Tag Archives: Wisconsin Forward Exam

Ten Year Sentence: Locked Into Common Core by Cronyism and Deception

Scott Walker Sentences Wisconsin Students to Ten Years on Common Core

Scott Walker Sentences Wisconsin Students to Ten Years on Common Core

We have reported here that, even though Scott Walker’s biennial budget contained language that says “no effect shall be given to Common Core standards,” the Wisconsin Department of Administration bidding process on the new Badger Exam made very clear that the new state assessments in mathematics and English language arts will indeed be Common Core aligned.

On September 10, 2015 the Department of Administration announced that a panel consisting of four Department of Public Instruction officials and one “other person” had chosen Data Recognition Corporation (DRC) as the winner of the bidding process on the new state assessment, now renamed the Wisconsin Forward Assessment. DRC had beaten at least two other companies, Pearson Education and ACT, Inc. and is in the process of negotiating a ten year contract valued at a reported $63 million with the state of Wisconsin.

Data Recognition Corporation – A Major Common Core Player

Though not as well known as some of the major players in the Common Core area, DRC collaborated with American Institute for Research (AIR) to develop the test delivery system for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Yes, this is the same test delivery system that ran into so many technical problems in the 2014-2015 school year that the Badger Exam needed to be scaled back and the results effectively ignored.  From the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consotium press release:

The test delivery system encompasses test registration, presenting the assessment items to students, and delivering the data from the test to reporting systems. Under this contract, AIR, in collaboration with Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), will modify its existing test delivery system to meet Smarter Balanced specifications for the Pilot Test of the assessment system in early 2013 and the Field Test in early 2014. AIR’s system is used by several states to deliver statewide online assessments. It is compatible with the range of technology in schools, including computers, laptops, and tablets—requiring only a secure Internet browser for administration. The system will be optimized for release in its open source version in fall 2014.

DRC describes its role in developing the Smarter Balanced Assessments:

Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), a leading provider of educational assessment, survey, and document services, today announced that it is part of a team selected by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) to develop the first set of nearly 10,000 student test questions for the new Common Core Assessments.

DRC will work collaboratively with five partners to develop the test items for the Smarter Balanced assessment system. DRC’s partners include the prime contractor, CTB/McGraw-Hill, The American Institutes for Research, The Council for Aid to Education, HumRRO, and The College Board.

“DRC is delighted to be part of this innovative partnership of six unique organizations dedicated to delivering Smarter Balanced’s next generation performance assessments and technology-enhanced items,” said DRC Chief Executive Officer and President Susan Engeleiter. “We will all work together to ensure Smarter Balanced’s vision for the next generation of student assessments is achieved.””

On June 30, 2015, DRC acquired the CTB assessment business from major Common Core player McGraw-Hill.  CTB is the creator of the Common Core aligned Terra Nova Common Core Tests and Assessments.  CTB has an 85 year track record in standardized testing.  With the addition of CTB, DRC has significantly deepened its commitment to Common Core. Many of the key players at CTB are now working for DRC.

DRC’s own website touts the company’s expertise in implementing Common Core:

DRC is a leader in helping states transition to new standards or to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In this role, we have been instrumental in helping our state clients implement a variety of transition strategies ranging from helping them design a new assessment system to helping them increase the rigor of an existing system.

Our tasks have ranged from serving as national content experts providing support to alignment of the common core to existing state standards to working with a given state’s educators to develop a new set of career- and college-readiness standards.  DRC’s work through the years in developing items and tests for numerous state testing programs and in conducting over 300 alignment studies has uniquely prepared our team to provide this support to states in transition.

The bottom line is that DRC has been a major player in developing the Smarter Balanced assessment, collaborating with other major players like CTB McGraw-Hill, the Student Board (creators of the SAT), and AIR.  With the acquisition of CTB from McGraw-Hill, DRC has doubled down on its commitment to Common Core.  They are heavily invested in getting states to transition to Common Core standards.

Ten Year Sentence

Now, we already knew that, despite Governor Walker’s claims to the contrary, defunding the Smarter Balanced assessment in Wisconsin did not prevent Wisconsin from implementing a Common Core aligned state assessment.  In fact, the three bids entertained by the Department of Administration were all by major players in Common Core assessment: Pearson Education, ACT, Inc., and Digital Recognition Corporation.  It has come to light that the Department of Administration will be negotiating a ten year contract with the winner of the bid process, DRC, for a reported $63 million.  This effectively locks down the Wisconsin state assessments to be Common Core aligned for the next ten years!

Bill Gates, whose foundation is a major funder of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, has said:

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.

Many agree that the assessments drive curriculum, especially when coupled with high stakes accountability measures like we are implementing in Wisconsin.  So, we have effectively sentenced Wisconsin students to ten years of Common Core curriculum.  Quite a contrast from the claims in Scott Walker’s budget that say “no effect shall be given to Common Core standards.” There is indeed an effect – A TEN YEAR EFFECT!

The Walker Effect

Why has Governor Walker said he is against Common Core and claimed he stopped Common Core in Wisconsin and yet failed to actually prevent the state from locking in a Common Core curriculum for ten years?  It might have a little to do with Walker’s campaign donors… well, it might have a LOT to do with Walker’s campaign donors.

Almost as soon as DRC was announced as the winner of the bidding process for the Wisconsin Forward Exam, it was revealed that DRC President Susan Engeleiter had donated $10,000 to the Scott Walker campaign during Walker’s recall election.  A spokeswoman for Susan Engeleiter of Data Recognition Corp. said the donation occurred months before the state issued its request for proposals and that DRC staff had no discussions with the governor or his aides about a potential contract.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel posits:

Engeleiter contributed $10,000 to the Republican governor’s 2014 re-election campaign, her largest political contribution in nearly two decades, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Before the Walker donation, Engeleiter had contributed $100 to $200 to legislative candidates and $500 to Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers’ 2013 campaign.

This makes one wonder whether Ms. Engeleiter’s $10,000 contribution to the Governor’s campaign had anything to do with DRC securing the $63 million contract to produce the Wisconsin Forward Exam. (It should be noted that Ms. Engeleiter also contributed $500 to Department of Public Instruction Secretary Tony Evers’ 2013 campaign.  That surely didn’t hurt DRC’s chances to secure this contract.)

Cullen Werwie, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Administration, said neither the governor, nor his staff, was involved in the procurement process and that the selection was made by the Department of Public Instruction.  That may be, but the contribution may well have had an effect on the Governor’s clever wording of his budget proposals that made things appear he was against Common Core but left the door open for Common Core aligned state assessments.

However, there may be more going on here than just Susan Engeleiter’s $10,000 contribution…

Deeper Connections Between DRC’s Engeleiter and Scott Walker

The information in this section is quoted verbatim from wonderful research done by blogger lufthase at The Daily Kos in an article called WI Crony Capitalism: A Family Affair:

Susan Engeleiter’s father, Arthur W. Shannon, ran a Milwaukee-area flooring business. He was a well-known Republican fundraiser, rising to the ranks of State GOP Finance Chair in the 1970s. He had four children, Michael, Thomas, Dan, and Susan.

Michael S. Shannon is an investor in resorts and “leisure businesses.” He and his wife Mary Sue Goodspeed Shannon have donated $120k in “hard money” to Walker’s gubernatorial campaigns. Clearly that wasn’t enough to put their boy Scotty over the top, so they also kicked in a cool $1 million to the Republican Governors Association in 2014.   Eleven days after that contribution was made to the Republican Governors Association (RGA), “the RGA did transfer $1 million to its Right Direction political action committee, which is the entity running the ads in Wisconsin critical of Burke.“  Mary Burke was Walker’s Democrat opponent in the 2014 race for Wisconsin Governor.  Michael and Mary Sue Shannon have also pitched in $250k to Walker’s federal “Our American Revival” PAC so far this year.

Thomas M. Shannon is an investor in several WI businesses (more on that later) and has contributed a more modest $16,500 to Walker’s state campaigns. However, he and his wife Sue did show up to Scott Walker’s Presidential campaign kickoff event with the federal maximum $5,400 in hand. (Not for nothing, this 7/13 fundraiser would have been during the bidding process for the new state exams.)

Dan Shannon is a Senior Vice President at FIS Global (formerly Metavante, formerly the division of M&I Bank responsible for Wisconsinites referring to ATMs as “Tyme Machines”). He and his wife Lynn have contributed $3,450 to Walker’s state campaigns. They also attended Walker’s Presidential kickoff gala, contributing $1,000.

Of course this comes back around to WEDC…

With all this campaign cash flying around, you knew there would be some awards coming back the other way from Scott Walker’s slush-fund “job-creation” outfit, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

Thomas M. Shannon has a personal ownership stake in at least four companies that have so far received $3.6M from WEDC:

  • Aver Informatics Inc    10/05/11    $525,000 Tax Credit
  • Okanjo Partners, Inc.    09/01/11    $2,000,000 Tax Credit
  • Shamrock Energy Corporation    06/05/13    $150,000 Loan
  • Somna Therapeutics, LLC    04/13/12    $1,000,000 Tax Credit

Additionally, all four siblings are founding partners in the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation. This is a 501(c)(3) that gets its nonprofit status specifically because it “assists” and “reduces the burden” of WEDC. BrightStar’s leadership team includes out-going WEDC CEO Reed Hall and former WEDC VP Lisa Johnson.

It’s an interesting setup. BrightStar solicits tax-deductible donations from wealthy people and foundations and then they hand that capital to technology start-ups in WI. Despite the nonprofit label and philanthropic language, they do take ownership stakes in the businesses they fund. The hope is that somewhere down the line a few of these start-ups will have massive IPOs, and they’ll then be able to re-invest their profit in even more start-ups. I’ll leave it to the reader to ponder what happens if their investment success ever outpaces their ability to find new viable start-ups in WI.

BrightStar’s investment portfolio has benefited from over $17.5M in WEDC awards thus far:

  • Beekeeper labs, Inc.    10/16/14    $1,000,000 Tax Credit
  • Emopti, Inc.    03/13/15    $175,000 Tax Credit
  • Fishidy, Inc.    07/23/12    $1,000,000 Tax Credit
  • Forward Health Group, Inc    06/30/14    $2,000,000 Tax Credit
  • Modern Movement, Inc.    03/27/15    $125,000 Tax Credit
  • Okanjo Partners, Inc.    09/01/11    $2,000,000 Tax Credit
  • Pinpoint Softwares, Inc.    02/01/12    $1,000,000 Tax Credit
  • Protein Foundry, LLC    06/23/14    $1,000,000 Tax Credit
  • Quietyme, Inc.    07/15/13    $1,000,000 Tax Credit
  • SHINE Medical Technologies, Inc.    05/19/14    $2,000,000 Tax Credit
  • SHINE Medical Technologies, Inc.    12/12/13    $4,000,000 Loan
  • Swallow Solutions, LLC    02/02/12    $135,000 Loan
  • The Good Jobs, Inc.    11/07/12    $1,000,000 Tax Credit
  • The Good Jobs, Inc.    12/11/14    $70,000 Loan
  • WholeTrees, LLC    06/19/12    $1,000,000 Tax Credit
  • WholeTrees, LLC    06/11/14    $170,000 Loan

All totalled, Engeleiter and her siblings donated over $1.4 million to Scott Walker’s advancement.  The family is enmeshed in Republican politics for generations and heavily involved with Scott Walker’s WEDC.

Data Recognition Corporation in Need of Help

It should be pointed out that Data Recognition Corporation did considerable downsizing just one year ago (September, 2014) due to “revenue impacts from uncertainty in K-12 education, including test changes and ‘political battles’ at state education departments.”

It is certainly not beyond belief that the Governor left the door open to having the Wisconsin Forward Exam being produced by a company with ties to a powerful Wisconsin political family that had contributed very, very generously to his past and current campaigns.  Could this be why he called for the defunding of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and for ending the Smarter Balanced Assessment in Wisconsin, but stopped just short of demanding that Wisconsin not have a Common Core aligned assessment.  This Governor and his Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation have moved heaven and earth for much smaller donations.

One has to ask whether or not Scott Walker came to the aid of a company run by a member of a family that contributed heavily to his political success.

Locked Into Common Core

It is now confirmed that the new Wisconsin State Assessment, the Wisconsin Forward Exam, will be Common Core aligned, produced by a Common Core powerhouse, and, with the Governor’s emphasis on accountability, curriculum will also necessarily become Common Core aligned.  Money has flowed into the Governor’s coffers and now money has flowed back to companies owned by contributors via the WEDC and now through a lucrative DPI contract.  Everyone wins, except the children.  Students are locked into Common Core curriculum and high stakes testing for ten years.

Long after the checks are cashed and politics has run its course the children growing up under the cronyism and deception exhibited by Governor Walker will be left lamenting their education.  Selfish decisions made today will impact our children’s futures dramatically. Scott Walker’s legacy will not be one of reforming education for the better.  Instead, Scott Walker is leaving a legacy of shameless self promotion, deception, trickery, and unabashed cronyism.