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A Great Minds (Common Core, Inc.) History: Eureka Math, Wit & Wisdom, and More.

October 6, 2019

On October 03, 2019, I had a request on my blog from a commenter who asked if I “could do an investigation on this Wit & Wisdom curriculum we’re being forced to use.” In this case, “we” refers to Louisiana teachers. (The Louisiana Department of Education has a contract for Wit & Wisdom, effective 07/01/16 – 06/30/22.)

This is an extensive dive. Do make yourself comfortable.

Wit & Wisdom is a curricular product of Great Minds, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that also operates an LLC (limited liability company) (see”great minds” using this DC business license search engine). Great Minds also owns Eureka Math.

On its website, Great Minds identifies itself as a nonprofit founded in 2008. Here is the their “about” spiel:

ABOUT GREAT MINDS

A group of education leaders founded the non-profit Great Minds in 2008 to define and encourage content-rich comprehensive education for all American schoolchildren. In pursuit of that mission, Great Minds brings schoolteachers together in collaboration with scholars to craft exemplary instructional materials and share them with the field. Great Minds’ Eureka Math curriculum has won accolades at the state and national levels, and is the only comprehensive math curriculum aligned to the Common Core State Standards at every grade. The non profit also just released Wit & Wisdom, a new English curriculum that taps the power of literature, history and science to meet the expectations of the new standards.

Actually, in 2008, there was no nonprofit named Great Minds, and there wouldn’t be until 2015. The nonprofit formed in 2008 was named Common Core, Inc., which just happens to share a name with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that did not yet exist in 2008 (though, as Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton publicized in June 2014,  in the summer of 2008, CCSS “lead writer” David Coleman and Council of Chief State School Officers exec director Gene Wilhoit apporached billionaire Bill Gates and asked him to bankroll CCSS).

Common Core, Inc., began with $285,200 in contributions and grants, and it was a nonprofit focused on the idea of a liberal education, including standards and assessments on the national level. The organization’s purpose, taken from the Common Core, Inc., 2008 tax return:

Creating and disseminating research on the state of liberal education. Research and formulate studies assessing the inclusion of liberal arts in state, national and independent standards, state and federal assessments, state and local curricula and high school graduation requirements, and teacher education and certification requirements.

Lynne Munson, former deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, served as Common Core, Inc., president and executive director ($41,250 for 40hrs/wk and the only compensated member of the board). Too, at the creation of Common Core, Inc., in 2008, education historian and former assistant secretary of education, Diane Ravitch, was on the Common Core, Inc., board as a co-chair. The other co-chair was Antonia Cortese, who at the time was secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers.)

In 2009, Common Core, Inc., reported $200,000 in revenue (contributions and grants). Same mission; same board.

Now, in June 2010, the CCSS were officially finished (see the press release on the Gates Foundation site, the CCSS website, and the US Department of Ed (USDOE) website).

Even though Common Core, Inc., did not mention CCSS by name on its 2010 tax form, Common Core, Inc., revenue jumped to almost $1M that year (all but $10K in the form of contributions and grants), and the Common Core, Inc., mission was slightly modified so that the nonprofit’s work “included” but was “not limited to information on liberal arts and science education programs and as a clearing-house for data on academic curricula and best practices in the field of education.”

In September 2010, Diane Ravitch left Common Core, Inc.

In 2010, Common Core, Inc., also paid DC-based education consultant Sheila Byrd $113,000 for “curriculum mapping/pro.manager/writer.” Byrd was an external reviewer of CCSS ELA standards. (In 2015, Byrd reviewed the EngageNY ELA CCSS curriculum. Note that Eureka Math was first known as EngageNY; in 2012 Common Core, Inc. contracted to create EngageNY’s math curriculum. I wrote about EngageNY/Eureka Math and its connection to Louisiana and to CCSS lead math writer, Phil Daro, in this September 2014 post.)

So many connections. But back to Common Core, Inc., progressing from 2010 to 2011:

In 2011, Common Core, Inc., did not fare as well with revenue (total revenue at $427K, less than half of the $1M received in 2010). Most of its revenue was spent on the liberal arts education focus; however, for the first time, CCSS was mentioned by name (and as a source of generating revenue, albeit next to nothing: $22K generated after expending $21K), as follows:

Conducted a series of professional development workshops intended to guide teachers and district/school leaders in their implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Common Core’s cirriculum (sp.) maps. In these sessions, the team facilitated the exploration of the new standards and the curriculum maps; prepared teachers to develop lessons and assessments based on the maps and modeled instructional practices.

On Schedule O of the 2011 Common Core, Inc., tax form, the curriculum maps are referred to as specifically related to ELA and are listed as a “new service” of Common Core, Inc.

And then came 2012. Common Core, Inc., reported receiving three contracts from the New York Department of Education “to create a PreK–12 mathematics curriculum to be hosted on the state’s EngageNY website. Common Core [Inc.] makes PDF files containing that work available free of charge.” (Note that the bottom of the page offers the purchase of that product, Eureka Math.):

Sample Math Curriculum

In 2012, Common Core won three contracts from the New York State Education Department [NYSED] to create a PreK–12 mathematics curriculum to be hosted on the state’s EngageNY website. Common Core makes PDF files containing that work available free of charge.

Get the most with Eureka Math
Eureka Math represents an extension of the work we did for the teachers of New York State. We encourage districts to consider purchasing for their teachers access to the full Eureka Math website, which enhances the PreK–12 mathematics curriculum with extensive professional development supports:

  • Embedded “just-in-time” videos that demonstrate classroom practices.
  • Convenient navigational tools that help teachers identify and remediate knowledge gaps, implement RTI tiers, and provide support for students at a variety of levels.

To purchase access to Eureka Math, click here.

On its 2012 tax form, Common Core, Inc., revenue jumped to $3.3M (including $3M in contributions and grants; $130K in program service revenue, and $150K in “other revenue”).

Cost of the CCSS workshops rose from $21K in 2011 to $383K in 2012, and the term “Common Core State Standards” was replaced with “Common Core curriculum materials.” Given that at the time, the name of the nonprofit was Common Core, Inc., removal of the words “state standards” creates ambiguity. Note that the filing date for Common Core, Inc.,’s 2012 tax form is November 25, 2013, right about the time that the “Common Core rebrand” became a tactic for quelling public discontent. Just an observation. However, the name of the nonprofit itself would remain Common Core, Inc., for three more years.

Back to Common Core, Inc., 2012 tax information (with some asides):

Barbara Davidson is listed as “associate director of programs.” (In 2016, Davidson became the president of StandardsWork (see here also), an organization founded in 1992 by CCSS ELA “lead writer” Susan Pimentel.)

Finally, in 2012, Common Core, Inc., contracted with Louisiana math teacher Nell McAnelly for $132,300 as a “project leader” to develop EngageNY/Eureka math. From a 2016 Great Minds lifetime service award press release about McAnelly:

McAnelly first joined Great Minds (then known as Common Core) in 2011 as part of a small team of educators and mathematicians who came together to develop a Pre-K to 12 math curriculum carefully aligned to rigorous new college- and career-ready standards. A year later, she became project director of the effort. The following year, the curriculum was delivered and EngageNY Math (aka Eureka Math) was born.

Within 24 months, more than 30 million downloads of the curriculum had been recorded. A 2016 RAND Corporation study found Eureka Math/EngageNY to be the most widely used math curriculum in the country.

Prior to working with Great Minds, McAnelly taught math at the high school and university level for three decades. She continues advising the Gordon A. Cain Center for STEM Literacy at Louisiana State University, which she helped to transform into a major education research and outreach hub during her 30 years of teaching and service at LSU.

In a March 2014 Associated Press article, Eureka Math is billed as being “LSU developed Eureka Math.” The problem with the article is that it fails to mention that McAnelly and others writing Eureka Math were doing so for DC-based Common Core, Inc., and that Common Core, Inc., was under contract with the NY to produce EngageNY/Eureka Math. The way that the article reads could incorrectly lead one to believe that Eureka Math begins and ends with LSU and that Eureka Math, by implication, belongs to Louisiana.

If such were true, then Louisiana would not be paying Great Minds, LLC, of DC, for Eureka Math.

Back to the Common Core, Inc., tax forms:

In 2013, Common Core, Inc., revenue shot up to $9.6M, mostly in “government grants” ($8.7M), but also from “membership dues” ($436K). Of the $9.6M in total revenue, $6.4M was expended on developing curriculum, and $870K was used for professional development workshops related to curriculum.

Robin Ramos (Los Angeles) is identified as a “lead writer,” turns out, for a component of EngageNY/Eureka math ($142K). Nell McAnelly (Baton Rouge, LA) continues as “project leader” (EngageNY/Eureka math) ($135K).

(An aside: LSU math professor Scott Baldridge is apparently “the” lead writer of EngageNY/Eureka Math; Ramos was lead writer for a portion of it. See NY math teacher Gary Rubinstein’s 2015 take on what he calls “You Reeka Math.”)

2014. Name of org was still Common Core, Inc. Revenue rose to $16.5M, $4.7M of which was in “government grants.” Too, Common Core, Inc., reported $1M in “license income” and $7M in “royalties.” Finally, the professional workshops were drawing a profit; the $1.4M cost was less than the $2.2M revenue.

Don’t think “nonprofit” means an organization generates no revenue.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett (who pleaded guilty in 2015 of receiving kickbacks and bribes) was board chair (Bennett had been on the Common Core, Inc., board since 2008.)

Nell McAnelly was treasurer ($94K for 5hrs/wk). Lorraine Griffith (identified on prior tax forms as a curriculum writer) was listed as a “trustee” ($100K for 2hrs/wk). Too, Common Core, Inc., began paying for “branding” ($147K) and “marketing services” ($146K). And Sheila Byrd was back for “curriculum development–English” ($118K).

2015. Common Core, Inc., changed its name to Great Minds. In August 2015, Common Core-holdout and 2016 presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, called Common Core “poisonous.” Not sure if the name change was influenced by an attempt to avoid the words, “common core,” but the now-Great Minds nonprofit was making notable money. Program service revenue (the money generated by Great Minds products and services) ballooned from $3.2M in 2014 to $20M in 2015. At the same time, contributions and grants dropped, from $6.2M to $1.5M.

Eureka Math and Wit & Wisdom were clearly identified as Great Minds’ two 2015 “program service accomplishments.” Eureka Math’s description:

Eureka Math is a preK-12 curriculum that helps students to understand math deeply and to connect it to the real world, preparing them to solve problems they haven’t encountered before. The team of teachers and mathemeticians who created Eureka believe that it’s not enough for students to memorize a process for solving a problem, they need to know why that process works. Eureka uses clear models and proven instructional methods to help students become not just literate, but fluent in math. The curriculum is available free of charge for use by any educator on our website, greatminds.org.

In 2015, Eureka Math cost $7.8M but generated $18.1M– even as it is advertised as “available free of charge for use by any educator on our website, greatminds.org.”

“Free on our website” is producing big bucks somewhere (in, for example, state contracts).

The newer of the two Great Minds curricular offerings, Wit & Wisdom, cost Great Minds $2.9M in 2015 but generated only $97K:

Wit & Wisdom is a K-8 English curriculum based on authentic texts of the highest quality. Students use these texts at every turn– to learn, and eventually master, essential reading, writing, speaking, listening, grammar, and vocabulary skills. Instead of Basals, students read books they love to build knowledge of important topics and master literacy skills. All students read and discuss grade-level texts, with suggestions for support included at key moments throughout each lesson.

In 2015, Nell McAnelly replaced Barbara Byrd-Bennett as board chair ($89K for 10hrs/wk). William Kelly became treasurer ($100K for 5hrs/wk); “trustee” Lorraine Griffith took a cut in pay: only $93K for 2hrs/wk. And president/CEO Lynne Munson earned $317K for 40hrs/wk.

A number of others were also handsomely compensated, including “deputy director” Barbara Davidson ($191K for 40hrs/wk) and “lead writer” Robin Ramos ($157K for 40hrs/wk).

In 2015, Great Minds’ “branding and marketing” cost $1.2M.

That $18.2M in program revenue includes $13.3M in royalties, $2.3M in subscriptions, $1.4M in professional development workshops, and $1.2M in direct book sales. Almost all of Great Minds’ 2015 revenue was associated with Eureka Math.

2016. Great Minds’ revenue skyrocketed yet again, up to $44.2M. All but $100K was program service revenue:

  • Royalties: $22.7M
  • Direct Book Sales: $14.7M
  • Professional Development Workshop: $4.2M
  • Subscriptions: $2.6M

Eureka Math continued to be the major money-maker; it cost $17.8M but generated $42.6M. However, in 2016, Wit & Wisdom profits were in the hole for $4M; cost was $5.5M, yet revenue was only $1.5M.

Menwhile, Great Minds moved on to the next curricular venture, conducting “extensive planning for a new science curriculum,” for a 2016 cost of $60K.

Board chair McAnally was at $90K (10hrs/wk). President/executive director Lynne Munson is at $350K (40hrs/wk). Fifteen other individuals are listed as making between $126K and $216K as officers, key employees, or highest-compensated employees.

Furthermore, in 2016, Great Minds the nonprofit established Great Minds LLC (Schedule R). According to Nonprofit Law Blog, there are a number of reasons that a nonproft might create an associated LLC, including protecting the nonprofit from risks associated with assets or activities of the LLC or operating a business not substantially related to its tax-exempt purpose without risking revocation of the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status.

I think the liability protection is the chief reason. From Schedule O of the Great Minds 2017 tax form:

On January 1, 2017, Great Minds entered into a bill of sale, assignment and assumption agreement with Great Minds LLC, which is a disregarded entity (not separate from its owner) of Great Minds. The agreement transferred certain operating activities, including the marketing, selling and implementation of all the current and future products of Great Minds, to Great Minds LLC. Additionally, Great Minds transferred inventory, tangible property and transferable contract rights as outlined in the agreement to Great Minds LLC. The transfer did not include some intellectual property, nontransferable insurance plans or the line of credit.

In 2017, Great Minds yet again increased its program service revenue: $66.8M. No money derived from contributions and grants. Direct sales of books and curriculum soared:

  • Direct sales of books and curriculum: $55M
  • Professional Development: $6M
  • Digital Income: $3.2M
  • Royalty Income: $2.6M

The organization’s mission still states that liberal arts education is its aim.

As to “program accomplishments”:

  • Eureka Math: Cost is $25.6M; revenue is $64.6M, for a profit of $39M
  • Wit & Wisdom: Cost is $3.2M; revenue is $2.2M, for a loss of $1M
  • Science curriculum under development: Cost is $46.6K

Board chair McAnelly was paid $82K for 10hrs/wk.

President/exec dir Munson’s total compensation was $487K (40hrs/wk).

Based on Great Minds’ 2017 tax info, here’s the latest word:

Great Minds is raking it in big time on Eureka Math and losing money on Wit & Wisdom, and seemingly stalling on its science curriculum development.

Eureka Math is carrying Great Minds.

What a boon.

money tree

_____________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

 

8 Comments
  1. DanG! permalink

    Below are excerpts of posts I submitted years ago on the Louisiana Educator blog ( I think). This is probably the first time I have ever quoted myself; and I’ve seen nothing in the intervening years to change my opinion.

    “For many years, I have been convinced that the buffoons who concocted this hash of Common-Core middle school mathematics have either contempt for, or an almost total ignorance of, the cumulative nature of mathematics.You cannot create a rigorous curriculum by simply extracting (or plagiarizing) and bundling items from upper level courses.The laborious (and often tedious) accumulation of facts, postulates, theorems, and techniques, built on and added to , grade after grade and year after year is what creates mathematical maturity. But the reformniks have successfully marketed the idea that you can skip this approach and “get your cash now.” They can not only build Rome in a day, they can do it before lunch! And as long as the public can be swayed by Madison Avenue hucksters promising a quick fix, don’t look for any real relief. It has taken twenty-five plus years for math education to sink to this state, and I do not believe that much will change between now and Labor Day.”
    “One example should be the disastrous Eureka Math Curriculum. After its dismal failure in NY, under the name of EngageNY, I guess that the suits in charge decided to rebrand it Eureka Math and to try to sell it to the hicks in the mildew belt. And guess what? THE HICKS BOUGHT IT! After two years of trying to implement this compost, which seemed like an incoherent and disconnected collection of plagiarized items from some precalculus textbook, I gave up and left public education. And from what I hear, most Louisiana parishes have carted it to the curb at this point after squandering how many thousands of taxpayers’ dollars. With greed driving so much of education policy now, it is hard to fight back the feeling of rage and futility at what has been done to an education system that was the envy of the world when I was a child.”

    I guess that I was misinformed in the second post about parishes abandoning Eureka Math.

    Warm Regards

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    I had an email dustup with Lynne Munson about 2011. At that time she had enlisted people to work on lessons in the arts as a complement to the CCSS ELA curriculum she was working on, with a grant from Gates. The people developing these art lessons had migrated to her shop from work on the Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Program and the American Diploma Project, but she was also employing visual artists who were clueless about what might be feasible for classroom teachers and also an educationally valuable use of classroom time. I hope to retrieve that correspondence. Lynne had been chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In that role she had led a project called Picturing America, with a selection of artworks from museum collections. Some of those selections were also in the intended ELA curriculum for the CCSS. She had posted the initial units online. They were not ready for prime time. The freebies were soon withdrawn. One was a grade three lesson with a link to a roster of portraits and self-portraits, including works with frontal nudity. Another was a lesson from the ADP ninth grade program, recycled from a college program in Texas. In other words, Lynne Munson was presiding over an elaborate and expensive operation with amateurs in charge of designing units and lessons that were rationalized as relevant to the CCSS for ELA.

  3. Isn’t is also true that more information can be hidden with LLCs? One can file all of an LLC’s financial information for the IRS on one’s own individual tax return, and individual tax returns are not open to the public.

  4. Zeev Wurman permalink

    I find this particular piece of Mercedes Schneider tendentious and unfair.

    All she describes is a successful venture that got a contract from the NY State and implemented a decent math curriculum, that it offers for free to individuals. Schools tend to buy the commercial version as it saves them on printing, and offers support and PD, but the freely downloadable version is still available and used mostly by homeschoolers and parents. The revenues grew because it is one of the better Common Core math programs, and the original ELA program was based on ED Hirsch’s “Core Knowledge” (hence the original name “Common Core” prior to Common Core Standards).

    There are some more inaccuracies here (e.g., where is the leading role of LSU’s Scott Baldridge in the curriculum) but that’s not a big deal. The big deal is implying that Great Minds did something unfair or underhanded in succeeding in writing decent programs and then selling them. And the salaries she mentions certainly don’t look out of line to me for DC-based non-profits.

    I don’t hate Great Minds — they didn’t invent the Common Core Standards but once those were invented, they grabbed the opportunity and wrote from a scratch(!) a decent curriculum for it. And did a better job of it than all those established billion-dollar textbook publishers.

    What’s wrong with that?

    P.S. I have no specific knowledge of their ELA curricula, only of the Eureka Math.
    P.P.S I am not arguing the Eureka Math is an outstanding MATH text. I am arguing that Eureka Math is a relatively excellent COMMON CORE MATH text. I find Common Core standards mediocre and frequently wrong-headed but, given those, Eureka does a good job turning them into almost-sensible program.

    • Hello, Ze’ev. I added info about Baldridge and clarified Ramos’ role.

      You will surely also find my addenda to be “tendentious and unfair.” So be it.

      • Zeev Wurman permalink

        Hi Mercedes,

        Thanks for correcting the piece about Scott Baldridge. I think he did an excellent job given the constraints and the timeline he operated under (the worst, in my mind, being the mandate to address each and every one of CC standards, no omissions allowed, even if they made little sense in the context.)

        Now, I like a lot of what you usually write (smile) yet here I was not sure what’s your point. Seems to me that Great Mind operated like any startup, for profit or not for profit. It started small, and then grabbed an opportunity when it saw it and (successfully) ran with it. If you could be specific and point to what is bothering you with the story, it would help me. Please note that I have not checked your facts but I in general I don’t dispute them–accepting the facts as you tell them, I can’t see where has Great Minds misstepped.

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