Tag Archives: privatization

Right-Wing Neo-School Voucher Bill Hits Minnesota

January 29, 2017

Among the polished marble and gold-tinged walls of the Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda, a stand-off of sorts took place on January 24. On the outskirts of the rotunda, a circle of protesters–parents, teachers, union reps and activists–stood silently, clutching hand-written, pro-public school and anti-voucher signs. 

Before them, a crowd of school choice advocates began filling the inner circle of the rotunda, all wearing festive, buttercup-yellow scarves around their necks. The scarves came from a local group called OAK, or “Opportunities for All Kids,” but they were also a reminder that, hey–it’s National School Choice Week!

To show solidarity with other school choice devotees, the gold scarves were donned nationwide at charter school and state capitol rallies. Even Betsy DeVos was found sporting one at a Washington, D.C., charter school event. (I’m glad she’s found something to do while waiting to be–most likely–voted in as Trump’s education secretary on January 31.) 

In St. Paul, the OAK folks were also on hand to support the latest attempt to keep Minnesota taxpayer dollars in private hands, when it comes to education funding. Through a bill introduced by Republican Ron Kresha of northern Minnesota, lawmakers will be asked to provide a tax credit for individuals and corporations who make “equity and diversity donations” to private and religious school foundations.  

Such donations are then supposed to be used as scholarships for kids withering away at miserable and/or secular public schools, but don’t call them vouchers (at least not yet). A school voucher, strictly speaking, draws money directly out of public education coffers, and directs it to private schools, including religious schools, in the form of reimbursement. A tax credit, or “neo-voucher,” on the other hand, allows taxpayers (corporate or individual) to avoid paying into the public education coffers in the first place.

These “neo-vouchers” have been spreading across the country more quickly than traditional vouchers. The tax credit model provides a way to funnel taxpayer dollars to private schools with even less public accountability than with regular vouchers, and to bypass state constitutional provisions that have stood in the way of some state’s traditional voucher programs.

–Brendan Fischer, Center on Media and Democracy

Neo-vouchers are the latest school privatization scheme cooked up by the determined forces at ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is the place where “global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called ‘model bills’ reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations.”  (Read Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money, for more info, or scroll through these short videos on ALEC’s agenda.)

ALEC has been pushing school voucher bills since the early 1980’s, under the tutelage of pro-privatization ALEC guru, Milton Friedman. Back then, ALEC tried the honest approach, by openly stating that its original voucher bill was intended to smash teachers’ unions and “introduce normal market forces” into public education.

But they have learned that vouchers are unpopular and, in many states, simply not allowed–thanks to the burdensome separation of church and state. Now, according to the Center on Media and Democracy, “ALEC and other school privatizers today frame ‘vouchers’—taxpayer-funded tuition for private, and often religious, schools—in terms of ‘opportunity’ for low-income students and giving parents the ‘choice’ to send their children to public or private schools.”

A recent Truthout article calls this narrative a “useful fiction” built around the idea that vouchers are “social mobility tickets”–and not a scheme to further segregate, de-fund and destroy public education. And it is working:

The American Federation for Children (AFC), chaired by Amway billionaire Betsy DeVos, estimates that vouchers and voucher-like tax-credit schemes currently divert $1.5 billion of public money to private schools annually. But that is not enough. By expanding “pro-school choice legislative majorities” in state houses across the country the organization hopes that $5 billion a year will be siphoned out of public schools by 2020 and applied to for-profit and religious schools.

Minnesota’s Voucher, er, Tax Credit Bill

This kind of “voucher by another name” is what we have with the bill now moving through the Minnesota legislature. ALEC has named its model bill the “Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act (Scholarship Tax Credits),” and Minnesota legislators have brought it, once again, to the Senate and House for consideration. In the mold of ALEC, they are calling it the “Equity and Opportunity Scholarship Act.” The basic premise of it is that individuals and corporations can direct their tax dollars to private school foundations, rather than pay into the state’s general education fund.

These donations, as noted above, would be used to provide tuition scholarships for individual students. And, the qualifying income level for these scholarships is quite high: a family of five making $105,000 per year, or twice the limit allowed by federal reduced lunch guidelines, would be eligible. (This points back to the idea that vouchers are more about breaking the public school system than helping low-income kids attend spendy private schools.) The state’s general education fund stands to lose up to $35 million if this neo-voucher bill passes.

In 2015 Republicans tried to push a similar bill through, with help from Democrat Terri Bonoff, a determined Teach for America and education reform supporter who ran for Congress in 2016 and lost. (The Minnesota push for vouchers goes back, at least, to the 1990’s.) The bill didn’t make it, but it’s back–and this year, Republicans control both the House and Senate in Minnesota. 

An important note:

But…School Choice!

Back to the gold-scarved, school choice rally sponsored by OAK, or “Opportunities for All Kids.” OAK is a relatively new organization run by long-time Republican operative, Chas Anderson, who was closely aligned with former Governor Tim Pawlenty and once held a top spot in Minnesota’s Department of Education.

I can’t tell where OAK gets its funding from, as they do not appear to be a registered nonprofit. In 2015, Anderson joined forces with two other “high-ranking alums of the Minnesota GOP”–Kurt Zellers and Brian McClung–to start a PR firm, MZA+Co. The return email address for OAK is Anderson’s MZA+Co email address: chas@mzacompany.com, so it is unclear whether OAK is a separate group or a project of her PR firm. 

In April, 2016, former Pawlenty spokesman McClung appeared on Twin Cities Public Television’s Almanac program to weigh in on Republican plans to fix the “achievement gap.” Ripping a page from ALEC’s playbook, McClung emphatically gave Almanac host Cathy Wurzer an earful: “For too long,” he insists, “Democrats and the teachers’ union have stopped kids from having real choices…and so we need to find ways to empower parents.”

He doesn’t mention that, as the state’s population has grown steadily less white and less wealthy, public funding for education has dropped. This is, of course, a Friedman-esque way to create a crisis for our public schools, thereby “proving” they are failing–and insisting that neo-voucher, school choice schemes are the only way to fix them. 

Choice Before Quality

At the OAK rally on January 24, as silent protesters stood witness, a small and equally quiet group stood before a podium. There, Arizona charter school advocate and sought after education reform expert Lisa Graham Keegan took the stage wearing a crisp red suit and waxing on about how she and her husband are “blessed to have a home in northern Minnesota.” 

Image result for lisa graham keegan

Lisa Graham Keegan, at a previous school choice rally. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Graham Keegan glowingly stated that she is “passionate, passionate” about school choice, but confessed to being “agnostic” when it comes to where kids go to school. “We love having choices,” she told the group in front of her,” because our five children are very different.” Graham Keegan helped write charter school legislation in Arizona, where, she has admitted, quality control lagged far behind the desire to make school choice a reality. (Arizona already has a state law that gives individual and corporations tax credit for directing their monies to private school foundations.)

Local school choice supporter Reynolds-Anthony Harris followed Graham Keegan onstage, saying that “our job is to harvest the best out of our children.” Harris is a small business owner whose company, Lyceum Partners+Design, was listed as a supporter of a series of school board candidate events in Minneapolis in the fall of 2016.  At one of these events, Harris moderated a particularly contentious candidate forum on behalf of  “Animate the Race,” a side project of Minnesota Comeback (another “sector agnostic” group with wealthy funders). 

After Graham Keegan and Harris were finished, OAK supporters headed off to a luncheon, to be followed by attendance at the Equity and Opportunity Scholarship Act hearing in the House Education Finance Committee. 

The line of resistance, so far, to this ALEC-crafted tax credit bill has been drawn by Education Minnesota, NOC (Neighborhoods Organizing for Change), and the faith-based group, ISAIAH. Before the school choice rally, these groups held their own media event in the basement of the state capitol. Hoisting signs that called vouchers a “false promise,” supporters called for more resources for existing public schools–more nurses, more mental health support, and more investment in training and retaining teachers of color.

Tax credits are just another name for vouchers, they insisted, before calling out the “two-tiered systems”–one for wealthier, white students, and one for marginalized students of color–that vouchers and other school choice schemes have created in cities such as MIlwaukee, Washington D.C., Cleveland, and, of course, DeVos’s Detroit.

Paul Slack, president of ISAIAH and head pastor at north Minneapolis’s New Creations Church, ended the anti-voucher rally by saying that “public education is still our best opportunity–not perfect–but the best opportunity for all of us.”

“Collectively,” Slack said, “we have one question for our legislators. Are you listening?”

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MN Comeback: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing for the Minneapolis Schools?

March 15, 2016

Tonight, the Minneapolis school board will host another special meeting, from 6-8 p.m. at the district’s Davis Center headquarters. The board is expected to decide on the makeup of a new, inclusive hiring committee for its revamped superintendent search. Sources say the board’s new $85,000 search firm, DHR International, is urging quick action on this.

Harbormasters

Education Cities promo pic

Amid all of this revamping, the Minneapolis Public Schools continues to fall further into the hands of MN Comeback.

MN Comeback is part of a national group, Education Cities, which provides funding and competition-based ed reform policy for various local “harbormasters” (their word). Education Cities is funded by the big four in billionaire-boosted ed reform philanthropy: the Gates, Walton, Broad and Dell foundations. 

Ethan Gray

Nationally, Education Cities has stumbled in its attempt to put “harbormasters” into member cities. In Kansas City, Missouri, in 2014, for example, Education Cities (then known as CEE-Trust) was shown the door after its proposed overhaul of the city’s school district was rejected by locals, despite Education Cities director Ethan Gray’s efforts to sway disbelieving teachers to his cause.

Later, it was found that Education Cities had been given a state contract–paid for by private foundations–to come up with a makeover for the Kansas City schools, thanks to a rigged bidding process.

The Kansas City plan failed before it even got off the ground, and Rutgers University school finance expert Bruce Baker thinks he knows why: it was built on flawed rhetoric and faulty research about “failed urban districts” in desperate need of rescue by outsiders.

Baker wrote a 2014 blog post that taps into a host of issues with harbormaster-like invasions of school districts. First, there is the assumption–music to elite ears–that “urban” districts are failure factories. Then, there is the skewed use of research and data that supports this assumption. What follows, in Education Cities’ beautifully graphed and illustrated reports, is the hidden idea that the public should give up control over its school districts, in favor of public-private partnerships. (Baker correctly taps into the “totally ignored issue of student, employee and taxpayer rights,” which tend to vanish in situations like this.)

In Minneapolis, MN Comeback has been meeting privately for at least a few years, and busily concocting a vague but “doable” plan to “remake our entire city’s education system.” This plan centers on the creation of 30,000 “rigorous and relevant seats” across the city, in “sector agnostic” settings, meaning they don’t care where these seats are–charter, private or  traditional public school–as long as they are “high performing.”

Reducing education to a conversation about “seats” rather than students should be considered a dog whistle ed reform strategy. “Seats” in “sector agnostic” schools is a venture capitalist’s plan, where teachers (expensive!) can be partially replaced by hand-held personal learning devices that, objectively, of course, and with high expectations, track student data and constantly tailor lesson plans to each student’s measurable failures and successes. This is where the money is in ed reform.

For evidence, take a look at the current job opening for a MN Comeback “Managing General Partner”:

The centerpiece of MN Comeback is Great MN Schools (GMS), an independent 501(c)(3) that will direct and manage the investment of a pool of capital allocated to develop high-performing schools in Minneapolis. Taking a venture capital approach, this $35M fund will have direct accountability to expand the charter sector, and support MN Comeback’s work in the district and independent sectors.

In Kansas City, Education Cities got burned by trying to go through Missouri state government on its way to venture capitalizing on the city’s public school district. Here, MN Comeback has not bothered with such a public pretense. Instead, the group has been quietly embedding itself in the Minneapolis Public Schools for several years, mostly through the district’s Office of New Schools–a department recommended by the 2007 McKinsey & Company-crafted strategic plan for Minneapolis.

Through the Office of New Schools, MN Comeback has been promoting and funding its pet project: Community Partnership Schools (CPS). This year, four Minneapolis schools operate as CPS sites, including Nellie Stone Johnson Elementary, Bancroft Elementary, Folwell K-8 school and Ramsey Middle School. 

The CPS strategy is a part of a national move to turn city school districts into “portfolios,” made robust by schools that compete against one another for programming, students and resources. Locally, it is being carried by MN Comeback (called a coalition here), according to a 2015 newsletter by one of its funders, the private RKMC Foundation:

The coalition is also working to increase autonomy and flexibility in Minneapolis Public Schools through Community Partnership Schools, where school leaders have been approved to take on more authority with their school’s budget, curriculum, staffing, and instructional time.

Clearly, the privately managed, privately funded MN Comeback–which bears no responsibility to the “seats” it hopes to serve–has had its hands in the Minneapolis schools for some time. And their range is focused: the CPS model is one of only three things being “supported” by MN Comeback, according to the Education Cities website. The other two are MinnCAN, whose flush, reformy thumbprints are all over every MN Comeback policy “team,” and the IFF, a Chicago-based nonprofit that specializes in real estate consulting for “low-income communities.”  

Another great CPS site?

Just before last week’s Minneapolis school board meeting, when the board was to vote on a new batch of CPS sites, MN Comeback shot off a letter to board members, declaring support for this top down reform model:

We support the district’s belief that Community Partnership Schools will yield strong results if implemented with full support. In accordance with ‘Acceleration 2020,’ we share common values – equity, diversity, accountability – and goals: 1) the school as the unit of change; 2) grant principals increased flexibility; and 3) provide students with great educational options. The district’s strategic plan and these common values drive our support for Community Partnership Schools, which we have supported financially. We want to be seen as a partner in this effort.

Any superintendent search committee member should understand what MN Comeback is, and the potential threat it poses to the Minneapolis Public Schools.

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McKinsey & Friends in Minneapolis: Starvation and Strategy

February 17, 2016

Fourth in a series: While the Minneapolis school board wrestles with an extended, dramatic superintendent search, I am exploring how the Minneapolis schools fell under the influence of today’s pervasive global education reform movement. Click on these links to get to Parts 1, 2, and 3.

“The people who need to know what Itasca is doing are the participants. That’s it.”

–Jennifer Ford Reedy, former McKinsey consultant and Itasca Project advisor, quoted in a recent New York Times article

In 2007, McKinsey & Co. business consultants, in conjunction with the Itasca Project, wrote a new strategic plan for the Minneapolis Public Schools (which was rebranded  as “Acceleration 2020” in 2014). Hardly anyone, it seems, paused to wonder if opening the door to McKinsey/Itasca was a good idea. The plan itself seemed “bold,” according to many news reports from 2007, and loaded with change-making potential.

One 2007 Minneapolis school board member, however, Peggy Flanagan, warned that, unless the state of Minnesota started fully funding K-12 education, the plan’s “ambitious but doable” goals would fall flat. The full funding never came. Instead, state funding for public education in Minnesota dropped precipitously in the 2000’s, just as added pressure on the system was exploding (due to many things, such as a stunning state increase in child poverty). The global education reform movement (GERM) was also fully hitting the United States, after being given a profit-grabbing boost by the 2001 No Child Left Behind law

Recent New York Times photo of the Itasca Project at work

Let’s go back to the Itasca Project for a minute. Itasca is a Twin Cities-based group of high-powered business, philanthropic and public leaders who convene regularly to focus on how to maintain Minnesota’s “economic competitiveness and quality of life.” Their mission is noble, and much has been made of their “Minnesota exceptionalism,” while little–if anything–has been made of the fact that Itasca is staffed by McKinsey & Company consultants, who might just bring a certain data-driven point of view to bear on the problems Itasca likes to wrestle with. 

Research in fact shows that, while McKinsey/Itasca was generously offering to “strategically redirect” the Minneapolis Public Schools, many Itasca member organizations were actively lobbying against providing adequate state funds to public education in Minnesota. Wells Fargo and U.S. Banks are two prime examples of this. Progressive group TakeAction MN, along with the local Service Employees International Union, published a 2013 report called “Students v. Subsidies,” which included this declaration:

As Minnesota has faced budget deficits in recent years, policymakers have chosen solutions that impact K-12 students. That’s thanks in large part to corporations and their executives who have spent millions lobbying against tax increases…The consequences for public education have been severe. Instead of requiring the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share, we have disinvested in our kids’ education. 

The report goes on to specifically address the anti-tax, anti-public school lobbying done in Minnesota by such Itasca affiliated groups as the MN Business Partnership and the Chamber of Commerce:

…corporate executives such as U.S. Bank CEO Richard Davis fail to acknowledge their role in the Chamber and the Partnership’s anti-tax lobbying as they call for improvements in education, trumpeting their involvement in civic groups such as the Itasca Project: “One of the failings that the [Itasca Project] report identifies—and an issue that the Partnership has focused on over the past several years—is the fact that 40 percent of the students entering college are unprepared for their coursework … Improving Minnesota’s K-12 system is not only important in its own right, but will have long-term benefits to our state’s higher ed system as well. We need both systems to function effectively and efficiently if Minnesota is going to successfully compete for jobs in the future.” —Richard Davis, U.S. Bank CEO and Chair of the Minnesota Business Partnership10

So, in and around 2007, was McKinsey/Itasca “doing well by doing good,” as their McKinsey-crafted promo materials claim, or was this group actively working to create a crisis situation for the Minneapolis Public Schools, and public education in Minnesota overall? Or, as an experienced MPS teacher and administrator once said to me,

What do you think happens to something when you try to starve it? 

You make it vulnerable, weak. You expose it to the elements, which includes the mounting, often McKinsey-led national efforts to privatize public education, de-unionize the nation’s teaching force (because unions stand in the way of the market-based reform movement) and exploit the racial and economic disparities that impact who gets access to what kind of education. (Read Mike Rose for a historical take on this, and Gloria Ladson-Billings for a current perspective.)

So, why didn’t anybody say anything? 

Many people were probably too busy just trying to survive. For a data-supported look at this, check out Mary Turck’s excellent recent piece on Minnesota’s “assistance gap” for poor families. Turck’s research shows that welfare and food stamp benefits for these families have not increased since 1986. And, if you’ve seen The Big Short, or read this report from the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, you know that the whole post-2008 economic recovery thing has yet to really trickle down.

And some people have clearly fallen for the carefully coordinated PR campaign that has accompanied McKinsey/Itasca’s ongoing attempts to remake the Minneapolis Public Schools.

More on that next, I promise.

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McKinsey & Co. in Minneapolis: Trojan Horses, Tobacco Money & Big Banks

February 5, 2016

Third in a series: As the Minneapolis school board embarks on a refreshed superintendent search, I am taking a look at how the Minneapolis schools fell under the distracting and destablizing influence of the market-based education reform movement, also known as GERM. Access part one (McKinsey & Co. Mind Meld) here, and part two (McKinsey & Co. in Minneapolis) here.

Part Three

Sick days and snowy days (so beautiful) have slowed my McKinsey series down, but I’m back. Here is a brief recap of where I left things off last week: 

Trojan horse

In 2007, in Minneapolis, McKinsey & Co. consultants–acting in tandem with the local Itasca Project–wrote up a new, nine-point plan for the city’s school district, promising that, though ambitious, their plan was “doable,” and would make every Minneapolis student “college ready” by 2012. The Itasca Project thenloanedMcKinsey consultant Jill Stever-Zeitlin to the Minneapolis Public Schools, who came on in the newly created position of “Chief of Accountability and Strategic Partnerships.” (See more on McKinsey/Itasca “loaning” here.)

Why was a private, for-profit management consulting company providing strategic direction–and privately funded staff–for a public school district? This may be the point at which good intentions (let’s help all kids get to college) crossed paths with a growing national and global market-based education reform movement. This movement aims to get government out of education by replacing public school systems–deemed to be failing and in crisis–with “portfolio” districts, built around “choice” and competition.

This movement also aims to put public education dollars into private, deregulated hands, and, it assumes that people like McKinsey consultants, who are trained in data and performance management, have the answers. (The ultimate goal? To make sure the world’s education institutions serve the needs of global corporations. Watch this McKinsey video for a lesson in this, especially the part where students are described as the “winners” because their “curriculum is being molded by…industry itself.”)

And, McKinsey did its evaluation of the Minneapolis schools for free. In fact, in the 2000’s, McKinsey & Co. consultants got used to doing work, at no cost, for (or to?) the citizens of Minneapolis.  When former mayor RT Rybak took office in 2002, he brought McKinsey in with him.  A 2004 City Pages article put it this way:

During his first months in office, Rybak embraced a report by McKinsey & Company, the consulting group that wrote the business blueprint for Enron. The five-part report mostly focuses on streamlining the city’s planning and development departments, but it also pays particular attention to how the city is viewed through a business/consumerist lens. Corporate jargon like “strong customer service skills,” “responsibility and accountability,” and “strategic goals” are littered throughout.

Perhaps because it was done pro bono, the report seems to have caused few ripples, except for concerns attributed to then-City Council member Natalie Johnson Lee, who worried that the “report does not directly address communities of color, and fails to tackle poverty head-on.” (It is also not clear what, if any, long-term benefits the McKinsey rejiggering accomplished.)

One can also get a peek behind the McKinsey curtain from 2004, when Rybak and his communications director, Gail Plewacki (who is now the communications director for the Minneapolis schools), tried to require the city’s police officers to go through the mayor’s office before speaking to the press. City Pages reporter G. R. Anderson, Jr., described the situation this way: 

Rybak’s press secretary Laura Sether (told) me the policy was simply about the “coordinating of communications.” It wasn’t hard to see the McKinsey effect–a pretense to transparency that was really about information management.

Pro bono work such as this is part of McKinsey’s charitable arm, as it is for many large corporations. But it is also a tried-and-true business strategy: “Philanthropic initiatives … can pave the way for future market-based innovations,” wrote McKinsey executive Doug Conant in a 2013 report. “It’s a great way to learn about communities and their needs, and test new business strategies.”

In Minneapolis, in 2007, McKinsey/Itasca’s pro bono strategic plan for the city’s schools definitely paved the way for “market-based innovations,” in the form of a coordinated, business-led mission to shake up and remake the public school system.

And much of this mission was funded, inadvertently, by Big Tobacco

For years, Jill Stever-Zeitlin’s salary in MPS was paid for by the Itasca Project through a grant from the local Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi Foundation for Children (the RKMC Foundation).  The RKMC Foundation was started, according to RKMC’s website, in 1998, with a “$30 million commitment from the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP law firm. The gift was a result of fees earned from the $6.6 billion settlement in the Minnesota tobacco lawsuit.”

This windfall allowed RKMC to support some beloved local organizations, such as the Children’s Theater, with an initial aim to “support PreK-12 education, public health, and social justice.” But, RKMC’s website tells us, in 2007 the foundation shifted. Just as McKinsey consultants were plunging in to the strategic redesign of the Minneapolis schools, “…the Foundation chose to focus its assets to achieve greater impact on improving children’s lives.”

Here’s what those assets have supported in Minnesota:

  • The Minneapolis Foundation: Through corporate philanthropy and support from the RKMC fund, the Minneapolis Foundation has provided financial support and thought leadership for the pro-business education reform movement in Minnesota. (The Minneapolis Foundation, in turn, provides financial support for the Itasca Project, which received flak in 2010 for wanting to pay its first “CEO” close to $400,000.)
  • The Minneapolis Foundation’s outgoing president, Sandra Vargas, is board chair of the national, hedge fund-heavy education reform network, 50CAN, which the Minneapolis Foundation also helps fund. Vargas became president of the Minneapolis Foundation in 2007, suggesting this was indeed a pivotal year for the local reform movement,
  • Teach for America (TFA). This education reform powerhouse was brought to the Twin Cities with help from the RKMC Foundation, giving TFA a foothold for expansion in Minnesota. While TFA recruits do not have a large classroom presence in Minneapolis, TFA alums have been put into high-profile, highly paid administrative jobs within the district–often after just two years of teaching experience, leading to an emphasis on management systems, data collection and standardization (hallmarks of the McKinsey approach to public education). One example: Minneapolis’s “Office of New Schools,” run by TFA alum Betsy Ohrn, and built to promote the portfolio-like splintering of the Minneapolis schools.
  • TFA also has a “deep bench,” far beyond the classroom, nationally and locally. Beginning in 2012, with TFA alum Josh Reimnitz’s  Minneapolis school board campaign, outside education reform money has poured into local elections. 
  • Educators for Excellence (E4E) is a TFA offshoot, also brought to the Twin Cities by RKMC funds. E4E is positively framed as a place for “teacher’s voices,” but also requires teachers to sign a pledge in order to join. The pledge includes an agreement to be evaluated according to student test scores, which sounds like a great “accountability” tactic, but is deeply flawed and, some would say, profoundly unethical (see this report connecting high stakes testing to the school to prison pipeline). E4E also helps promote corporate structures for public education, such as pay for performance–a controversial practice abandoned, ironically, by Microsoft (E4E is partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). E4E has a New York PR firm, SDK Knickerbocker, on retainer to help sell its “teacher-led” message.
  • MinnCAN. The RKMC Foundation provided seed money for MinnCAN, a franchise of the national 50CAN education reform network, to grow here. MinnCAN is run by former TFA-Twin Cities Executive Director Dan Sellers, who also managed, or mismanaged, some might say, the 2014 influx of outside dough into the Minneapolis school board race. (Want to get a handle on MinnCAN’s priorities/lobbying efforts? Follow the money.)
  • MinnCAN has shared office space in Minneapolis with the local pro-charter school expansion group, Charter School Partners. The RKMC Foundation has provided financial support for Charter School Partners, which has since morphed into MN Comebackan incredibly well-funded group with designs on a complete takeover of the Minneapolis Public Schools, through the expansion of “high performing” charter and district schools.
  • MN Comeback has also received money from the RKMC Foundation and the Minneapolis Foundation. Additionally, MN Comeback is part of a national education reform support and expansion group called Education Cities (again, follow the money). Amy Hertel is a former McKinsey consultant and Minneapolis Foundation education policy director. She now works for Education Cities, as the Vice President for “Network Impact.”

Think of this as a coordinated, McKinsey/Itasca-RKMC-Minneapolis Foundation-national education reform network marketing campaign, with two dominant talking points: 

  1. The Problem: The Minneapolis Public Schools, like “urban” public education everywhere, is failing. It is expensive, bloated and messy, and it is failing students of color, thanks to entrenched “adult” interests, such as teachers unions.
  2. The Solution: Competition, data, school choice, the expansion of charter schools, the use of “transformational,” non-unionized teachers, mayoral appointed school boards, metrics, performance management, greater “autonomy” in exchange for greater “accountability,” and the systematic redirection of resources from the public into private hands, through “scholarships” (vouchers), for example.

The very real, very consciously-created and unaddressed racial and economic “gaps” that exist in Minnesota and throughout the United States are always used as the (public) justification for this work. 

But here is how a Minneapolis Public Schools employee–who has asked not to be named–remembers McKinsey’s work in the district:

They held focus groups for MPS staff around 2007 — you participated and got a $10 gift card to McDonald’s or something. At the small group I was part of (about 3 or 4 white staff), they asked us what we thought were the main issues facing MPS. I said I thought racism in the form of segregated schools and predominantly white teaching staff. Jill (forget her last name — was running the focus group [and don’t forget McKinsey was doing this for free for MPS]) said, “What do you mean?” I elaborated about white schools, schools of color, low-income schools, privileged schools in SW Mpls; how we had a huge majority of white licensed staff and an ever-growing percentage of students of color, but MPS was not providing any professional development to increase educators’ understanding of our own racism and how it impacts how we view our students & their families.

After that, McKinsey published a big report about their “findings” and it didn’t say a thing about race. They had to publish an addendum to make up for their racist blind spot. 

Retired Wells Fargo CEO Jim Campbell was chair of the Itasca Project from 2003-2008. In a McKinsey & Co. video about the Itasca Project, called “Doing Well by Doing Good,” Campbell describes Itasca this way:

“Our whole focus is on picking issues and working on them and producing results.”

Notably, while Itasca, through McKinsey, was leading a “strategic redirection”–minus democratic input or oversight–of the Minneapolis schools, this happened, thanks to the north Minneapolis group known as NOC (Neighborhoods Organizing for Change):

In October 2011, prompted by outrage over damage to education funding caused by the foreclosure crisis and the lobbying influence the banks are exerting over our democracy and public revenues, NOC presented the school board with a report demonstrating the $28 million negative impact of Wells Fargo’s foreclosure practices on the district’s budget. Community members rallied and testified at the board asking them to move their $25 million monthly payroll account.  NOC followed up in December by presenting the school board with more than 12,000 petition signatures demanding they move their money.

NOC’s organizing pressure was followed, in 2012, by a SEIU (Service Employees International Union) report, titled I.O.U.: How Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank Have Shortchanged Minnesota Schools.” The report’s purpose? To square “some of the blame for a $2.4 billion school shift and other shortfalls in school funding on the practices of the state’s largest banks and their executives.” 

This begs the question: Who is failing whom? And who is controlling the narrative?

More to come! McKinsey, the media, and the education ecosystem

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