William Ayer’s Staff at “Achieve Inc.” Wrote Alaska’s Standards?

Many Alaskans may not be familiar with an organization named Achieve, Inc. but it has been the primary driver in the implementation of Barack Obama’s educational agenda. It is an organization that enshrines the mojo of William Ayers and specializes in the implementation of the common core standards and facilitates the entry of states into one of two consortia: Partnership for Assessing College and Career Readiness (PARCC) or Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). William Ayers is a long time friend ofLinda Darling Hammond, the Senior Adviser of SBAC. Therefore, it would hardly be surprising that the use of educational consulting firm that enshrines William Ayer’s mojo would then facilitate the writing of a state’s educational standards would result in a state becoming a member of a consortium headed by Linda Darling Hammond.

That is exactly what happened in Alaska.

The Alaska Department of Education continues to insist that the state of Alaska wrote its own educational standards and that they are “Alaska owned” and “Alaska made” and “cutting edge stuff.” The information submitted by the state of Alaska for funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) clearly conflicts with that narrative. The ESEA Flexibility document is a tedious compendium of nearly 1,000 pages and is hardly a New York Times best seller; on a summer day in Alaska, it is hardly a choice reading. But as you read the actual document, rather than AK DEED’s cherry picked power point about the document, the truth of the matter emerges.

Of course, you have to get to the appendix attachment 5 of the actual document to find it out. This is a stark contrast to Dr. McCauley laughing at Rep. Wilson’s questions on the Common Core at the 8:11 mark here. The nervous laughter by Dr. McCauley is generally an indication to dig deeper.

The narrative that these standards are “Alaska’s Standards” and they were “written by Alaska teachers” was the marketing ploy decided upon early on by AK DEED. It was part of the plan laid out by Achieve, Inc with Commissioner Hanley. This blog will bear that out.

It may be true that Alaskan teachers wrote standards. It may be true that these standards were on a server for public comment. But that is not what was adopted. There are multiple iterations of the standards, and only the initial drafting involved teachers. Achieve’s staff was consulted at each phase of the process.

The Final Standards are not the ones written by the teachers and differ in substantial ways. I won’t bore the reader with gory details of Alaska’s standards that have been discussed by SBAC and in the blogs of other states, but after this article, the curious reader will readily see that these standards were actually not written by Alaskan teachers. With rare exception, they are word for word identical to the Common Core. There never was any intent on the part of Commissioner Hanley to adopt standards written by Alaska teachers. There was an intent to engage in a misinformation/publicity campaign calling the standards “Alaskan Made” as noted in the discussion of the Alaska Board of Education meeting minutes under 4 A1 on page 3 in December of 2011. But this was before the standards were even adopted, and even then they were admitting that the Common Core was the source document. By January of 2013, they were morphed and massaged into the Common Core standards publically licensed by CCSSO.

This is the same tactic that was used in Utah.

As detailed in a letter dated June 7, 2012 from UA President Patrick Gamble to US DOE Secretary Arne Duncan, Alaska’s journey into the Common Core process was tightly scripted. The implementation of the Common Core Standards began in 2010. Alaska DEED, under the direction of Mike Hanley, began planning the implementation of the common core with the assistance of William Ayer’s Achieve, Inc. This can be found buried in the ESEA Flexibility document. For convenience of the reader, this document is listed separately here. Gamble states

“…Alaska Department of Education and Early Development Staff coordinated with Achieve, Inc in the initial planning stages, of the standards revision process in 2010. Staff from Achieve reviewed Alaska’s revision plan and provided feedback via phone conversations and teleconferences. Achieve provided critical guidance for consideration of appropriate stakeholders, identifying key decision makers, and process-specific tasks, which Alaska incorporated into the review.”

Achieve, Inc. is nowhere mentioned in the ESEA Flexibility power point presented to Alaska’s Finance Subcommittee on Education. Indeed, Achieve Inc is not mentioned in the main narrative of the document, except in Patrick Gamble’s letter. Yet the process in Alaska clearly followed the guide written by Achieve Inc. to implement the Common Core.

I wonder how much in consulting fees was spent on that activity by the State of Alaska? The flexibility document discusses $300,000 spent on meetings, but does not list the consulting fees paid to William Ayer’s firm.

Achieve, Inc instructed AK DEED’s staff via telephone consultations at every part of the process. In the initial phase, teachers were pulled together and asked to compare the Common Core Standards to the existing Alaska Grade Level Expectations (AK-GLE). Standards were scored based on a rubric of anywhere from full alignment to not aligned at all. If not aligned, educators were then asked if the Alaska standard was more rigorous or less. Clearly then, the subsequent step would be to involve educators into accepting the Common Core Standards, or nearly so, while leaving them with the impression that they actually wrote them, or at least had a personal investment in them.

According to Patrick Gamble’s letter, Brian Gong and Karin Hess of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment were meeting facilitators. Brian Gong does have a background in psychology and worked for Educational Testing Services (ETS) before his work in Kentucky. Karin Hess’s work is in learning progressions. One could view leading educators from their own GLEs to the Common Core as an application of a learning progression. One could speculate on why psychologists were used to facilitate these meetings, but that is left for the reader to investigate. The process seemed to follow the path that is in the Achieve’s Path to Implementation document on page 20.

After the initial round, the Alaska English standards magically emerged nearly perfectly aligned with the Common Core but lacked informational texts listed in the common core. The Alaska’s math standards had very little in common with the Common Core, perhaps suggesting that psychological maneuvering and jedi-mind tricks are not easily used on math teachers. The reports and scoring of these “teacher driven” standards still exist in archive form.

The creation of the draft standards was probably the last that most teachers involved in the process saw of the standards until they were published in their final form for approval. By December of 2011, the new standards were made available for public comment, according to page 3 of December 15-16 minutes of the Alaska State Board of Education. The Commissioner also indicated in this meeting that the Common Core was used as the starting point and that they intended to promote the Common Core standards were “made in Alaska.” There was also a discussion of a publicity campaign to gain further support for the “roll-out” of the standards as “Alaska made.”

The standards “sat on the server” for public comment and were submitted to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) for review. This is where the magical transformation of the standards took place. The first set of standards was apparently not quite close enough to the Common Core for approval by the CCSSO and suggestions were made to bring about a greater alignment of Alaska’s standards and the Common Core. That is when another set of standards emerged. These are probably the changes suggested by “stakeholder comments” that are discussed in the ESEA Flexibility document. It is in this period that the Alaska math standards morphed into the Common Core practically verbatim. Pythagorean Theorem, multiplication table memorization, and a host of other math concepts were purged from the state standards. The Common Core informational texts were brought into English Language Arts (ELA) standards and the literature not part of the Common Core removed. EPA manuals and UN publications took the place of British literature and other American classics. These are, quite frankly, major document changes that were undertaken by DEED with little oversight by the legislature, the taxpayers, the parents, and the teachers.

While it may be true that the document sat on the server for public comment, it really doesn’t seem that the AK DEED promoted it much. Certainly it sent out emails to the regular suspects, but these were all pre-defined by Achieve, Inc. Voters, taxpayers and parents didn’t seem to be a priority for DEED. They can spend $300,000 for meetings to fly all over the state to obscure areas, but heaven forbid they spend $5.00 on a promoted post on Facebook that could reach the whole state, or go large and spend $85.00 on an ad on Drudge or Facebook. They didn’t even advertise in papers outside of Anchorage, nor consider the free publications in the state that appear to garner substantial readership in the outer reaches of the state. You can believe that every educational consultant on the planet knew about them, and you can bet these “stakeholders” were submitting comments.

In June 2012, the Final Standards were approved. By August 2, 2012, the exchange between the CCSSO and AK DEED show that the final standards are quite closely aligned, but perhaps not close enough. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Executive Committee approved proposed changes to the SBAC Governance document on 9/18/2012. Under this provision, states that had standards that were “substantially identical” to the common core could enter the consortia. This action allowed Alaska to be considered for membership status. However, the state would have to prove that the standards were “substantially identical.”

By January 22, 2013, Scott Norton, Strategic Initiative Director of the CCSSO issued the memo stating

“…analysis showed that the final Alaska ELA and Math Standards track nearly exactly with the Common Core, employing the same structure and language used in the CCSS, with nearly all the CCSS being used verbatim in the Alaska Standards.”

This should put to bed the notion that Alaska’s Standards were written by Alaskans, owned by Alaskans, or originated in Alaska.

The truth is that the plan was in place long ago by Commissioner Hanley and Achieve, Inc. to call the Common Core standards “Alaska made and owned” and not the common core. Then the state would be entering the consortia and proving their standards were substantially identical while telling the Alaskan public that they were not the common core. After all, the teachers attended the meeting where they were drafted right? So they will defend them, to their own detriment and that of Alaska’s children, parents, and taxpayers.

Are there some minor differences between Alaska’s Standards and the Common Core? Of course, every state is allowed to 15% either in the form of an additional sentence or an additional clause to a sentence to provide clarification. Alaska doesn’t have nearly that much variance from the Common Core. Never fear, Achieve tells states how to deal with that 15% on pages 23 of implementation guide. Anything that is not part of the Common Core is to be ignored. It won’t be on the Consortia tests. As Brian Gong notes in his 2012 presentation, the Consortia drive the process. Retention and promotion for teachers and principals are now tied to the results of the SBAC tests. Only the Common Core content will be on that test, not the “state content.” Thus, anything that varies from the Common Core will be merely letters on a page.

The ESEA Flexibility money totaled $69 Million for Alaska. In exchange for that money and Alaska’s right of self-determination and freedom, they agreed to enter a consortia program that is going to cost billions to implement. Well, now I understand why the state’s finances are in such a bad state and why virtue is so lacking.

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Dr. Barbara Haney is an economist, political activist, and social media consultant in Alaska. She has previously served as a program director and faculty member at University of Alaska, Eastern Illinois University, University of Notre Dame, and other colleges and research institutions. In addition to her university experience, Dr. Haney has served as an ABE educator and a home school educator. She has served as a district chairman, national delegate, and campaign volunteer in various Republican campaigns. Dr. Haney receives mail at BarbaraHaney100@gmail.com