Turnaround in Schools is Aggressive Coercive Takeover

e=mc2 on chalkboard

(Update below)

An Errant favorite Indiana Ed blog, School Matters, is sounding alarms over the State Department of Education’s plans to take-over and sell “turnaround” services to “reform” companies.  One company in particular, EdisonLearning.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett announced last month that the Department of Education had selected Edison, Charter Schools USA, and EdPower as “turnaround operators” to potentially take over seven Indiana schools that have been stuck on academic probation. The department claims the three were selected through a rigorous Request for Proposals process.

You would think a rigorous selection process would include checking out Edison’s record in neighboring Ohio. Or maybe not.

School Matters offers some links to EdisonLearning’s less than stellar results in Ohio and the Wikipedia page on EdisonLearning is enough to give anyone pause.

Here are my favorite, telling, sections:

The initial expansion of Edison included the involvement of Tom Ingram (campaign manager and chief of staff to Lamar Alexander), Benno C. Schmidt, Jr., John Chubb (political scientist from the Hoover and Brookings Institute), and Chester E. Finn, Jr. (assistant secretary of education to former presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush). Originally founded around the idea of school vouchers, Edison primarily contracts with school districts on the basis of performance partnerships, alliances, and charter school establishment.


Edison’s stock was publicly traded on the NASDAQ for four years. The company reported only one profitable quarter while it was publicly traded.[3] After reaching a high of close to USD $40 per share in early 2001, shares fell to 14 cents

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. Also in 2001, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged that Edison failed to disclose that as much as 41 percent of its revenue that year consisted of money that it never saw: $154 million. By 2002, Edison was courting Roger Milliken for a possible bailout. The company was eventually taken private in 2003, in a buyout facilitated by Liberty Partners on behalf of the Florida Retirement System, which handles pension investments for the state’s public school teachers; The deal valued the company at $180 million[4] or $1.76 per share.[5] The three pension fund trustees at the time that endorsed the deal were: Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, and Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

I’m not sure this needs comment–Money and the GOP equals proposed school “reform”–in other words, hostile takeover.

The founder of this “for-profit education management organization” is Chris Whittle–spend some time with him in this interview on PBS.  Basically we find out that Chris Whittle was a “media entrepreneur” who brought a captive national student market the joys of advertising in the guise of “Channel One”.  Chomsky has remarked that the “programming” on television is “filler” between the real content, advertising.  Channel One was a new low in marketing to children with an institutional sanction.

What seems more important than this record of failure is that these organizations exist at all.  But we know why…money.  Ever heard of No Child Left Behind?  There’s gold in that thar’ Act!

A New York-based education advocacy organization chaired by News Corp. Executive Vice President Joel Klein signed Blank Rome Government Relations to lobby the federal government on its behalf, according to paperwork filed with Congress Friday.

Education Reform Now, which advocates for equal access to quality public education, hired the lobbying shop to represent it on matters concerning education reform and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, most recently renewed in 2002 under the No Child Left Behind Act. The law requires states to establish goals for improving student achievement and provides funds to schools that have a large number of students from low-income families.

Blank Rome Government Relations Principal Dwayne Andrews and Partner Singleton McAllister are handling the Education Reform Now account. Andrews also is lobbying this year on behalf of other education groups, including service provider EdisonLearning…

I won’t deny that I also believe that “something must be done”.  But I stand against the aggressive intrusions of an agenda intent to apply capitalist market principles in the form of “state capitalism” (that currently means cronyism and personal wealth management) in order to open up a public good to privateers who simply wish to pillage a new market.

How is it even possible that a responsible state Department of Education would consider this kind of profiteering company to do anything with their schools?  Especially one as crooked as EdisonLearning?

Instead we need to see that the very “success” of capital accumulation IS a pillar of community failure.  Competition (primarily protected but promoted as “fair”) is a game of “might makes right”.  This is particularly American–(soft talk, big stick–so that “talk” is irrelevant).

Children, due to 40 years of elite class warfare, are seen much like the sick and dying in health care–a data point on the bottom-line.  “How can we turn a profit?” is the only question that makes sense to so many in our governing classes.

Instead, why don’t we think about redefining the “good” life?  Testing, grading, grinding…not on my list.  Yours?

We live under coercive systems that are yielding phenomenal profits to the wealthiest among us–a tenth of one percent of the population of the USA.  The rest of us are slaves to that system.  Our schools are a part this massive failure for humane living.

‘One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such
a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any
scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year…. It is in fact nothing short of a miracle
that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of
inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom;
without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the
enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To
the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its
voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour
continuously, even when not hungry — especially if the food, handed out under such coercion,
were to be selected accordingly.’

Albert Einstein
Update: Doug Martin digs deeper into the corruption endemic in the turnaround rip-off.

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  1. Doug Martin August 10, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Great job, Doug! I’ll post this on my facebook page, Indiana Government Exposed. It’s good to finally see a blog like this in Indiana.

    1. Doug August 10, 2011 at 5:51 pm

      Thanks, Doug! I could have just re-posted your work–in fact, I’ll update with a link to the appropriate work.

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