Maryland, PARCC, and Common Core: Dr. Lowery and the tangled web of corporate interest

Set out runnin’ but I take my time, a friend of the devil is a friend of mine

-Grateful Dead-

Is this any way to start off a new year?

Are you scratching you head wondering…wondering why it is that Maryland has decided to become the PARCC fiscal agent? First of all, what does this mean?

In its new position, Maryland will manage the finances of the state-led consortium starting on January 1, 2014. Florida previously held that role within PARCC, which is made up of 18 states plus the District of Columbia. Florida and Maryland have been working closely together to ensure a smooth transition of responsibilities.


It is worthy of a head scratch because you know something’s gotta be wrong with this “deal” when even Florida, ground zero for corporate-styled reform policies rejected the offer. Maybe our new state superintendent Dr. Lillian Lowery can answer the question. Her affiliations with corporate-driven individuals and groups might lead us to the answers some of us seek.

First and foremost, Dr. Lowery is a graduate of the Eli Broad Superintendents Academy (class of 2004). What does this mean?

The Broad Superintendents Academy runs a training program held during six weekends over ten months, after which graduates are placed in large districts as superintendents.

The Broad Foundation also supports a broad range of pro-charter school advocacy groups, as well as alternative training programs for non-educators who want to work as teachers and principals (Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools).

A hallmark of the Broad-style leadership is closing existing schools rather than attempting to improve them, increasing class size, opening charter schools, imposing high-stakes test-based accountability systems on teachers and students, and implementing of pay for performance schemes. The brusque and often punitive management style of Broad-trained leaders has frequently alienated parents and teachers and sparked protests.

Eli Broad and the Broad Foundation are preceeding by maybe only Bill Gates in the charge to dismantle public education via venture philanthropy, erode teacher union rights, democratic states rights, and children’s privacy rights.

What else about Dr. Lowery should we know?

During her reign as state superintendent of Delaware she worked closely with McKinsey and Co (a global consulting firm) whose obsession with big data is unparalleled. They have also birthed some of the biggest names in education reform: Lou Gerstner (co-founder of Achieve), David Coleman, and Sir Michael Barber. It is the latter player, who is now the Chief Education Strategist at Pearson, with whom Lowery worked while he was the CEO of the US Education Delivery Institute to offer evaluative “insight” and recommendations on the state of educational affairs in DE. Governor Markell selected Michael Barber’s education group at McKinsey & Company to facilitate the RtTT application development. He assisted the Performance Management Team tracking performance data and other management needs related to their Race to the Top application.

So now, Barber worked directly with Dr. Lowery and is now a CEO at Pearson, and Pearson contracts with PARCC. And what about the other folks from McKinsey from whom Lowery sought education advice? Lou Gerstner is the gentleman who said during a National Governors Convention that, “education is big business, why are we not in it?” and advocated to abolish the 50-state departments of education so “it would be easier to get their education reforms through.”

O’Malley, who signed on to the MD partnership calls it a “favor to President Obama.” I’d call it a favor to PARCC. It’s not favor to Maryland students. It certainly is not a favor to local minority businesses. Because the PARCC Inc. organization is already doing the work, the contract was awarded to it as “a sole source,” with no competitive biddingJolivet told the Board of Public Works the contract has, “not one dime for the minority business community.” Further, he urged the board to reject the contract because “it is tinged with racial discrimination and exclusionary practices.”

But the most central reason why Maryland has agreed to this train wreck of a PARCC partnership might involve Lowery’s service on the Governing Board for PARCC itself.

According to PARCC’s Senior Vice President Laura Slover the bulk of the federal money “passes through” the state to the contractors. They include ETS and Pearson, which already produce Maryland’s current assessment tests. Ohhhhh……money laundering. OK.

And while Dr. Lowery attempts to explain that the testing is a completely separate issue from the implementation of Common Core by K-12 schools, one cannot help but notice that Laura Slover, PARCC’s Senior VPs prior employment included working at Achieve since 1998, and most recently serving as the Vice President for Content & Policy Research, where she led Achieve’s efforts on the development of Common Core State Standards. Sure, Dr Lowery….no connection between PARCC and Common Core. Except that the sole purpose of the latter is to serve the former.

While this proposition clearly bodes well for Lowery herself, it obviously also bodes well for Achieve, PARCC, and Pearson. I continue to wonder how it will bode for children, teachers, and schools in Maryland. The questions posed by Holcombe bear our examination:

Ohio, Indiana, Oklahoma and Georgia have pulled out of PARCC and now the PARCC “Fiscal Agent” Florida has too. Florida is a HUGE loss for the scheme. What will PARCC governing board member Kevin Huffman and PARCC’s “project manager” Achieve Inc. (Bill Haslam, board member) do now? What can we expect from Achieve Inc.’s affiliate relationship with Pearson, who was touting to investors that they would be cashing in on making the tests for PARCC? Who will PARCC now use for a third string “fiscal agent”?

So why does Maryland charge forward into this fool’s errand? Go ask Dr. Lowery. I bet she knows….

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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