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California-based Hewlett Foundation, Common Core, and Voter-turnout “Researcher Excitement”

October 30, 2014

On October 16, 2014, I wrote a post about the Hewlett Foundation’s funding a report for a “new accountability system” centered upon the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The lead writer of the report, Linda Darling-Hammond, is a professor at Stanford University and senior advisor for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

What prompted this post was my aim to examine the Hewlett-Stanford connection. However, in reading Hewlett’s 2012 990, I found a number of its grants worthy of note.

But I will return to Hewlett and Stanford and an October 2014 incident related to both in my closing.

For now, I ask your indulgence as I highlight select grants from Hewlett’s 397-page 2012 990 tax form, most of which center on CCSS and its assessments.

Here we go.

According to its 2012 990, the California-based Hewlett Foundation has paid a number of grants to Stanford University, including one for $240,000 “for creation of open online learning platform to accelerate Common Core State Standards.”

The Hewlett Foundation also paid $200,000 to CCSS “lead writers’ hub” Student Achievement Partners (SAP) “for development of exemplar instructional units focusing on indepth reading and writing.”

A rabbit trail:

On its 2012 990, Hewlett labels SAP as a “for profit corporation.” This is interesting since SAP was founded as a for-profit entity in 2007, then filed for nonprofit status in 2011. The SAP website identifies SAP as a nonprofit.

The Hewlett Foundation identifies SAP as for-profit in 2012.

SAP did file a 2012 990, but not until December 2013.

The nonprofit search engine,, has no record of SAP’s EIN, which is 27-4556045.


Back from the rabbit trail:

In 2012, Hewlett also paid CCSS-promoting Thomas B. Fordham Institute $89,000 “for sustainability models for the Common Core assessment consortia.” How nice of Hewlett to pay Fordham Institute to help the federally-funded CCSS assessment consortia to keep the testing going.

Hewlett even donated $25,000 to the US Department of Education (USDOE) “for a symposium on innovation and productivity in postsecondary education.”

Hewlett is not alone in footing bills for USDOE “conferences”: The Gates Foundation has also paid USDOE $700,00 in the form of four grants for conferences in 2012 and 2013, and Gates paid  the Partnership for Public Service $1.4 million in 2013 to help “create a more innovative, collaborative and results-oriented USDOE….”

Philanthropy is paying USDOE for conferences and “innovation.”

The super-wealthy have too much influence over American democracy.

The Hewlett 2012 990 also indicates a 400,000 grant to the University of Kentucky Research Foundation “for support of Center of Innovation in Education (CIE).” It just so happens that Darling-Hammond’s co-authors on that Hewlett-funded “new accountability” report, Gene Wilhoit and Linda Pittenger, both draw their bread and butter from CIE.

Another “hmm.”

CCSS insider organization, Achieve, has also garnered cash from Hewlett in 2012 in the form of five grants totaling $1 million. The most interesting of these was $140,000 “for development of model curricula aligned with the Common Core and PARCC [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of the two federally-funded  CCSS testing consortia] content framework.” Another is for $500,000 “for a twentystate initiative to evaluate alignment of instructional materials to the Common Core.”

Business- and governor-run Achieve– one of three declared groups at the heart of CCSS development (the other two were testing companies ACT and College Board)– is taking a hand at “aligning curriculum.”

Why not?

Perhaps they are preparing for that “effective CCSS implementation” study that has never happened.

Along lines of the “new accountability system” promoted in the Hewlett-funded Darling-Hammond et al. report, Hewlett paid a California nonprofit, AG Innovations, two grants: One for $75,000 and another for $245,000 “for a project to encourage school systems change using the Common Core Standards.”

California-based Hewlett really likes CCSS.

The Hewlett-funded, CCSS-centered “new accountability” report co-author Gene Wilhoit was the president of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) during the writing of CCSS. Once CCSS was finished, it seems that CCSSO (one of two CCSS copyright holders) turned its attention to SBAC. In 2012, Hewlett paid CCSSO almost $1 million in the form of five grants. Three are of particular interest:

$480,000 “for a business plan for the management and financing of the two state assessment consortia”; $113,000 “for support for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s operations,” and $372,000 “for the Smarter Balanced Consortium’s capacity and higher education and standards framing activities.”

It seems only fair for Hewlett to support the other CCSS copyright holder, the National Governors Association (NGA). And so it does: $400,000 “for a new initiative to engage higher education in implementation of the Common Core.”

Interesting how a CCSS that is supposed to guarantee “college and career readiness” requires higher ed to implement CCSS.

CCSS is its own end.

And now, for that promised Hewlett-Stanford ending to this post.

It involves an incident that is not CCSS-focused.

It seems that Hewlett and Stanford have funded a study involving the influencing of public poll turnout for elections, a study in which the researchers decided to mail several thousand candidate position analysis cards in Montana, California, and New Hampshire– and caught trouble for it in Montana. As Katy Murphy of Mercury News reports on October 28, 2014:

STANFORD — In an academic experiment gone awry, researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth Universities sent official-looking campaign mailers assessing the political leanings of candidates to voters in California, Montana and New Hampshire — a move that may have violated university policy and state laws.

The universities were forced to apologize Tuesday to 100,000 Montana voters who received one of the mailers. Adorned with a state seal, it placed four Montana state Supreme Court justices running for nonpartisan offices on an ideological scale, comparing them to President Barack Obama and former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “Take this to the polls!” the guide says in large letters.
That led Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch to file a complaint late last week with her state’s commissioner of political practices, saying the mailer appeared to violate several state laws.
The researchers — affiliated with the nonpartisan political science study Database on Ideology, Money in Politics, and Elections — sent similar election materials to 143,000 voters in California and 66,000 in New Hampshire. In fine print, the mailers disclose they are part of a “joint research project” at the universities.
But the universities now acknowledge that was improper. …
At least one California mailer features the candidates for California superintendent of public instruction, Tom Torlakson and his election opponent Marshall Tuck.

The study was set up to determine if people would be more likely to vote if they had more information about candidates, Stanford said, but it was “not intended to favor any particular candidate nor influence the outcome of any race.”

Why the mailers were made to look like official state documents is a question still being investigated by the university, said spokeswoman Lisa Lapin.

In a statement about the mailers, Stanford said the study was approved by the Dartmouth Institutional Review Board, but that it was not submitted to the equivalent body at Stanford, as required.

It was funded by Stanford and by a Hewlett Foundation grant to study such topics as political polarization and redistricting.

In an October 29, 2014, follow-up, Murphy writes:

STANFORD — Stanford and Dartmouth’s apology to Montana voters for a misleading election mailer in a voter-turnout experiment was enough to keep that state from taking action before Tuesday’s election, but legal trouble could still await the eminent universities, and ethical questions about the research remain unanswered.

 Though described as a nonpartisan experiment with no interest in election outcomes, the mailer has been widely criticized for misleading voters with an official-looking guide with state seals, injecting partisanship into nonpartisan races by placing candidates on a political spectrum, and, in some cases, for interfering in a close election.
As Murphy notes, this election-influencing experiment did not go through the proper channels at Stanford for research approval. However, the slight is easily dismissed by a Menlo Park professor, Michelson, as the innocent result of  “researcher excitement”:
Another question is how the project — funded partly by a $100,000 matching grant from Stanford — went outside its normal research oversight. The project was not submitted to the university’s Institutional Review Board for approval — “a clear violation of university policy,” President John Hennessy wrote in the open letter to Montana voters.

There’s no way to know whether the Stanford review board would have approved the project — Dartmouth’s board did OK it, according to the letter — but it could have questioned whether the campaign-donation data used in the candidates’ ratings were robust enough, Michelson said.

“These are judges running for the Montana Supreme Court, and you’ve now told the world what you think their partisanship is based on their campaign contributions,” she said. “That seems a little iffy to me.”

“I think these guys made a mistake,” Michelson said of the young researchers. “They took some shortcuts because they were excited.”

Now, for a return to CCSS.
With the election experiment fiasco in mind, I wonder:

At what point will those promoting CCSS be held accountable for “interfering in public education” with “official looking” standards and assessments that have make the public education systems in states across the nation into one big Hewlett-and-other-funded experiment?

Will Hewlett, and Gates, and Achieve, and ACT, and College Board, and Student Achievement Partners, and CCSSO, and NGA, and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and scores of other forceful CCSS pushers be forever shielded from any shred of accountability for negative outcomes associated with CCSS and its assessments?
Will they escape responsibility with some simple word that they “took shortcuts” because they “were excited”?
Wile E Coyote

Schneider is also author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education

previti chronicle pic

  1. I looked at the Stanford site where the research was conducted. Adam Bonica seems to be a lead researcher so I emailed him: this is a portion of my email: Professor Bonica: I am reading just now about the “fake mailers” that were sent into New Hampshire. I am glad that an apology has been issued to Montana ( New Hampshire (66,000). I live on the MA/NH border and their politics does affect us as we live in contiguous neighborhoods, with the interstate highway for guns and drugs that runs near my street; given this background perhaps you know now why I am resentful if you are mailing out “fake mailers”. I did take the opportunity to look at your web page and to read an article in Boston Review. I credit Melissa Harris Perry for educating the general public on DW-nominate scores; does your particular idea add anything to what we already know about voting records through DW-nominate? What is your major purpose? It appears that your purpose in NH is to instruct the uninformed voters and that would be an injustice if that is the case. Was it a sincere apology issued to Montana and if so how would you alter the research agenda in the future. I intend to follow up with all of my NH colleagues to determine who got these mailers and what impact they have had in these last few weeks of the election prior to Nov 4th.”

    Thank you for al you do, deutsch29; there are many more parts to the post today about corporate offices; I remember Obama saying in the State of the Union message that “philanthropies” were to be congratulated for their contributions to education and this also bothers me….the way that people are treated like objects in a larger corporate agenda that represents extreme positions.

  2. Laura chapman permalink

    Bill Gates hired Stanford researchers to work on rating achenes to make public schools look bad and pump up online learning. See my recent comment on Ravitch amplifying on Cody’s book conversations with the Gates Foundation. Gates is trying to control the press, public, USDE, state officials, school board, districts, and parents. It is all there at the Data Quality Campaign website. At my iPad and not skilled in linking.

  3. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    Utterly disgusting. Thank you again for digging up the filth so it is revealed. Stanford was already on my list of “research institutes” that were foul in the public ed research arena due to what I knew from past investigations. Your investigation goes much deeper and the details disgust me. Thank you again for the facts (relationships and money exchanges) that explain the seemingly-unexplainable actions that universities and educational research groups are taking in support of corporate profits in the public ed reform business. Sadly, it makes sense after you reveal the incestuous relationships and disingenuous research.

  4. 2old2tch permalink

    Just goes to show that the “best and the brightest” are not immune from really stupid moves.

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