When the Michelle Rhee/Betsy Devos-endorsed Pennsylvania governor, Tom Corbett, slashed $1.1 billion in educational funding over the last two years, he was merely continuing the disaster capitalism agenda against Philadelphia schools which began in 1998, when Act 46 passed. As retaliation against Philadelphia Public Schools’ superintendent David Hornbeck for threatening to close down the entire district if the state did not provide adequate funding, Act 46 legalized a state takeover of the Philadelphia school system. It was praised by lawmaker Dwight Evans, the Black Alliance for Educational Options’ darling whose backdoor dealings concerning the MLK charter school recently were highly criticized by Mayor Nutter’s own integrity officer but excused by Nutter himself. Over the years, despite actions and protests by communities to rid their neighborhoods of Edison Schools and other profiteers, even amidst Paul Vallas’ school plundering and the buyout/unemployment benefits scandal of former supt. and Broad Foundation toad Arlene Ackerman, the corporate reformers have increased their arsenal. With the anti-public school Philadelphia School Partnership in place, what was needed at the beginning of 2012, in fact, was a consulting firm with 75 global offices to be paid to slash-and-burn the Philly school system. Mayor Nutter, the unelected School Reform Commission (SRC), and former Philadelphia Gas Works executive-turned Philly school recovery CEO, Tom Knudsen (who is paid $150,000 yearly) found it in the Boston Consulting Group.
Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has been around the block or two when it comes to corporate schooling, even though it profits from other consulting and includes as alumni Mitt Romney, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and hedge fund manager John Paulson.* Along with Broad Foundation support, the consulting firm worked on Delaware’s Vision 2015 for a longer school day in 2007, designed a business plan for the North Carolina New Schools Project, and have left footprints in Cleveland, Arizona, Seattle, Chicago, Memphis, and New Orleans. BCG, as Daniel Denvir has noticed, recommended “that New Orleans, which has decimated its teachers’ union and put most schools under charter control, create the exact same species of achievement networks in 2006” as the ones proposed for Philly.**
Since at least 2007, BCG has been working on linking teacher pay to student test scores and so-called academic achievement for the Dallas Independent School District. Under J. Puckett’s Texas office leadership, BCG has also struck a deal with Uplift Education (page 27, PDF box) , where Jeb Bush’s son, George P., sits on the board of directors. Puckett and Phil Montgomery, Uplift’s founding member, both sit on the board of Commit, an IBM, Bank of America, Bank of One-funded school group. Puckett was also a player in the Exxon Mobile/Gates Foundation-hyped National Math and Science Initiative.
BCG heavily promotes online learning in K-12 and college. In “Unleashing the Potential of Technology in Education,” the consulting firm calls for an “aligned set of educational objectives, standards, curricula, assessments, interventions, and professional development,” all centered around online technology. Deeming charter schools the leaders of internet schooling, the “study’s” authors quote online profiteer and Democrat for Education Reform’s Tom Vander Ark, praises Rocketship for hiring low wage non-teachers, and thanks their senior advisor, Margaret Spelling, Bush’s U.S. Secretary of Education. The” report” also praises the conflict-of-interest-laden School of One in NYC and KIPP’s BetterLesson program.
KIPP and BCG, indeed, have a revolving door policy. Besides implementing “growth strategy” plans at KIPP Ascend Charter School in Chicago and KIPP Bay Area Schools, BCG is also developing a 10-year plan at KIPP Metro Atlanta, where Alan Wise, a BCG partner and managing director, sits on the board of directors. Patrick Methvin, a BCG principal, is a KIPP WAYS Academy advisory board member. After working 10 years at BCG where he helped launch the group’s education practice, Jonathan Cowen left to become KIPP’s executive vice president of research, design & innovation in 2008. In the year ending in 2010, Cowen made close to $205,000 at KIPP (page 14, PDF box). And in Philadelphia itself, BCG’s Sanjeev Midha holds a trustee’s seat on the KIPP Philadelphia Schools board.
BCG, too, cheaply gives back. In the 2010 annual report, KIPP LA mentions that BCG gave the school up to $499 in chump change (page 16, PDF box). At the KIPP Strive Academy Community Day in Georgia, BCG representatives even “worked to clean up the building that this charter school was moving into for their inaugural year” (page 5, PDF box).
KIPP is not the only place where BCG has entrenched its members. Emily Lawson, DC Prep founder, also was employed at BCG for three years. Jeff Li, Teach for America-New York’s executive director, is a former management consultant for BCG. Another former TFA and BCG consultant is Nicole Dorn, the director of operations for Unlocking Potential, Inc. and a founding member of the UP Academy Charter School of Boston. In fact, right after forming Teach for America with Wendy Kopp, hedge fund manager and Democrats for Education Reform’s Whitney Tilson was one of BCG’s privileged consultants for two years, specializing in health care and pharmaceuticals, before using $1 million from his parents to launch his gambling outfit, T2 Partners. Entertainer John Legend, who never misses a beat promoting the corporate takeover of public schools, also previously labored at BCG.
BCG AT THE PEARLY GATES
In Illinois, BCG sold itself to the Gates Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Education First, and several sell-out leaders to help launch Advance Illinois. On the Advance Illinois board, BCG’s senior partner and managing director Marin Gjaja joined former Illinois governor Jim Edgar and State Farm’s Edward B. Rust, Jr., the former chair of the Business Roundtable’s Education Initiative and a McGraw-Hill board member, who has been on the public schools’ enemy list for years. In January 2012, just months after Advance Illinois aided in Stand for Children’s legislative buyout by spreading reform propaganda, BCG’s Shalini Unnikrishnan addressed the Illinois Joint Interim Task Force on Accountable Schools concerning the Illinois school report card, alongside Advance Illinois’ Robin Steans, daughter of Harrison Steans, the chairman of the executive committee at Financial Investments Corporation who sat on Mayor Daly’s charter school-expanding Renaissance School Fund board. BCG revamped the Illinois school report card in 2011 by organizing 60 state-wide focus groups, but this wasn’t the firm’s first Illinois rodeo. In fact, in 2005, as CEO Arne Duncan applauded, the Gates Foundation paid BCG and the American Institutes for Research $2.3 million to devise a managing “portfolio” for the Chicago Public Schools.
Gates rehired BCG to write the proposal (PDF) for North Carolina’s Race to the Top bid, after he bankrolled the firm’s 2007 North Carolina District and School Transformation plan.
In 2009, in order to win a $100 million Gates grant to set up an anti-teacher plan in Florida, Hillsborough County Schools hired, with Gates Foundation money, BCG to do focus groups, survey teachers and administrators, and write up the grant proposal. For community engagement meetings in February and May 2010, besides BCG and Gates representatives, several members of the United Way were on hand, too, as they are in Philly. Hillsborough won the Gates Foundation Empowering Effective Teachers Grant, and the Hillsborough County Teachers Association willingly signed on.
BCG won the gig to develop the “teacher effectiveness” system for Hillsborough, too. BCG and Gates have been involved in “boosting teacher effectiveness” in Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland and “improving student outcomes” in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
According to currently available tax records, since 2008 Gates has paid BCG $35.5 million.***
THE YASS NETWORK IN ACTION
Late last year, at a Renaissance Charter Stetson Middle School event, the Gates Foundation reappeared in Philly, not to announce that the New Media Technology charter school it founded with the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) was being managed by a criminal, but to promise $100,000 and possibly more to help Mayor Nutter and the SRC start the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact. A new accountability program and signed deal between traditional and charter schools, the compact establishes an Office of Charter Schools and promotes, thanks to the newly formed Philadelphia School Partnership, a parochial school agenda. Philadelphia School Partnership is a fund raising, school assessment group that seeks to convert low-performing schools into corporate factories and religious institutions.
Both the Gates and BCG plans for Philly are right on target with the Philadelphia School Partnership’s corporate/voucher plot.
The Philadelphia School Partnership’s (PSP) corporatist/voucher/charter connections run deep. One PSP board member, Janine Yass, founded the Boys’ Latin School in 2007, where lawmaker Anthony Williams’ former staffer and BAEO member Dawn Chavous is now secretary of its board. Along with Kevin Chavous (DFER/BAEO leader and cousin to Dawn), Chris Whittle (formerly of Edison Schools), and Jeanne Allen (past Corbett adviser), Janine Yass sits on the board of directors for the Center for Education Reform (CER), a pro-choice group launched in D.C. in 1993. In fact, Yass’ love affair with CER goes back to at least 2006, when she, past Bush Secretary of Education Rod Paige, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Sallie Mae founder Al Lord, then-Indiana Republican state senator Teresa Lubbers, and others were celebrated for anti-public school accomplishments.
Janine is married to Susquehanna International Group’s Jeff Yass, a big funder of anti-public school groups across the country. Along with Jeff’s partner Arthur Dantchik, Janine Yass donated $1,000 to Dan Harvell’s unsuccessful 2006 run for the GOP primary in House District 7, South Carolina. Blogger Gervais S. Bridges has found that, in this race, 86% of Harvell’s campaign funding came from out-of-state voucher supporters. Americans for Limited Government’s Howard Rich, who currently sits with Jeff Yass on the Cato Institute’s board, also tossed $1,000 to Harvell’s voucher campaign.
Closer to home, Janine Yass joined a Teach for America publicity stunt in Pennsylvania in 2009. For Teach for American Week, Yass joined state Democratic Senator Larry Farnese, Representative Jim Roebuck, and several corporate leaders to teach in a Philadelphia school. Yass agreed to teach for one hour and a half at the General David B. Birney Elementary School.
Besides Yass, PSP’s board includes Nicholas Torres, the past executive director of Congreso de Latinos Unidos, a group Tom Corbett recently awarded with a $1 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant to build a new center to house the Pan American Academy Charter School. Torres is gung-ho over privatization, saying that “We’ve been talking about education, but what’s been missing from the conversation was how private dollars could be part of the solution.”
PSP’s leader is Michael O’ Neill, head of Preferred Unlimited Inc. and a strong supporter of Catholic schools. As Martha Woodall notes, “after becoming chairman of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS) in 2007, he announced a $50 million campaign to create a foundation to provide long-term support for endangered, inner-city Catholic elementary schools,” which has “raised $14 million so far.” O’Neill also sits on the board of the Mastery Charter Schools, but he doesn’t want charter operators to interfere with religious institutions of learning, saying: “In the long run, it’s not good for the city for charters to be pulling kids from successful Catholic schools that already are fulfilling a purpose. We have to help them develop a financially sustainable model.”
In 2011, O’Neill and PSP started this model, mapping out areas in each Philly neighborhood where charter schools could be placed to force the public schools out of business. “As we start to expand charters, we want to encourage charters to go where they are needed, not just where they can find buildings … and encourage private dollars to follow that,” O’Neill told the Notebook’s Dale Mezzacappa. O’Neill’s Preferred Unlimited is a real estate company, and is sure to be eying charter school development closely, since charter schools are cash-cows for real estate investors.
PSP board member Helen Cunningham, a former Philadelphia Board of Education member, directs the Samuel S. Fels Fund which has given $50,000 to the KIPP Philadelphia Charter School’s Teacher Residency Program, $40,000 to various programs at the Mayor’s Office of Education, $10,000 to Philadelphia Academies to build the Career Academy Institute, $15,000 to Public Interest Projects’ Communities for Public Education Reform, and $100,000 to Teach for America. Sometime after 2009, the Samuel S. Fels Fund subsidized Research for Action’s “Philadelphia’s Teacher Appraisal System.” After first citing the New Teacher Project’s The Widget Effect, the report’s authors call for a student testing-based teacher evaluation system for Philly that aligns “observation systems with teacher ratings, career advancement, and salaries,” much like the ones KIPP and Mastery Charter Schools use (page 10, PDF box).
BCG’S SISTER CITES: THE CORPORATE SCHOOL PLAN FOR CLEVELAND AND PHILLY
This month, Cleveland’s Mayor Frank Jackson is attempting to persuade the Ohio state legislature to buy into a corporate school transformation plan that BCG and others have been setting in motion since 2009.
In Cleveland, BCG has utilized the same slash-and-burn tactics as in Philly.
To set up the kill, BCG’s 2009 Cleveland plan (PDF ), which also included “reports” on school turnarounds from Education First and theme schools from the Council of the Great City Schools, doesn’t detail cost-saving strategies. These were presented in December 2010, when the Greater Cleveland Partnership, a chamber of commerce group, paid BCG $250,000 to do Cleveland’s “Fiscal Strategy-Project Compendium,” an austerity scheme eerily similar to BCG Philly’s. The Cleveland Teachers Union, at this point, wasn’t too happy with the fiscal project, noting that it included “cutting wages, changing and restructuring the salary scale; outsourcing foreign language classes to Rosetta Stone; eliminating some paraprofessional positions; reducing costs to special education; elimination of many assistant principal and safety & security positions; reducing benefits; closing schools and accrediting more charter schools; and even selling the rights to become a reality show.” The Cleveland fiscal plan also seeks to “redesign” the central district office.
The Philly plan, likewise, calls for shrinking the central office, firing teachers based on test scores, laying off nurses and psychologists for special needs’ students, closing 64 schools in five years, expanding charter schools, establishing networks of schools run by outside groups and nonprofits, and outsourcing “2,500 blue-collar, union jobs…to the lowest bidder.”
In both Cleveland and Philly, the fact that corporations haven’t paid their fair share has crippled public school funding. In Cleveland, these include major hotel chains and sports centers like Browns Stadium, Quicken Arena, and the Progressive Field/Gateway Garage, all outlined by investigative reporter Roldo Bartimole, who has detailed tax abatement scandals for years.
Unfortunately, the Cleveland Teachers Union is now giving in to some aspects of Mayor Jackson’s anti-teacher seniority crusade, even though the Ohio Federation of Teachers is still fighting. Ohio church leaders and others are buying into the selling of their schools hook-line-and sinker. Not so in Philly, where public school supporters have been out in force, protesting a visit by Governor Corbett, confronting the SRC, and taking to the streets and TV to show their disdain for the corporate school agenda. Using anaphora that has reverberated around the internet, Helen Gym–Parents United for Public Education founder, Parents Across America member, and Philadelphia Inquirer Citizen of the Year for 2007–lashed out at school recovery CEO, Tom Knudsen, and BCG, writing “You’re not speaking to me with this brand of disaster capitalism that tries to shock a besieged public with unproven, untested, and drastic action couched as ‘solutions’… You’re not talking to me when you’ll go out of your way to spend $1.4 million for six-week consultants with whom you’ll boast of an ‘intimate, hand-in-glove’ relationship, yet exclude community and public voices till you’re ready to drop the bomb.”
Philly’s residents, rightfully, have had enough. According to the Occupy Philly Labor Work Group, Pennsylvania is spending $600 million on prison construction in a state where 70 percent of corporations pay absolutely no taxes. At the six-hour SRC event where the BCG contract was announced, protestors demanded that SRC fight to get back the tens of millions of dollars the district lost “by borrowing money through toxic interest rate swaps pushed by big banks.” But SRC was more intent on hiring BCG than on confronting the too-big-to-fail fellows.
And SRC has connections to the William Penn Foundation, the group footing the $1.5 million, one-monthish gig for BCG in Philadelphia. Philly’s SRC, an unelected board, consists of Feather Houstoun, who as president of the William Penn Foundation, raked in a $374,823 compensation package in 2010 (page 119, PDF box). Moreover, the foundation’s director, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s board of directors, Jeremy Nowak, is the former president of Mastery Charter Schools’ board of trustees, an Oprah funded network which employees Dawn Chavous, BAEO member, former consultant to Mayor Nutter, and the leader of Pennsylvania’s Students First front group.
To help with BCG’s scheme, William Penn has partnered with one of its donors, the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Pedro Ramos, the chair of SRC and a big charter school supporter, is a United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania board member.****
It’s a corporate family affair in Philly, and BCG’s 27-page PowerPoint document for the city schools is mostly dead white space. In fact, it promises to do nothing to immediately eliminate a deficit of $218 million for the school years 2012-2013. As Daniel Denvir points out, “even Boston’s plan, to butcher and sell off the district for its parts, is predicated upon a reluctant City Council forking over $91 million in additional property-tax revenue. A separate ruling by the State Tax Equalization Board, which found the city’s valuation methods to be illegal, could cost the district tens of millions more.” BCG’s plan is the loaded ammunition that will bring the entire Philly public school system down to its knees for the corporate vultures to circle. With over 80 charter schools operating now in Philly, if the BCG plan goes through there will be countless more, until the whole democratic school system crumbles. The nineteen Philadelphia charter schools recently investigated for massive fraud and corruption are only the beginning of a big, big mess.
*Recently, along with Evercore and Accenture, BCG has been working with the US Postal Service on its 5-year business plan to close rural post offices, lay off workers, and move the mail one step closer to complete privatization, the ALEC blueprint. BCG’s role is to spread propaganda that the internet is drastically killing mail delivery. It should be noted that UPS is more than willing to acquire the US mail, and many former UPS executives are active at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a major school privatizing outfit.
For the complete list of BCG’s corporate school agenda globally, see pages 51-54 (in PDF box) in the firm’s 2010 report. (UPDATE: The hyperlink to this document, Making a Difference: BCG’s Partnerships and Projects for Social Impact, 2010, no longer works. Much of the information on BCG’s school reform projects with KIPP and others comes from this report. For a taste of what it contains, see the 2008 Making a Difference document. Here, the education section starts on page 72.)
**Denvir’s article gives a good history of the problems associated with lack of school funding and the corporate attacks on Philly public schools and is well-worthy reading.
*** For Gates’ funding to BCG, see page 7 in the PDF of the foundation’s 2010 990s; page 7 in the PDF of the 2009 990s, and page 7 in the PDF of the 2008 990s. Last year’s 990s for the Gates Foundation are currently unavailable at Guidestar. Since BCG helps Gates with other projects, it is not known how much of this funding was earmarked specifically for BCG’s corporate school reform offices.
****Apart from listing in its 2011 990 ten different conflicts of interest, with board members and/or their companies profiting from the organization, many of them bankers, the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania also funds many religious and charter schools, among them Discovery Charter School, the Drexel Neumann Academy, and Nowak’s own Mastery Charter Schools. UWSP even gave Los Angeles’ Green Dot $21,875 in 2011 (page 91, PDF box). Lisa Nutter, the Philly mayor’s wife who made over $107,000 in 2010 (see page 7 in PDF) running the career-oriented, corporate-driven outfit, the Philadelphia Academies, Inc., is also a UWSP board member. UWSP donated $14, 485 to Nutter’s group last year (page 97, PDF box). John C. Haas, from the main family who funds William Penn, is an emeritus director at Philadelphia Academies.
Photo credit: shinya’s photostream