On February 11 freelancer Mary Grabar raised questions about the funding behind open admissions’ advocate FairTest in the article “Who is FairTest?” She argued that Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer had failed to acknowledge his organization’s grants from the George Soros-funded Open Society Institute (OSI) and the Woods Fund of Chicago.
FairTest received $5,000 from the Woods Fund in 2006 to provide “support for a collaborative project between a Washington, DC-based education advocacy group and Chicago-based community organizations to increase the capacity of local school councils, parents and communities to advocate for a broader range of assessment practices in Chicago Public Schools.” (More recent tax returns were unavailable to this correspondent).
Bill Ayers was on the board of directors at the time, where he had served alongside Barack Obama until the latter left the board in 2002.
“Fair Test also lists among its sponsors the Woods Fund of Chicago, which includes among its board membership William Ayers, the domestic terrorist who, as a member of the radical Weather Underground, played a role in the bombing of New York City police headquarters in 1970; the bombing of the U.S. Capitol in 1971; and the 1972 bombing of the Pentagon,” wrote Grabar.
“The grant records and other proceedings of the Woods Fund have remained elusive since the disclosure in 2008 of Ayers’ dealings with President Barack Obama during their time together on the fund’s board. To this day, the extent of support for Fair Test from Ayers or the Woods Fund remains unknown.”
Actually, digitized tax forms for the Woods Fund dated 2001 through 2007 are available online through the Foundation Center.
As of this writing, FairTest lists the Woods Fund of Chicago as one of its important donors on its website. Schaeffer defended not mentioning either the Woods Fund or OSI in his conversation with Grabar because, he argues, she asked about “long-term funding.”
“In addition to the specific cases cited in response to your questions, Ms. Grabar distorts a number of other important points,” he argues. “For example, I responded to her query about which foundations provided long-term funding for FairTest by listing Ford, Joyce and the Rockefeller Family Fund. I did not mention the Open Society Institute because they provided one grant in our nearly 24 years of operation (emphasis added). ”
“There was no effort to hide this support, because it was reported in our 990 tax return which is a public document.”
As public documents show, the Open Society Institute gave the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, also known as FairTest, two separate grants, not one. The first June 2004 grant of $140,000 was “to support K-12 assessment reform projects,” and another $25,000 grant, given in June of 2005, was earmarked “to hire two development consultants to help develop a long-term, diversified fundraising plan.”
Given that FairTest’s 2004 Form 990, which covered October 2004 to September 2005, included both grants in the report, the gifts could have been seen as a single year donation by the staff rather than long-term funding.
That doesn’t mean the support from Soros’ OSI wasn’t significant. “In 2004, the Open Society [Institute] gave $140,000, and for “gifts, grants and contributions” [FairTest] listed $238,822. According to my calculations that comes out to 59 percent,” Grabar told this author.
The fundraising letter written by FairTest executive director Jesse Mermell characterized the grant as constituting “less than 3% of FairTest’s total income.”
But the OSI provided a grant which helped FairTest increase its funds by 600 percent.
At the end of the 2004 reporting period the FairTest appeared to be suffering from a funding crisis. Their “total fund liabilities and net assets” at the end of the year were only $93,871, according to their Form 990, although the group had an average of over $230,000 on hand at the end of the previous four years.
Yet by the end of the next reporting period (2005) the same measure had jumped to over half a million.
Needless to say, the fundraising campaign for which OSI had funded the consultants was a rousing success: “Temporarily restricted funds” for Fairtest grew from $30,920 in October of 2005 to $425,000 by the following September and they reported $425,000 for “pledges receivable.” The group ended the 2005 reporting period with “total fund liabilities and net assets” of $569,797.
More recently the group has hit another financial snag. “In the midst of this severe economic turmoil, several major foundation funders have deferred renewing FairTest’s grant support because of their own financial straits,” wrote Mermell for the March 2009 letter. “Without short-term funding to bridge the gap, our future is in jeopardy.”
Both Grabar and Schaeffer maintain that the other has mischaracterized their work. Schaeffer complains that Grabar had denigrated the organization because “we are not ‘academic experts,’ something we have never claimed to be” and “grossly exaggerat[ed] the connection between FairTest and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NCAC).”
He also said that “both our 2004 and 2005 IRS 990 reports were submitted in a timely manner,” not “late” given that the organization had applied for an extension.
“Testing reveals lack of college-readiness, and as FairTest’s long career has demonstrated, the easiest way to overcome (or rather circumvent) inadequacy is to eliminate the tests that show it,” wrote Grabar in March for Minding the Campus. “So inevitably, double-talk and hypocrisy creep into the rhetoric of the test-optional movement. Everybody knows that dropping standards is the goal of the test-optional movement, but almost no one is willing to say so out loud.”
She told this correspondent that “I feel that they have mischaracterized what I wrote in my article” for CNS News and said that “if they dispute my assertions” Schaeffer and Mermell should “present their credentials in scholarly research to disprove what I’ve said” given their advocacy backgrounds.
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Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.