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Philadelphia and the attempted coup of their school district

By now you hopefully know what is happening in Philadelphia.

There is a plan underfoot to privatize as many schools as possible in the district.

Here is an excerpt from an article that I posted previously, For Philly public schools, barbarian is Gates :

Into the Philadelphia School District’s state of fiscal desperation rides Bill Gates. Who can say “no” to free money when you are so deep in the hole? But the money is not free, and the price is the democratic procedure in the city and the state under which the community and its elected leaders make informed decisions about its schools.

Helen Gym

Then in a Weekly Update, this article written by Parents Across America (PAA) Founding Member Helen Gym was posted. To follow is an excerpt from Please help Philadelphia: Poster child for disasters of corporate reform :

It’s taken me a while to talk about what’s happening in Philadelphia because of the destructive forces threatening public education in our city.

In case you haven’t read the news, Philadelphia’s Chief Recovery Officer – a gas industry executive paid $150K over six months – hired the Boston Consulting Group for a cool $1.4 million to create a “Blueprint for Reform”. The Blueprint sets out a five year course of action which calls for closing one-fourth of Philadelphia’s schools, 40 alone next year (64 total), placing 40% of students into charters, and dividing up the remaining schools into NYC-inspired “achievement networks” run by third party operators under a five year performance contract.

There are of course the standard union-busting threats, the exclusion of parent and community voices, and the consolidation of political interests, large charter operators, and voucher supporters. There is also terrible shock and awe rhetoric to silence Philadelphians into accepting this plan. Our Mayor for example said the school district was on the verge of imminent “collapse” and said the plan was something Philadelphians needed to “grow up and deal with.” Our Chief Recovery Officer just last week stated that schools may not open in September unless Philadelphians funded the plan with $94 million in increased property taxes.

And all of this is happening in a state where a Republican Governor has slashed $1.1 billion from public education in the last two years.

In the same Friday update, this article was also posted Who’s Killing Philly Public Schools?

Yesterday I posted an interview with Amy Goodman and Daniel Denvir, reporter for the Philadelphia City Paper, regarding the attempt to take over Philadelphia schools and the push back.

These articles and posts will get you up to speed on what has been happening in Philadelphia. Now, Helen Gym has written a commentary on what is happening now in Philadelphia and what should have occurred. To follow is the article in full from The Notebook,  Commentary: Put the Boston Consulting Group where it belongs – before the public.

It’s hard to imagine a worse debut in Philadelphia for the Boston Consulting Group.

The Massachusetts-based multinational firm scored $1.5 million for a six-week gig that produced the publicly and academically scorned “Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools.” The hardline rhetoric in the plan around school closings, charter expansion, and so-called “achievement networks” has drawn out thousands of upset parents and community members to gatherings around the city.

And yet, as Dale Mezzacappa reported this week, BCG is continuing its role in Philadelphia for $1.2 million more, money raised specifically from private donors and funneled through the United Way outside public scrutiny.

Boston Consulting Group’s contract should have been put before the School Reform Commission as a public resolution. But because it’s being funded through an outside entity, there’s no public review of a firm with an unprecedented role in shaping the SRC’s reform plans.

Even if you are for this plan, you cannot be for this process.

Had BCG gone through public channels, the SRC would be required to make BCG’s contract public. BCG’s specific findings and recommendations, which have never been released, would have been subject to public review. Questions could have been asked about the bidding process, criteria, and scope of work. Questions could have been asked about BCG’s past work in cities like Memphis and Cleveland, whose plans aren’t terribly dissimilar from ours.

Questions could have been asked about why BCG’s plan contrasted so sharply with Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon’s plan for school autonomy, which was based on many weeks of work with District staff, principals, and other stakeholders.

Maybe we would have learned that the rollout for the BCG plan came with its own communications team – also paid for by outside foundation support. Instead, there’s no attempt to distinguish between the District’s communications team and the PR done by a firm whose client no one really knows – BCG? William Penn Foundation? Individual donors? The United Way?

We could have asked important questions about the role of single donors funding BCG’s $1.2 million – philanthropists like H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest and newer organizations like the Philadelphia School Partnership, which promotes religious schools and charters. Lenfest is a wonderful philanthropist and PSP has the right to promote whatever ideology it chooses, but when private money funds a public process – especially one as divisive as this one – we can’t evade questions and transparency in the name of philanthropy. Surely the fiasco around the mayor seeking private donations for Arlene Ackerman’s golden parachute can’t be that far from the public memory?

Finally, if BCG came before the SRC as a resolution, each member would vote and the public would know where the SRC stood on the direction of the district before outside entities crafted those plans, not after. When commissioners have major decisions made for them without a vote, they risk losing the public trust.

The Boston Consulting Group reminds me of the 2001 fiasco with Edison Schools. A little more than a decade ago, Edison Schools was paid $2.7 million to “study” the Philadelphia public schools and provide a report – a report Edison wrote that resulted in a plan to turn over the entire management of the District to, you guessed it, Edison Schools.

Today, BCG – funded by private interests – is engineering its own long-term role behind closed doors to remake the District into an image that has polarized important public dialogue on our schools.

The SRC needs to put the Boston Consulting Group where it belongs: before the public eye.

One comment on “Philadelphia and the attempted coup of their school district

  1. John Young
    May 27, 2012

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina and commented:
    Philadelphia is burning folks. Must read.

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