NPR recently came out with an image-repair article profiling one of Common Core’s five coauthors, former Bennington College professor Jason Zimba. Moms and dads tearing hair out at their kids’ math homework and Environmental Protection Agency regulation reading assignments (yes, that’s really Common Core-recommended) should feel sorry for him, because it says Zimba was frequently up until 3 a.m. devising their family torture device. Somehow, I’m not that surprised or sympathetic to hear Common Core has mysteriously not improved math instruction at Zimba’s daughter’s school. Because it hasn’t improved it much of anywhere else, either.
Even as Zimba and his colleagues defend the standards against cries of federal overreach, they are helpless when it comes to making sure textbook publishers, test-makers, superintendents, principals and teachers interpret the standards in ways that will actually improve American public education, not make it worse.
Like McCallum, Zimba agrees with the North Carolina dad that the question on his son’s Common Core-labeled math quiz was terrible. But as long as Americans hold to the conviction that most of what happens in schools should be kept under the control of states and local communities, the quality of the curriculum is out of his hands. ‘Like it or not, the standards allow a lot of freedom,’ he said.
The real problem with Common Core is that it’s not prescriptive enough! I’m so sorry, fellow Americans, but there’s this little thing standing in the way of applying my education omniscience to all children—it’s called “truth, freedom, and the American way”!
It’s now clear that everyone but the people who wrote and thrust Common Core upon the nation will bear the blame for its failure. First on the list of bumbling idiots: Teachers. Second: Curriculum developers. Neither apparently can understand what Common Core wants them to do. One wonders if it’s written in English? Because, you know, we use language to communicate? It can actually be very precise. Ah, right, even a quick look at Common Core will reveal that it is not, in fact, written in English. Design flaw? No, no: Blame the teachers who can’t read non-English!
To the point: NPR further reveals that Zimba gave up his professorship to devote his time to writing Common Core curriculum through an organization he co-founded with two other Common Core coauthors. How much does Zimba make through his public service through this nonprofit? Well, its 2012 IRS form 990 (the latest available—I’ve been through a lot of these babies, and they are usually quite outdated) says he made a cool $332,263. That’s probably not his entire annual income, as he travels to show teachers how to do Common Core right.
Zimba isn’t the only person making a lot of money from constructing a disaster. In fact, everywhere you look, people intimately involved with creating or pushing Common Core are making a lot of money despite having demonstrated exactly zero proven success at increasing student achievement. How convenient for them.
David Coleman, Zimba’s Partner in Crime
David Coleman is another of the five Common Core coauthors, and he and Zimba go way back. They were both Rhodes scholars. Zimba worked at the college Coleman’s mother runs. They started Student Achievement Partners(SAP)—the nonprofit where Zimba now works—together. They wrote a report calling for national curriculum mandates that got them noticed and hired by education nationalizers to write Common Core, for a still-undisclosed sum and under still-undisclosed conditions (apparently, NPR’s reporting only goes so far as the material Zimba and Coleman wish to feed them).
Anyway, the 2012 SAP 990 says Coleman earned $271,392 from it that year. But he also transitioned in 2012 to president of the College Board. You know, that tiny nonprofit that runs the SAT and Advanced Placement classes and has locked in millions in taxpayer dollars through state contracts and federal grants? That one. Well, College Board’s 990s are no more recently filed than SAP’s, but its 2012 document gives some clues to Coleman’s compensation. His predecessor earned a cool $1,848,009 that year. Coleman only began on October 1, and for his three months of work that year earned only $117,518. I’m not sure I could feed my kids on that, but when you multiply it out using non-Common Core math to cover a full year, that would bring his total annual College Board pay to $470,072.
Either College Board got Coleman cheap because of the black Common Core mark on his record, they paid him a prorated rate as he worked alongside his predecessor, or he’s got to work up to that $1.8 million per year. Or something. But, hey, I wouldn’t complain at a cool $470,072 per year. I think I could finally take the kids to Europe with it. Maybe after saving up for a few weeks.
Former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein
Talk about golden parachute. Joel Klein left his quarter-million annual salary as New York City schools chancellor to run News Corp.’s then brand-new education division, which bets Common Core would give its high-tech products instant access to a nationwide market. His new base salary: $2 million annually, plus stock options, and the possibility of at least $1.5 million in annual bonuses, according to Bloomberg News. He also got a $1 million signing bonus. In the meantime, he made time to coauthor Common Core-supporting op-eds in the Wall Street Journal.
It kind of makes the six-digit earnings of all these other Common Core money-makers look wimpy. Klein, however, has yet to turn a profit, which he has to do by persuading thousands if not millions of individual people to buy his stuff. Most of the other folks only have to persuade a few gullible, deep-pocketed donors.
After essentially blowing up New York State’s education system, state Education Commissioner John King parachuted to the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE), where he will become the No. 2.
King’s ties to Common Core are long and strong. He committed New York to Common Core months before it was written, which earned him a $700 million reward from USDOE, courtesy of the nation’s future taxpayers. Subsequently, King introduced “Common Core tests ahead of most states and before many schools had updated their textbooks” and spent a large portion of the federal grant creating Common Core curriculum.
Last fall, angry New Yorkers demanded answers from King about why their kids suddenly couldn’t do math and why school counselors’ offices were suddenly overloaded with nervous, twitchy kids. So he scheduled a series of public forums. But when he showed up, he refused to answer parents’ questions and told them that essentially no matter what they said, New York would not alter course on Common Core. The thousands of parents packing that forum got angrier, and shouted for him to answer. So he canceled the rest of the planned forums and has been hiding out ever since.
As commissioner, King earned $212,500 per year, reported the New York Times. He hasn’t been paid from the federal treasury yet, but colleagues at similar levels make about the same. Assistant Secretary Danny Harris makes $179,655; Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton makes $177,000. That’s their base salaries before benefits, so probably King will earn about the same from national taxpayers as he did from those in New York.
Spectacularly fail at government work, and you get promoted. Are you paying attention, kids? Flunking to the top: It’s the Common Core way.
As chief of staff to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Weiss made $179,700 in base pay in 2012. While there, she directed the Race to the Top grants that weaseled 41 states into promising to adopt Common Core before it was written. In fact, as the Washington Post reported four years after the fact, Duncan had originally put Common Core directly into the grant requirements by name. For political reasons, they decided to be a little more deceptive in the final version and instead use a definition of what was acceptable so narrow that it to this day only includes Common Core. And Weiss’s own website says she “was responsible for designing the [Race to the Top] policy to maximize its impact” and “writing the regulations.” So it’s not a stretch to imagine she wrote that requirement with her own hand. At the very least, she was fully aware of and participated in the decision to do so.
Before the Obama administration, Weiss was the chief operating officer and a partner at the NewSchools Venture Fund. The 990s for her time there are no longer available (the IRS only requires nonprofits to post the three “most recent” years’ records), but in 2011 partners earned something near $200,000, give or take a few ten thousand.
Now, Weiss is one of those ubiquitous DC consultants, and she’s got deep-pocketed clients. Her website says they include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—of course, since Bill funds everything Common Core and his foundation has more money than every other—the Council of Chief School Officers (one of the Common Core incubators), and for the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. These all pay her for her Common Core expertise. For two, “Joanne is currently an Expert in Residence at the Harvard i-Lab and a visiting lecturer in education policy at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.” I bet she’s pretty comfortable.
Idaho state Superintendent Tom Luna has spent the past four years as Common Core’s fiercest champion in a red state where voters rebuked his tech-heavy education agenda in a 2012 referendum. As Idaho superintendent, Luna makes $101,150 per year. He’ll get a boost when he moves on to Project Lead the Way, a curriculum development company that got a boost from Common Core making it suddenly a fit for nearly every school in the nation.
No word yet on Luna’s salary, but fellow vice presidents at the nonprofit make between $110,000 and $127,000, according to its latest 990. As a resident of Indiana, where PLTW is headquartered, let me assure you that’s a comfortable income for these parts.
It’s not just higher-ups like Luna using Common Core advocacy as a springboard into very well-padded futures. Stephanie Zimmerman, a mother of eight who is Idaho’s grassroots Common Core watchdog, reports that “Common Core has been good for members of our State Department of Education.” Her post details more from in-state. This is happening all across the country, not just in Idaho. Common Core is good to lots of people. Just not the children whose faces they trotted out to get it passed.
Oh, and by the way, former Education Secretary and Common Core-nik Bill Bennett is a senior advisor to Project Lead the Way. Since, as he told Politico when they reported he was paid by a public relations firm for a Wall Street Journal op-ed praising Common Core, “I’m compensated for most of the things that I do,” it’s fair to assume Bennett makes some money from Common Core curriculum, too, besides getting paid for his advocacy. That makes him essentially a paid spokesman, which is fine—but that should be disclosed to people reading and listening to him. So far as I know, it’s not.
The conflicts of interest involved with Common Core exist for essentially every person and organization that has publicly backed the project. Still believe it’s not a special-interest boondoggle?
Dane Linn’s bio says he “co-led the development of the Common Core State Standards” back when he worked for the National Governors Association. It’s unclear what exactly that means, as we know other people did the actual writing, but it is clear that he was in some sort of management capacity. So probably he rode herd on the, well, herd of people whose names are attached to Common Core but about whom the public has been not only told little but given no role in choosing. If you care to find out more, you can read his paper about it for the American Enterprise Institute.
Although we the public are not to know what Linn earned for his work on Common Core, we can make an educated guess about what he earns now as a vice president for the Business Roundtable, which along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce rides herd on Republican politicians so they won’t see there’s anything wrong with Common Core a little campaign cash can’t fix. The Roundtable’s latest 990 fills up as many slots as it can with the uncompensated members of its board, so there’s no room left to report Linn’s compensation. But it does report the compensation of one other vice president: Maria Ghazal earns $393,535.
We’re almost to the end of Common Core coauthors. Second on the English team was Susan Pimentel, the third Student Achievement Partners, er, partner. In 2012, Pimentel earned $335,367 from SAP. She does other consulting, too, and has a personal nonprofit from which she made similar amounts, but since the Common Core gig it seems to be largely an empty shell.
The fifth of the five Common Core coauthors is William McCallum, head of the University of Arizona’s math department. At the university, public records say McCallum earns $155,000 a year. NPR says McCallum has also started a nonprofit curriculum company to generate materials for Common Core: Illustrative Mathematics. Its 990s aren’t available yet, but the Gates Foundation’s website says the foundation gave Illustrative Mathematics a three-year grant of $3,416,901 in 2012. Illustrative Mathematics also received a mere $75,000 from the Hewlett Foundation in November 2014 “for development of a strategic business plan.”
Making Money Isn’t the Problem: Cronyism Is
Before I close out, let me be clear (for real, unlike that other fellow who likes to use this phrase): I have no problem with people making lots of money. I’m not against profits or earnings. If Klein can earn $3.5 million a year making widgets people freely buy, good for him. I sincerely hope he has a good life with all that money. So I’m not trying to make an envy-based critique that people making more money than me must be evil, or that just because Common Core’s supporters are typically rich elites using their excess money to manipulate public opinion there’s anything wrong with that. Ahem.
There are two fairer and broader points. First, we have an obvious conflict of interest problem here. People deserve to know when a prominent official or self-proclaimed “expert” who is testifying before state legislatures or writing op-eds is making money from their persuasive efforts. It means their judgment is not entirely independent, even if they feel it so. Basic ethics requires someone with a financial or personal stake in the outcome of a public decision to recuse himself from participating in that decision. That has not been happening.
Second, it indicates rampant cronyism, which is a form of political and social corruption. We see that Common Core is infested with essentially the same set of people rewarding each other with taxpayer dollars and huge private grants, decades before there can be any proof that all this money laundering produced a genuine public good. Common Core is a giant experiment, remember. Bill Gates says he won’t know if his “education stuff” worked for “probably a decade.” Former public officials (or semi-public officials, which is what I label the Common Core coauthors, because while we did not elect them we all must live with their decisions) are amply rewarded for doing what the rich and powerful wanted with sweet compensation packages following their “public service.”
The short of it is that there is a lot of money to be made from national curriculum mandates and tests, regardless of their effectiveness. The financial statements of curriculum companies are not detailed enough to flesh this out for them as I have for people who sit on the boards of smaller nonprofits, but they are making millions in government contracts. For example, Pearson, the world’s largest curriculum and testing company, has gotten millions from the federal government and its proxies to write and deliver portions of Common Core tests. And it’s set to have ongoing revenue from its role in these tests: “Pearson will earn a minimum of $138 million in the first year” of Common Core testing. That’s 2015. Pearson will also make millions from selling Common Core curriculum, which NPR says Common Core coauthor Phil Daro is helping write.
Millions of dollars and an exciting career are huge attractions for people to do well by themselves. But we yet have no proof that any of this has been doing well by the kids. In fact, the evidence suggests Common Core will spectacularly fail children and society. Shouldn’t people earn money only for demonstrated success, instead of promised success? In a free market, they would. But we all have to buy Common Core, whether we like it or not, and we have no ability to demand proof that it works before the sale. These sweetheart deals are only going one way, and it’s not ours.