More on the Common Core: Achieve, Inc., and Then Some
I hesitate to publicly confess that I find reading tax forms interesting, but it is true– especially as concerns the many nonprofits that are imposing their wills upon the American classroom. The IRS 990 offers much information on a nonprofit in a concise format, not the least of which are a nonprofit’s salaried individuals, board members, primary expenses, donors, and solvency.
I have written a number of posts related to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In this post, I examine a key organization in the creation of CCSS: Achieve, Inc. Whereas my reading Achieve’s tax documents served as the launch for this post, it certainly did not stop there.
Allow me to show you.
According to its website, Achieve, Inc., was founded in 1996 “by leading governors and business leaders.” The effort was well financed, with Achieve registering $2 million in total assets in 1997. By 2001, Achieve’s total assets increased to $9.4 million.
Note that the presence of “leading governors” on the Achieve, Inc., board allows one to call Achieve a “state-led” organization.
By the same token, one might also call Achieve a “business-led” organization since its board is also comprised of “business leaders.” However, calling Achieve “business-led” is not as effective a term as “state-led” for the promotion of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
In 2001, the Achieve board of directors included six governors and CEOs of six corporations.
All six corporations were connected to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group now known for its model legislation in favor of the privatization of public education and its decision to reverse its anti-CCSS stance.
Yep. It certainly serves pro-CCSS purposes to conceal the “business-led” element of the governor-CEO, Achieve hybrid.
Why, Achieve is nothing more than a little ALEC: Half electeds, half privatizers with the money to influence electeds.
Furthermore, “state led” is a manufactured term designed to falsely connote the “grass roots emergence” of CCSS.
CCSS is anything but.
Achieve and Its “Common Benchmarks”
In 1998, Achieve began benchmarking standards; in 2001, it joined Education Trust, the Fordham Institute, and National Alliance of Business to launch the American Diploma Project (ADP) referenced in the Common Core Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) governors and state superintendents signed as part of the Race to the Top (RTTT) application.
According to the Achieve, Inc., website, the purpose of ADP was “to identify the ‘must-have’ knowledge and skills most demanded by higher education and employers.”
It appears that the CCSS skeleton– the ADP benchmarking– was created in 2004, the direct result of a “groundbreaking report” from ADP:
2004: The American Diploma Project releases “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts.” This groundbreaking report – the result of over two years of research – identifies a common core of English and mathematics academic knowledge and skills, or “benchmarks,” that American high school graduates need for success in college and the workforce. Education Week later named “Ready or Not” one of the most 12 influential research studies. [Emphasis added.]
“Over two years of research” might be sufficient to determine a set of benchmarked outcomes for high school graduates; however, such paltry research would be little more than a thrown-together, drive-thru empirical effort upon which to base a comprehensive set of K-12 English and math standards.
Perhaps this is why CCSS Validation Committee Member Sandra Stotsky never could seem to get anyone to produce the “research” upon which CCSS English Language Arts (ELA) is supposedly based. Perhaps the only “research” is that which is connected to ADP.
A methodical research effort for a set of K-12 standards should at least follow a cohort of students through the set of standards in question.
At least thirteen years is needed. Otherwise, one might argue that the research was hastily conducted in order to advance another agenda– such as the ASAP privatization of public education.
So, in 2004, Achieve, Inc., already had a set of “common expected outcomes for high school graduates.” The CCSS MOU refers to Achieve’s ADP. Thus, the framework for the “common standards” had already been determined.
Achieve would also be principally involved in translating ADP benchmarks into CCSS standards.
Classroom teachers were not included among those principally involved in the development of ADP benchmarks.
Neither would classroom teachers be among those at the CCSS development table.
Tim Pawlenty: “Leading” Both NGA and Achieve
In June 2008, National Governors Association (NGA) Chair and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty led the National Governors Symposium in North Carolina with former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt. Among its determinations, the Symposium produced the following:
High, rigorous standards are the foundation of a strong education system. Content standards specify the knowledge and skills that students need at each grade level. These standards must be supported by an aligned and clearly articulated system of curriculum, assessments, teacher preparation and professional development, textbook selection and appropriate supports for students.
Also in 2009, Achieve received $20.9 million from the Gates Foundation; $2 million from the Carnegie Foundation, and a combined $2.6 million from five ALEC corporations (GE, Prudential, Nationwide, Lumina, and State Farm).
Pawlenty represents a connection between both NGA and Achieve in this well-financed, “state-led” push for “common standards.” The Achieve website refers to “leading governors.” Pawlenty is apparently one of these.
How few governors does it take to “lead” a democracy right out of its own democratic processes?
The CCSS MOU actually tells the two signators– the governor and state superintendent– that by signing, they are “agreeing to be state led.” Thus, “state led” means, “You will follow the lead of the ‘leading governors and business leaders.’”
And why are these governors and state superintendents signing this CCSS agreement?
For RTTT money– and not nearly enough to implement CCSS.
The Real CCSS Workers vs. The Window Dressing
According to Stotsky, NGA was reluctant to reveal the members of the Standards Work Groups. In July 2009, it did so. The members of the “work” groups chiefly represented three agencies: Achieve, ACT, and College Board:
The initiative is being jointly led by the NGA Center and CCSSO [Council of State School Officers] in partnership with Achieve, Inc, ACT and the College Board. It builds directly on recent efforts of leading organizations and states that have focused on developing college-and career-ready standards and ensures that these standards can be internationally benchmarked to top-performing countries around the world. [Emphasis added.]
CCSS is not a set of standards that were negotiated by stakeholders. CCSS is the modular home of standards; its frame was prefabricated in 2004 by Achieve. The resulting “work groups” add two testing companies to the mix in order to “develop” standards based upon the ADP frame. Thus, CCSS development was chiefly a corporate enterprise. No wonder the reluctance to publicize work group membership.
The July 2009 NGA announcement also includes information on the feedback group membership, and it mentions the validation committee. These two groups are little more than window dressing. In short, it “looks good” for NGA and CCSSO to “involve experts.” However, the “experts” did not develop standards:
The final step in the development of these standards is the creation of an expert Validation Committee comprised of national and international experts on standards. This group will review the process and substance of the common core state standards to ensure they are research and evidence-based and will validate state adoption on the common core standards. Members of the committee will be selected by governors and chiefs of the participating states; nominations are forthcoming. [Emphasis added.]
Recall that Stotsky asked for the ELA research and never received it.
However, she did get the runaround.
An interesting member of the CCSS English Language Arts (ELA) work group is Sue Pimentel. In 2006 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011, Achieve paid Pimentel’s company, Sue Pimentel, Inc., Hanover, NH 03755, for “consulting.” Pimentel’s presence on the CCSS ELA committee and her close relationship with Achieve raise questions about the exact process for selecting work group members (and who did the selecting). Given that Achieve has an established set of “common benchmarks” for framing CCSS dating back to 2004, and given the presence of those “leading governors” on Achieve’s board, one can conclude that there was no objective (much less publicized) means of selecting CCSS work groups.
Pimentel is considered “a chief architect” of Achieve’s ADP benchmarks.
Pimentel’s CCSS presence also provides a bridge between Achieve and the unidentified “partner” on the CCSS work groups: David Coleman’s Student Achievement Partners (SAP).
In this brief Education Nation speech (http://vimeo.com/76725406) on the supposed development of CCSS, Pimentel is introduced as a “founding partner” of SAP, the national-standards-writing company founded by David Coleman and Jason Zimba. Pimentel’s introduction as an SAA “founding partner” contradicts the information released by the NGA on its work group composition. In that 2009 release, Coleman is identified as SAP “founder,” and Zimba, as SAP “co-founder.” However, Pimentel is identified as being “co-founder” of StudentWorks and associated with Achieve.
The SAP website has recently rewritten its history to include Pimentel and to even overtly state that the three were “lead writers” in CCSS:
Student Achievement Partners was founded by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel and Jason Zimba, lead writers of the Common Core State Standards.
SAP cannot rewrite all of its history and insert Pimentel. Consider this 2011 announcement of a CCSS presentation by Coleman:
David Coleman is founder and CEO of Student Achievement Partners, LLC, an organization that assembles leading thinkers and researchers to design actions to substantially improve student achievement. Most recently, David and Jason Zimba of Student Achievement Partners played a lead role in developing the Common Core State Standards in math and literacy. [Emphasis added.]
No mention of “founding partner” Pimentel, though she was present for CCSS, and in a “lead role” as a CCSS ELA work group member– with her affiliation listed is as “co-founder” of StandardsWork and as an ELA consultant with Achieve.
The Pimentel-SAP connection is also absent from this 2011 GE Foundation bio:
…Susan now works closely with fellow authors of the Common Core Standards David Coleman and Jason Zimba of Student Achievement Partners in supporting the faithful implementation of the Common Core.
Before her work as a lead writer of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts/Literacy, Susan was a chief architect of the American Diploma Project Benchmarks designed to close the gap between high school demands and postsecondary expectations. Since 2007, Susan has served on the National Assessment Governing Board, an independent, bipartisan board that sets policy for the national assessment. In addition to several articles, Susan is co-author with Denis P. Doyle of the best-selling book and CD-ROM, Raising the Standard: An Eight-Step Action Guide For Schools and Communities. [Emphasis added.]
Again, no mention of Pimentel as a 2007 founding partner of SAP.
However, as previously noted, she was a “chief architect” of the ADP benchmarks– yet another place where classroom teachers were not.
Back to Pimentel and SAP:
Why alter history to include Pimentel as an SAP “founding partner”? Why not just state that she was with Achieve and later joined SAP?
I believe it is to give a female face a founding leadership role to a predominately-male-led CCSS effort. I think that declaring Pimentel as being associated with SAP is an effort to legitimize SAP’s (NGA-undeclared) place at the CCSS table. Pimentel is a female speaking to an audience from a profession that is primarily female, and that is good public relations for selling the CCSS product.
2011, Sue Pimentel, and Student Achievement Partners
In examining Pimentel’s consulting history with Achieve, I noticed that Pimentel is not listed as a consultant on Achieve’s 2010 990 (classed by the IRS as 2011 for tax year 07-01-10 to 06-30-11).
That same year, SAP “became” a nonprofit and filed a 990– in order to process a $4 million grant from the GE Foundation– the purpose of which is (of course) the advancement of CCSS:
Student Achievement Partners work is designed to ensure successful implementation of the Common Core Standards in classrooms across the country. Student Achievement Partners will work closely with teachers to develop tools that will help them be more effective. Student Achievement Partners will make all resources available at no cost to educators at our website: achievethecore.org.
“Tools” and “resources” are carefully chosen words. Sure sounds like SAP is offering the only missing piece in the standards–>curriculum–>assessment process that the NGA declared to be its full intention in June 2008: curriculum “assistance.”
And GE is willing to foot the bill so that SAP can offer this “help” for free.
(In 2011, SAP actually filed the 990 twice: Once on 01/17/13, with Amy Briggs listed as COO, and a second time, on 02/01/13, with Celeste Hogan listed as CFO. It appears that the second filing was necessary since Briggs neglected to sign the last page of the return.)
Pimentel’s Education Nation Speech
Throughout her Education Nation speech (http://vimeo.com/76725406), Pimentel refers to a standards-writing “we” whom she defines as six individuals, three in ELA and three in math. She continues by saying that these six individuals had advisory groups and that in the end, 48 states had “state teams of teachers” involved in CCSS. Pimentel attempts to paint a picture of teachers nationwide coming together and exercising meaningful influence over CCSS development, but this directly contradicts the CCSS MOU and the designation of Coleman, Zimba, and Pimentel as CCSS “lead writers.”
Pimentel insists that teachers were consulted and heard in the development of CCSS. However, any teachers involved in CCSS were clearly on the fringes of the CCSS process. Teachers could form state groups and advise all that they wanted. So what? Is this “48-state teacher ‘involvement’” supposed to somehow offset the inner-circle influence of NGA, Achieve, SAP, College Board, and ACT upon CCSS?
Coleman, Zimba, and Pimentel are clearly three of the six CCSS “chief architects.” All three are supposedly “founding partners” of a national-standards-writing company offering a set of inflexible standards licensed by NGA and CCSSO and tied to corporately-created, high-stakes tests.
Whatever Happened to Those CCSS Math “Anchors”?
In her Education Nation speech, Pimentel refers to a deadline of November 2009 to produce standards, and she notes that these standards were poorly received. Based upon this timeline, she must have been referring to the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS)– a smaller set of standards supposed to “anchor” the larger CCSS.
The anchors were supposed to precede CCSS– in order to “anchor” CCSS. However, CCSS math has no anchors on the CCSS website.
It’s as though CCRS for math never happened.
In contrast, the CCSS website does include ELA anchors. However, the ELA anchors were not offered to the public for review.
So. The CCRS (anchors) for math were publicized and found wanting. Therefore, they were simply abandoned. End of discussion and lesson learned by the CCSS “lead architects”: No public comments allowed for the ELA anchors. Just post them.
Bringing It to a Close
The contents of this post reinforce the reality that CCSS is the result of a few attempting to impose a manufactured standardization onto the American classroom. At the heart of CCSS are a handful of governors, millions in philanthropic and corporate dollars, and a few well-positioned education entrepreneurs handed the impressive title of “lead architect.” The democratic process is allowed entrance into this exclusive club, but only for show. The place for democracy in CCSS development is standing room only, and that near the exit.
Fortunately, democracy gets edgy when relegated to the cheap seats. Achieve, NGA, Pimentel, Pawlenty, and other CCSS peddlers might deliver their best sales pitches; however, the truth is that CCSS is in trouble in statehouses and boardrooms across the country.
Future generations of educators will study CCSS as a colossal education blunder.
Names like Achieve, NGA, and SAP will be forever connected to the CCSS humiliation.