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Seattle PreSchool for All Proposition 1B: Acelero, the fox watching over the hen house

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It seems in the world of education these days that whenever someone has an idea, there are efforts in play to try to co-opt the idea and make money off of it.

Here’s an example in our own backyard and is happening before our very eyes. Acelero.

In the march by the Seattle City Council led by Tim Burgess, seemingly now the czar of ed for the City of Seattle and actually called the “Godfather of Preschool” by Mayor Murray at a Prop 1B event, to establish a Universal preK program, some folks have joined the parade who we need to take a second look at.

Right now that person is Ellen Frede who, along with Dr. Steven Barnett, has been selected by the City to lead the Initiative 1B effort “Preschool for All”.

Ms. Frede is also Senior Vice President of Education and Research for Acelero.

Acelero is a for-profit venture that has taken over Head Starts in four cities so far.

From the Hechinger Report

A for-profit approach to Head Start

Aaron Lieberman, founder and chief executive officer of Acelero Learning Inc.

Aaron Lieberman, founder and chief executive officer of Acelero Learning Inc.

“Acelero Learning, the largest for-profit company in the country that runs Head Start programs in three other states, has arrived in Milwaukee with a $5.6 million federal grant, and it’s gearing up to enroll the first of 800 children it will serve.”

On a recent spring morning at the St. Elizabeth’s Head Start center in North Philadelphia, Ashley Post, a first-year teacher freshly graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, clicked on her “listening ears” and patted down her “thinking cap” as a room full of 15 preschoolers imitated her every move.

Many of the children were here last year, but most of the adults in the room – including Post, the center director, the curriculum manager, and a Teach For America mentor taking notes on Post’s lesson – are brand new, along with many of the toys, books, furniture, and even the paint on the walls.

The changes are part of an initiative by Acelero, a company that took over St. Elizabeth’s this year, to dramatically raise the quality of education at this center, and – Acelero’s founders hope – to make a profit while doing so.

Turning Head Start, the federal childcare program for low-income children, into a money-making venture is a novel idea that has raised questions among some early childhood advocates. Since the 1960s, Head Start has relied almost exclusively on nonprofit operators. But in 1998 Congress passed a law that opened the door to for-profit companies, and changes to the program proposed last year might lead more companies to take advantage of the opportunity

Running a Head Start center tends to be an altruistic endeavor: Operators often must rely on donations and volunteers to make ends meet. Acelero, headquartered in New York City, is the first and so far the only large-scale for-profit Head Start operator in the country.

Yet Acelero’s CEO, Aaron Lieberman, a Yale graduate with an interest in the sort of market-based education reforms that have fueled the charter school movement, believes he has found ways to turn profits from one of the country’s longest running anti-poverty programs.

Since opening its first center in Camden in 2005, Acelero has expanded relatively quickly. More than a dozen Acelero centers now operate in New Jersey and Nevada. Last fall, Acelero ventured into Pennsylvania for the first time, taking over two centers in North Philadelphia, including St. Elizabeth’s, after the YMCA, the previous operator, lost its grant because of “recurring fiscal issues,” according to the Administration for Children and Families, the federal agency that runs Head Start.

The company also runs the education program at Frankie’s World, a center for children with medical issues on Poplar Street.

Lieberman said he started Acelero as a for-profit in order to “do well” financially “and do good at the same time,” and he has found some supporters. “They’re trying to be very smart about delivering good services to children and families,” said Yasmina Vinci, director of the National Head Start Association, an advocacy group.

Acelero has also encountered its own problems, however, including a federal audit that accused the company of overcharging the federal Head Start agency and reports in New Jersey that a worker slapped a child and that another left children alone.

“It seems someone would have to look closely at how they’re making money to make sure they’re not shortchanging children or ripping off the taxpayers,” said Janet Currie, a Columbia University economist who has studied Head Start.

To read this article in full, go the Hechinger Report.

This is a major conflict of interest and Ms. Frede needs to be removed from this position within the city.

There are now too many indications that the City of Seattle’s Preschool for All Program has already been taken over and led by big money or…is that how all of this started, this brainchild of Councilmember Tim Burgess?

For more news and views on the City of Seattle’s Preschool for All Program Initiative 1B (as it will be shown on the November ballot), see:

Race to the Tots: Universal (for profit) Pre-K, DFER and the suits

“Pre-School for All” in Seattle, student information sharing, Jump Start and more

For more on Teach for America, see this page.

Dora Taylor

2 comments on “Seattle PreSchool for All Proposition 1B: Acelero, the fox watching over the hen house

  1. John
    September 15, 2014

    Thank you for this article, Dora. The city has been silent regarding their relationship with Acelero.

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