Saturday, January 31, 2015

Digging into Little Rock school adviser, Boston Consulting Group

Posted By on Sat, Jan 31, 2015 at 7:52 AM

FORESHADOWING: Walton heir Carrie Penner has talked about taking on whole mid-sized cities with the family's education ideas. Could Little Rock, where the Walton Foundation has already employed a consultant, be one of them?
  • FORESHADOWING: Walton heir Carrie Penner has talked about taking on whole mid-sized cities with the family's education ideas. Could Little Rock, where the Walton Foundation has already employed a consultant, be one of them?

I wrote yesterday about focus groups planned in the Little Rock schools by the Walton and Rockefeller foundations with the Boston Consulting Group.

The foundations talk little to the pubic — except in planned releases with few followup questions permitted — when they get involved in public entities. Likely, this session Feb. 10, though following quickly after the state's takeover of the school district at the urging of Arkansas business titans, will be styled as part of the Forward Arkansas education improvement project of the foundations, approved by state education leaders.

But that doesn't mean it isn't heading down a road to radical change of Little Rock school district structure, perhaps a permanent loss of local control.

Diane Ravitch, the reformed education reformer, points me to another education blogger she follows, Curmdgication. That blogger last night provided — prompted by Little Rock developments — many details about Boston Consulting Group activities in education around the country. From Curmudgication:

Word went out today that immediately after Arkansas decided to make Little Rock Schools non-public, the Walton family called a "focus group" meeting "in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group. This is worse than finding the slender man in the back of your family portrait. For a public school system, this is finding the grim reaper at your front door. And he's not selling cookies.

…...BCG's arrival in Little Rock is unsurprising; they've been around the education block several times. They were in the news just last week when Parents United finally won a long court case to be allowed to see BCG's super-duper secret plans for Philadelphia schools, drawn up way back when Philly was first turned into one of the nation's largest non-public school systems, run by state-appointed executives rather than an elected board.

A major feature of BCG's plan for Philly seems to be standard for them— close this bunch of schools, and open up some nifty charters. In other words, cut off resources to the dogs. As a top consulting group, BCG doesn't come cheap— their consulting fee in Philly was reportedly $230,000 per week. That's just under $33,000 per day. That's a little less than the starting salary for a teacher in Philly. Per day.

BCG has proposed a similar program in Memphis. Reportedly Cleveland, Seattle, Arizona, and New Orleans have also felt the loving BCG touch. BCG also has close friends in the charter world, with several folks hopping back and forth between BCG and the board of KIPP. BCG joined up with many of the big players (Gates, Joyce) to form Advance Illionois. And they helped write North Carolina's Race to the Top bid (all these painful details and more can be found in this 2012 article at The Common Errant). Strive in Cincinnati— that's BCG, too. And last fall, they were spotted doing development planning for Connecticut's education sector.

Again. I'm sure many will rise in reflexive defense of the Walton/Rockefeller move on the Little Rock School District. Wealth equates to superiority in many minds. The district has needs. But if it means giving up public accountability — private scheming will render powerless the Freedom of Information Act — it is too high a price. Trust but verify. Just because a Walton heir says it doesn't make it so.

Curmudgication concludes, after detailing  BCG fingerprints in many business-backed school ideas:

Bottom line? Say a little prayer for the formerly public schools of Little Rock, because BCG is in town and they're sharpening their axe.

Another reader contributes a quote from Forbes not long ago about Carrie Walton Penner, Sam Walton's granddaughter. She's the point person on spending some of the family's $165 billion on education. The quote is in the context of the limited reach so far of charter schools, despite huge investments.

"In terms of reach, Penner knows that even when performing at their very best, these schools teach less than 6% of public school children. Her new strategy will be to take on entire cities. There’s already been an emphasis on places like New Orleans and Washington, D.C., where almost half the kids are in charters. The new five-year-plan will go further – expect the Waltons to soon announce two to four midsize 'proof point' cities with high poverty rates where they will work with on-the-ground partners to support students in and out of the school setting."

Entire cities? Midsize cities with high poverty rates?

We'll know when they want us to know and not a minute before.

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