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Bias seen in push to new ed standards

Ohanian Comment: The smaller story here is another case of the enemy of our enemy. . . . The Pioneer Institute are supreme Standardistos as well as charter advocates Here's how Pioneer describes their education thrust:

a leader in the charter public school movement and champion of greater academic rigor in Massachusetts' schools. Current initiatives promote choice and competition, school-based management, math and science education, and the broader use of data to increase transparency and help parents make informed decisions regarding their children̢۪s education.

We may disagree on most things, but Pioneer is right in objecting to but they rightly object to the imposition of Bill Gates' standards.

The bigger story, and the real outrage here, is Gates. I've just read 700 articles about Race to the Top and The Common Core standards and only three include ANY MENTION of the Gates funding. As Daniel Golden pointed out recently, Duncan's spokesman Peter Cunningham acknowledges, "is very much aligned with the Obama Administration agenda. We partner with them on a whole host of things."

Kudos to Matt Murphy. Why are so few people taking note of this?

By Matt Murphy

BOSTON -- The recommendation that Massachusetts adopt a set of national "Common Core" academic standards over the highly successful state standards already in place was based in part on outside analyses from research groups heavily funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation, run by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, has also been heavily invested in the drafting of the Common Core standards themselves, raising questions about whether state officials were relying on the most unbiased information.

Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, in a memo to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Friday, announced that he would recommend adoption of the national Common Core standards, calling them "at least as strong, if not stronger" than those in place today.

The new national standards would replace Massachusetts's current public-school curriculum, and could potentially lead the state to eliminate the MCAS exam in favor of a new test more aligned with what is being taught in the classroom.

The board is scheduled to vote on the commissioner's recommendation Wednesday.

"No. We really don't have those concerns," said Heidi Guarino, chief of staff to Chester. "The Common Core standards initiative was a state effort and whether or not these organization were funded by Gates, Gates does not control what they say."

Guarino said the independent reports were only a piece of the process. She said Chester also relied heavily on side-by-side comparisons done by the state's internal curriculum specialists.

Critics, however, have raised concerns about the partiality of those studies, which compare Common Core standards to those in Massachusetts, regarded along with California and Virginia as some of the strongest in the country.

The standards written after passage of Massachusetts's Education Reform Act of 1993 have resulted in students here topping the nation on standardized English and math exams.

"I think the reality of it is the Gates Foundation has been the major funder of the national standards and the three major reports on which the Massachusetts recommendation is based are funded by Gates. It's a little like being judge and jury," said Jamie Gass, director of the Center for Education Reform at the Pioneer Institute.

The Pioneer Institute has been a frequent critic of the Obama administration's effort to replace state education systems with a more uniform, national curriculum, as well as Gov. Deval Patrick's willingness to participate.

The Gates Foundation since January 2008 has awarded more than $35 million to the Council of Chief School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the two main organizations charged with drafting and promoting common standards.

In the run-up to his recommendation, Chester told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that he would base his decision on analysis being done by his staff, as well as independent reports prepared by three state and national education research firms -- Achieve, Inc., The Fordham Institute, and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.

Achieve, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based education-reform organization, received $12.6 million from the Gates Foundation in February 2008, according to data provided to the Washington Post by the foundation.

The Fordham Institute has accepted more than $1.4 million from the Gates Foundation, including nearly $960,000 to conduct Common Core reviews.

In the group's final report for Massachusetts, Achieve researchers wrote that the Common Core standards were "more rigorous and coherent" than Massachusetts standards.

"Policy makers can be assured that in adopting the Common Core State Standards, they will be setting learning expectations for students that improve upon those currently set by California and Massachusetts, and that the college and career-ready bar in the Common Core State Standards are set at a level that currently surpasses the level of the mathematics required for graduation in both states," the report stated.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education contracted for a study to be produced by the San Francisco-based WestEd, which also operates Learning Innovations in Woburn.

WestEd's director of assessment and standards, Stanley Rabinowitz, served on the validation committee for the Common Core standards and has already signed off on them.

Linda Noonan, executive director of MBAE, said it is difficult to find any organization with the expertise to perform a comparison study that had not somehow been involved in the drafting of national standards.

"WestEd has so much at stake in their reputation that we felt they were above reproach because they have worked for so many different people," Noonan said. "I'm rejecting the notion that the source of funding effects the outcome."

Noonan also said that she requested a "firewall" between Rabinowitz and anyone else at WestEd involved in the Common Core initiative before signing the contract.

"Not only did he not work on it, he did not share any knowledge he had with the team," Noonan said.

MBAE also requested that outside researchers sign off on WestEd's methodology.

Chester did not wait for the findings of the MBAE study. The report is scheduled to be released tomorrow, giving members of the board another document to review before they vote.

— Matt Murphy
The Lowell Sun





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