At the March 4 Los Angeles Unified School Board meeting, the Board approved a five-year contract for $2.45 million for American Institutes for Research. According to LAUSD's two-page description of the contract in the 452-page Board meeting materials distributed to the public, the contract is "for the evaluation of the Common Core Technology Project (CCTP)," and "the evaluation of the CCTP from an outside evaluator is at the request of the Superintendent and Board of Education."
Prior to Board approval, I shared the following remarks with School Board members during the three minutes allotted each speaker during public comment:
"Good afternoon Board members and superintendent. I'm David Lyell, teacher and elected secretary of United Teachers Los Angeles. You're about to vote on a $2.45-million contract for American Institutes for Research, or AIR, to study and evaluate Common Core Technology Project implementation.
This contract is problematic for a number of reasons.
The District received $113 million in one-time funding from the state of California for Common Core State Standards implementation. As part of the budget recommended by the superintendent, and adopted by this Board, instead of using this money to train teachers in CCSS implementation and pay us at our regular rate, the adopted budget stipulated that, for the training, teachers would either be paid $17 or $25 an hour. This is one of many reasons UTLA has encouraged school staff to download and use our Common Core Training Rate Boycott Toolkit from utla.net. Paying teachers a substandard rate for training is insulting. What other professional would be expected to be trained for less than their hourly rate during non-work hours?
Frankly, it's this sort of management style that led to a vote of no confidence in the superintendent last year, when 91 percent of the 17,000 UTLA members who participated cast a vote of "no confidence" in Superintendent Deasy.
So aside from asking teachers to work for a fraction of our regular rate, you're now about to spend nearly $2.5 million on a contract to study Common Core technology implementation.
The group you're contracting with, AIR, has received at least several million dollars in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the superintendent's former employers. While that in and of itself may not constitute a conflict of interest, AIR's relationship with the Gates Foundation is problematic because Bill Gates is clearly not neutral when it comes to his views on how to improve schools.
Mr. Gates is seemingly interested in implementing merit pay and weakening due process protections, and he doesn't seem interested in what our students most need -- smaller class sizes, fully staffed campuses, fair treatment for teachers, and a fair wage for employees. So if you're contracting with an organization that has received millions in funding from his foundation, how can you reasonably be assured that the conclusions reached will be neutral, fair, and unbiased? In closing, for these and other concerns, please vote against this contract.
Despite these concerns, the Board adopted the contract by a consent vote -- meaning it was adopted without discussion.
As if these red flags weren't alarming enough, Mr. Gates openly admits to helping fund the development of CCSS. Though in the same article he attempts to refute allegations that CCSS was developed without input from teachers, parents, state, or local governments, in fact, his foundation has given millions to the four principal organizations responsible with developing CCSS.
We've been down this road before. We had No Child Left Behind and then Race to the Top, and each focused on high-stakes testing and uniformity -- and each created more work and more bureaucracy for teachers, administrators, and communities -- which meant less individualized instructional time with students.
No one is opposed to standards, yet standards don't transform education -- teachers and communities transform education. I met a fourth-grade teacher recently who had 38 students in his class. I visited a school recently that doesn't have a full-time librarian -- and these conditions are not merely isolated situations.
What our schools don't need is more bureaucracy from outside interests. The children of millionaires and billionaires attend private schools with small class sizes and fully staffed campuses. Why is it that what's good enough for the children of millionaires and billionaires isn't good enough for all students?
Given that AIR has received millions in funding from the Gates Foundation, will anyone be surprised if AIR produces a report that concludes that CCSS and LAUSD's Common Core Technology Project is wonderful and amazing and transformed public education?
Somebody is getting rich off all these contracts, and it's not students.