Arne Duncan’s “Transparent” Department of Education is Anything But
Confusion abounds regarding the Common Core standards crafting and why two private organizations (Council of Chief State School Officers and The National Governors Association) were funded by the Department of Education for this activity. Arne Duncan can insist that these are not “federal standards” which lead to a national curriculum, but the truth is, the standards development was funded by the USDOEd. The department’s fingers are all over the CCSS.
Getting answers to questions to the adoption process is not easy. As the CCSSO and NGA are private organizations, Freedom of Information Request information is limited. From FOIA Tip 14: Which Government Agencies can be FOIA’d?:
In general, private entities are not subject to the FOIA. This includes organizations and entities that are funded by the federal government or that enter into contracts to do work for the federal government. Contracts and related records can be requested from the contracting agencies, but you cannot file a request for records belonging to the private contractor, even if they are related to the contract work. However, documents that are maintained for an agency by a private entity under a records management contract are considered government records subject to the FOIA. To obtain such records, you must file a request with the federal agency, which is required to retrieve them from the contractor.
The Heartland Institute reported how CCSSO, NGA and the USDOEd operate in a clandestine manner and information is withheld from taxpayers, even as these private organizations are using tax dollars in crafting educational standards:
“What was behind those policies, what was considered, the different elements that went into them, the ideas that went into them—it’s a black box,” said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency watchdog. “The public do have the right to know the laws that are going to affect them and their families, especially when they’re paying for them.”
Supported by State Tax Dollars
State membership in each related CCSSO committee costs $16,000 each year, and states can and do participate in several committees. Committee leader Indiana, for example, participates in the math and social studies committees, where 23 and 10 states, respectively, are members, said Indiana Department of Education spokesman Adam Baker. On its latest financial statement, the CCSSO reported $2,187,626 in revenue from membership dues for all activities in 2011.
The USDOEd is withholding additional information on the amount of money paid to private debt collectors attempting to collect loans from college students. From Guest Post: Ed Dept. Doesn’t Think Public Should Know What it Pays Debt Collectors at edcentral.org:
President Obama has committed his administration to achieving new levels of openness in government. Unfortunately, time and again, the U.S. Department of Education has failed to live up to this promise, and instead has protected the interests of the private debt collectors it hires to collect from borrowers who have defaulted on their federal student loans.
In April, we at the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project published an article on Higher Ed Watch describing the challenges we faced getting the Department to respond to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Since then, the Department has spoken (on one of our requests at least) and it doesn’t seem to think the American public has a right to know how its student loan collection agencies perform or get paid.We sent a FOIA request to the Department in March requesting its evaluation of the debt collectors with which it contracts. In response, we received 17 pages that were completely redacted, and eight pages with all but the debt collectors’ names redacted. Really??? We are not entitled to any information? NCLC has appealed this decision.
…Legal arguments aside, this is information that the public has a right to know. The private collection agencies have been contracted to collect, on the federal government’s behalf, over $30 billion of defaulted federal student loans from financially distressed borrowers. They are paid by taxpayers who expect them to uphold the law. We should know not just about the amount they collect, but how they collect, and how much they are paid in commissions and bonuses.
Maybe a tactic to get to exactly how Common Core was adopted, who exactly wrote the standards and who is financially rewarded for this activity is to push legislatively for a change in FOIA to include providing information from those companies funded by the Department of Education. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia was funded 99% by federal tax money:
Smarter Balanced is a state-led consortium working collaboratively to develop next-generation assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that accurately measure student progress toward college and career readiness. The Consortium involves educators, researchers, policymakers, and community groups in a transparent and consensus-driven process to help all students thrive in a knowledge-driven global economy. The Consortium’s projects are funded through a four-year, $175 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, comprising 99 percent of activity resources, with the remaining support provided through generous contributions of charitable foundations.
The taxpayers deserve to know and should have the legal right to know how these standards were written and adopted and SBAC’s involvement.
Since President Obama insists he wants the most transparent administration ever, he should welcome such a change and have the facts accessible to the taxpayers. Otherwise, what we are left with is a shadow government run by private entities: