents Research Fellows Planning will undertake implementation of the Common Core Standards and other essential elements of the Regents Reform Agenda. The Regents Fellows program is being developed to provide research and analysis to inform policy and develop program recommendations for consideration by the Board of Regents.”
Leona and Harry Helmsley Charity: $3.83 million
(The Trust’s Education Program aspires to advance American economic competitiveness as well as individual social mobility.)
GE Foundation: $3.5 million
(Addresses this education imperative by supporting high-impact initiatives that improve the equity and quality of public education to ensure that young Americans are prepared for careers in a global economy. Successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards for College and Career Readiness is the next step to achieve this end.)
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: $3.3 million
(The Common Core State Standards offer a roadmap of clear expectations for college readiness.)
Carnegie Corp: $1.2 million Did they fall for the hype?
(By supporting a push for common core standards and next generation assessments, we counter low expectations for schools and students.)
Tortora Silicox Family Foundation: $975,000
(Their mission statement included… advancing “Mayor Bloomberg’s school reform agenda.”)
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: $900,000 Did they fall for the hype?
Grants to improve education by expanding the reach of openly available educational resources and by supporting “deeper learning”– a combination of the fundamental knowledge and practical basic skills all students will need to succeed.
Ford Foundation: $788,000 Did they fall for the hype?
“Educational Opportunity and Scholarship:
Robin Hood Foundation: $600,000
(It’s hedge fund manger laden board speaks for itself.
Tiger Foundation: $560,000
(Primary backer, hedge fund investor Julian Robertson)
Amy and Larry Robbins Foundation: $500,000
“…Was established in 2003 to support and create meaningful education programs in the United States and to respond to the urgent need to improve opportunities for children globally through new and innovative initiatives and partnerships. Notable programs include a partnership with KIPP, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools. AND:” We are proud to partner with Teach For America.”
James S. and Merryl H. Tisch Fund: $400,000 (of a potential $1million)
Sources: Foundations, State Department of Education, Merryl H. Tisch
Mike Winerip of the New York Times and James M. Odato of The Times Union describe what they discovered.
“In December 2010, the chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, announced a new program: 13 research fellows would be selected to advise the education commissioner and the 17-member board. The fellows would be paid as much as $189,000 each, in private money; to date, $4.5 million has been raised, including $1 million donated by Dr. Tisch, a member of one of New York’s wealthiest families.”
Those donors include Bill Gates ($892,000), who is leading the charge to evaluate teachers, principals and schools using students’ test scores; the National Association of Charter School Authorizers ($50,000) and the Robbins Foundation ($500,000), which finance charter expansion; and the Tortora Sillcox Family Foundation ($500,000), whose mission statement includes advancing “Mayor Bloomberg’s school reform agenda.” Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Gates are expert at using philanthropy in a way that pressures government to follow their public policy agendas.” (Winerip)
“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 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.
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.”
“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.” (Odato)
Winerip and Odato gathered reactions:
“Private people give money to support things they’re interested in,” said Roger B. Tilles, a lawyer and longtime education administrator who has been a Regent for six years.”
“Betty A. Rosa, who spent 23 years as a teacher and principal before becoming a New York City regional superintendent and a Regent, said it was “absolutely wrong” that the fellows had spent what she considered to be so little time working in schools. Six of the 11 have never taught. The five others have a total of 10 years in the classroom and one as a principal.”
“Saul B. Cohen, a former president of Queens College who retired in December 2010 after 18 years as a regent, is angry that the board was not consulted about selecting the fellows. “They’re supposed to be advising us, but we had no role.”
“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,”
“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.’”
And as “policy entrepreneurs”, they will get exactly what they paid for at the expense of NY students.