Above Photo: Richard Lee/Flickr
On October 03, 2019, I had a request on my blog from a commenter who asked if I “could do an investigation on this Wit & Wisdom curriculum we’re being forced to use.” In this case, “we” refers to Louisiana teachers. (The Louisiana Department of Education has a contract for Wit & Wisdom, effective 07/01/16 – 06/30/22.)
This is an extensive dive. Do make yourself comfortable.
Wit & Wisdom is a curricular product of Great Minds, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that also operates an LLC (limited liability company) (see”great minds” using this DC business license search engine). Great Minds also owns Eureka Math.
On its website, Great Minds identifies itself as a nonprofit founded in 2008. Here is the their “about” spiel:
ABOUT GREAT MINDS
A group of education leaders founded the non-profit Great Minds in 2008 to define and encourage content-rich comprehensive education for all American schoolchildren. In pursuit of that mission, Great Minds brings schoolteachers together in collaboration with scholars to craft exemplary instructional materials and share them with the field. Great Minds’ Eureka Math curriculum has won accolades at the state and national levels, and is the only comprehensive math curriculum aligned to the Common Core State Standards at every grade. The non profit also just released Wit & Wisdom, a new English curriculum that taps the power of literature, history and science to meet the expectations of the new standards.
Actually, in 2008, there was no nonprofit named Great Minds, and there wouldn’t be until 2015. The nonprofit formed in 2008 was named Common Core, Inc., which just happens to share a name with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that did not yet exist in 2008 (though, as Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton publicized in June 2014, in the summer of 2008, CCSS “lead writer” David Coleman and Council of Chief State School Officers exec director Gene Wilhoit apporached billionaire Bill Gates and asked him to bankroll CCSS).
Common Core, Inc., began with $285,200 in contributions and grants, and it was a nonprofit focused on the idea of a liberal education, including standards and assessments on the national level. The organization’s purpose, taken from the Common Core, Inc., 2008 tax return:
Creating and disseminating research on the state of liberal education. Research and formulate studies assessing the inclusion of liberal arts in state, national and independent standards, state and federal assessments, state and local curricula and high school graduation requirements, and teacher education and certification requirements.
Lynne Munson, former deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, served as Common Core, Inc., president and executive director ($41,250 for 40hrs/wk and the only compensated member of the board). Too, at the creation of Common Core, Inc., in 2008, education historian and former assistant secretary of education, Diane Ravitch, was on the Common Core, Inc., board as a co-chair. The other co-chair was Antonia Cortese, who at the time was secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers.)
In 2009, Common Core, Inc., reported $200,000 in revenue (contributions and grants). Same mission; same board.
Even though Common Core, Inc., did not mention CCSS by name on its 2010 tax form, Common Core, Inc., revenue jumped to almost $1M that year (all but $10K in the form of contributions and grants), and the Common Core, Inc., mission was slightly modified so that the nonprofit’s work “included” but was “not limited to information on liberal arts and science education programs and as a clearing-house for data on academic curricula and best practices in the field of education.”
In September 2010, Diane Ravitch left Common Core, Inc.
In 2010, Common Core, Inc., also paid DC-based education consultant Sheila Byrd $113,000 for “curriculum mapping/pro.manager/writer.” Byrd was an external reviewer of CCSS ELA standards. (In 2015, Byrd reviewed the EngageNY ELA CCSS curriculum. Note that Eureka Math was first known as EngageNY; in 2012 Common Core, Inc. contracted to create EngageNY’s math curriculum. I wrote about EngageNY/Eureka Math and its connection to Louisiana and to CCSS lead math writer, Phil Daro, in this September 2014 post.)
So many connections. But back to Common Core, Inc., progressing from 2010 to 2011:
In 2011, Common Core, Inc., did not fare as well with revenue (total revenue at $427K, less than half of the $1M received in 2010). Most of its revenue was spent on the liberal arts education focus; however, for the first time, CCSS was mentioned by name (and as a source of generating revenue, albeit next to nothing: $22K generated after expending $21K), as follows:
Conducted a series of professional development workshops intended to guide teachers and district/school leaders in their implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Common Core’s cirriculum (sp.) maps. In these sessions, the team facilitated the exploration of the new standards and the curriculum maps; prepared teachers to develop lessons and assessments based on the maps and modeled instructional practices.
On Schedule O of the 2011 Common Core, Inc., tax form, the curriculum maps are referred to as specifically related to ELA and are listed as a “new service” of Common Core, Inc.
And then came 2012. Common Core, Inc., reported receiving three contracts from the New York Department of Education “to create a PreK–12 mathematics curriculum to be hosted on the state’s EngageNY website. Common Core [Inc.] makes PDF files containing that work available free of charge.” (Note that the bottom of the page offers the purchase of that product, Eureka Math.):
Sample Math Curriculum
In 2012, Common Core won three contracts from the New York State Education Department [NYSED] to create a PreK–12 mathematics curriculum to be hosted on the state’s EngageNY website. Common Core makes PDF files containing that work available free of charge.
Get the most with Eureka Math
Eureka Math represents an extension of the work we did for the teachers of New York State. We encourage districts to consider purchasing for their teachers access to the full Eureka Math website, which enhances the PreK–12 mathematics curriculum with extensive professional development supports:
- Embedded “just-in-time” videos that demonstrate classroom practices.
- Convenient navigational tools that help teachers identify and remediate knowledge gaps, implement RTI tiers, and provide support for students at a variety of levels.
To purchase access to Eureka Math, click here.
- Grade 3 – Module 1 – Properties of Multiplication and Division and Solving Problems with Units of 2–5 and 10
- Grade K – Module 5 – Numbers 10–20 and Counting to 100
- Grade 6 – Module 1 – Ratios and Unit Rates
- Grade 9 – Module 1 – Relationships Between Quantities and Reasoning with Equations and Their Graphs
On its 2012 tax form, Common Core, Inc., revenue jumped to $3.3M (including $3M in contributions and grants; $130K in program service revenue, and $150K in “other revenue”).
Cost of the CCSS workshops rose from $21K in 2011 to $383K in 2012, and the term “Common Core State Standards” was replaced with “Common Core curriculum materials.” Given that at the time, the name of the nonprofit was Common Core, Inc., removal of the words “state standards” creates ambiguity. Note that the filing date for Common Core, Inc.,’s 2012 tax form is November 25, 2013, right about the time that the “Common Core rebrand” became a tactic for quelling public discontent. Just an observation. However, the name of the nonprofit itself would remain Common Core, Inc., for three more years.
Back to Common Core, Inc., 2012 tax information (with some asides):
Barbara Davidson is listed as “associate director of programs.” (In 2016, Davidson became the president of StandardsWork (see here also), an organization founded in 1992 by CCSS ELA “lead writer” Susan Pimentel.)
Finally, in 2012, Common Core, Inc., contracted with Louisiana math teacher Nell McAnelly for $132,300 as a “project leader” to develop EngageNY/Eureka math. From a 2016 Great Minds lifetime service award press release about McAnelly:
McAnelly first joined Great Minds (then known as Common Core) in 2011 as part of a small team of educators and mathematicians who came together to develop a Pre-K to 12 math curriculum carefully aligned to rigorous new college- and career-ready standards. A year later, she became project director of the effort. The following year, the curriculum was delivered and EngageNY Math (aka Eureka Math) was born.
Within 24 months, more than 30 million downloads of the curriculum had been recorded. A 2016 RAND Corporation study found Eureka Math/EngageNY to be the most widely used math curriculum in the country.
Prior to working with Great Minds, McAnelly taught math at the high school and university level for three decades. She continues advising the Gordon A. Cain Center for STEM Literacy at Louisiana State University, which she helped to transform into a major education research and outreach hub during her 30 years of teaching and service at LSU.
In a March 2014 Associated Press article, Eureka Math is billed as being “LSU developed Eureka Math.” The problem with the article is that it fails to mention that McAnelly and others writing Eureka Math were doing so for DC-based Common Core, Inc., and that Common Core, Inc., was under contract with the NY to produce EngageNY/Eureka Math. The way that the article reads could incorrectly lead one to believe that Eureka Math begins and ends with LSU and that Eureka Math, by implication, belongs to Louisiana.
If such were true, then Louisiana would not be paying Great Minds, LLC, of DC, for Eureka Math.
Back to the Common Core, Inc., tax forms:
In 2013, Common Core, Inc., revenue shot up to $9.6M, mostly in “government grants” ($8.7M), but also from “membership dues” ($436K). Of the $9.6M in total revenue, $6.4M was expended on developing curriculum, and $870K was used for professional development workshops related to curriculum.
Robin Ramos (Los Angeles) is identified as a “lead writer,” turns out, for a component of EngageNY/Eureka math ($142K). Nell McAnelly (Baton Rouge, LA) continues as “project leader” (EngageNY/Eureka math) ($135K).
(An aside: LSU math professor Scott Baldridge is apparently “the” lead writer of EngageNY/Eureka Math; Ramos was lead writer for a portion of it. See NY math teacher Gary Rubinstein’s 2015 take on what he calls “You Reeka Math.”)
2014. Name of org was still Common Core, Inc. Revenue rose to $16.5M, $4.7M of which was in “government grants.” Too, Common Core, Inc., reported $1M in “license income” and $7M in “royalties.” Finally, the professional workshops were drawing a profit; the $1.4M cost was less than the $2.2M revenue.
Don’t think “nonprofit” means an organization generates no revenue.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett (who pleaded guilty in 2015 of receiving kickbacks and bribes) was board chair (Bennett had been on the Common Core, Inc., board since 2008.)
Nell McAnelly was treasurer ($94K for 5hrs/wk). Lorraine Griffith (identified on prior tax forms as a curriculum writer) was listed as a “trustee” ($100K for 2hrs/wk). Too, Common Core, Inc., began paying for “branding” ($147K) and “marketing services” ($146K). And Sheila Byrd was back for “curriculum development–English” ($118K).
2015. Common Core, Inc., changed its name to Great Minds. In August 2015, Common Core-holdout and 2016 presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, called Common Core “poisonous.” Not sure if the name change was influenced by an attempt to avoid the words, “common core,” but the now-Great Minds nonprofit was making notable money. Program service revenue (the money generated by Great Minds products and services) ballooned from $3.2M in 2014 to $20M in 2015. At the same time, contributions and grants dropped, from $6.2M to $1.5M.
Eureka Math and Wit & Wisdom were clearly identified as Great Minds’ two 2015 “program service accomplishments.” Eureka Math’s description:
Eureka Math is a preK-12 curriculum that helps students to understand math deeply and to connect it to the real world, preparing them to solve problems they haven’t encountered before. The team of teachers and mathemeticians who created Eureka believe that it’s not enough for students to memorize a process for solving a problem, they need to know why that process works. Eureka uses clear models and proven instructional methods to help students become not just literate, but fluent in math. The curriculum is available free of charge for use by any educator on our website, greatminds.org.
In 2015, Eureka Math cost $7.8M but generated $18.1M– even as it is advertised as “available free of charge for use by any educator on our website, greatminds.org.”
“Free on our website” is producing big bucks somewhere (in, for example, state contracts).
The newer of the two Great Minds curricular offerings, Wit & Wisdom, cost Great Minds $2.9M in 2015 but generated only $97K:
Wit & Wisdom is a K-8 English curriculum based on authentic texts of the highest quality. Students use these texts at every turn– to learn, and eventually master, essential reading, writing, speaking, listening, grammar, and vocabulary skills. Instead of Basals, students read books they love to build knowledge of important topics and master literacy skills. All students read and discuss grade-level texts, with suggestions for support included at key moments throughout each lesson.
In 2015, Nell McAnelly replaced Barbara Byrd-Bennett as board chair ($89K for 10hrs/wk). William Kelly became treasurer ($100K for 5hrs/wk); “trustee” Lorraine Griffith took a cut in pay: only $93K for 2hrs/wk. And president/CEO Lynne Munson earned $317K for 40hrs/wk.
A number of others were also handsomely compensated, including “deputy director” Barbara Davidson ($191K for 40hrs/wk) and “lead writer” Robin Ramos ($157K for 40hrs/wk).
In 2015, Great Minds’ “branding and marketing” cost $1.2M.
That $18.2M in program revenue includes $13.3M in royalties, $2.3M in subscriptions, $1.4M in professional development workshops, and $1.2M in direct book sales. Almost all of Great Minds’ 2015 revenue was associated with Eureka Math.
2016. Great Minds’ revenue skyrocketed yet again, up to $44.2M. All but $100K was program service revenue:
- Royalties: $22.7M
- Direct Book Sales: $14.7M
- Professional Development Workshop: $4.2M
- Subscriptions: $2.6M
Eureka Math continued to be the major money-maker; it cost $17.8M but generated $42.6M. However, in 2016, Wit & Wisdom profits were in the hole for $4M; cost was $5.5M, yet revenue was only $1.5M.
Menwhile, Great Minds moved on to the next curricular venture, conducting “extensive planning for a new science curriculum,” for a 2016 cost of $60K.
Board chair McAnally was at $90K (10hrs/wk). President/executive director Lynne Munson is at $350K (40hrs/wk). Fifteen other individuals are listed as making between $126K and $216K as officers, key employees, or highest-compensated employees.
Furthermore, in 2016, Great Minds the nonprofit established Great Minds LLC (Schedule R). According to Nonprofit Law Blog, there are a number of reasons that a nonproft might create an associated LLC, including protecting the nonprofit from risks associated with assets or activities of the LLC or operating a business not substantially related to its tax-exempt purpose without risking revocation of the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status.
I think the liability protection is the chief reason. From Schedule O of the Great Minds 2017 tax form:
On January 1, 2017, Great Minds entered into a bill of sale, assignment and assumption agreement with Great Minds LLC, which is a disregarded entity (not separate from its owner) of Great Minds. The agreement transferred certain operating activities, including the marketing, selling and implementation of all the current and future products of Great Minds, to Great Minds LLC. Additionally, Great Minds transferred inventory, tangible property and transferable contract rights as outlined in the agreement to Great Minds LLC. The transfer did not include some intellectual property, nontransferable insurance plans or the line of credit.
In 2017, Great Minds yet again increased its program service revenue: $66.8M. No money derived from contributions and grants. Direct sales of books and curriculum soared:
- Direct sales of books and curriculum: $55M
- Professional Development: $6M
- Digital Income: $3.2M
- Royalty Income: $2.6M
The organization’s mission still states that liberal arts education is its aim.
As to “program accomplishments”:
- Eureka Math: Cost is $25.6M; revenue is $64.6M, for a profit of $39M
- Wit & Wisdom: Cost is $3.2M; revenue is $2.2M, for a loss of $1M
- Science curriculum under development: Cost is $46.6K
Board chair McAnelly was paid $82K for 10hrs/wk.
President/exec dir Munson’s total compensation was $487K (40hrs/wk).
Based on Great Minds’ 2017 tax info, here’s the latest word:
Great Minds is raking it in big time on Eureka Math and losing money on Wit & Wisdom, and seemingly stalling on its science curriculum development.
Eureka Math is carrying Great Minds.
What a boon.