At the last meeting, I talked about the corporate raiders of the 80’s and 90’s. Well, in the mid-90’s, a new type of corporate raider emerged – education reformers funded by billionaires with ideology and money to spare and their targets were publicly funded schools. The original key players were the Walton, Gates and Eli Broad Foundations. But they’ve spawned a lot of others, like Lenfest’s Mastery Charter mini-school system wannabe and corporate hedge-funders like Susquehanna International Group’s Jeff Yass, whose wife co-founded Boys Latin. They sprinkle their money around to non-profits who among other things buy bonds that are very lucrative for their big-money investors. Although they talk like small town folk who just want to help neighborhood school students succeed, they use big business advertising dollars to create a market for their products and use media and bussed in parents to create demand. They diversify, making money from selling curriculum programs to training programs, to computer based programs, and so on. They run their corporations with an eye toward expansion, extending their ever-growing tentacles to urban cities, seeking that tax-free start-up money and ready to wear student population.
Case in point – In 2011, John Covington was a Broad-trained superintendent in Kansas City who, without warning, up and left his school district in stunned disbelief. Why? Because Eli Broad called him from Spain and said, “I need you in Detroit.” Covington, by the way, left Detroit 3 years later and still works with Broad. What was recently uncovered is that in addition to the Broad training program creating their model of superintendents, Broad also has ties to companies that specialize in school executive placements nationwide, one of which then recommended Covington to Nashville Public Schools in 2015.
But ed reform programs and charter initiatives have begun to fail all over the country. For example, Bill Gates has become a serial apologist for his failed policies, including his small high school model in 2009 and again in 2014 when he admitted that Common Core was iffy at best in bridging the inequity gap. Increasingly, charter companies like Universal and Scholar Academies leave schools in the lurch mid-year due to financial failures.
Well, Philadelphia public schools can’t afford to continue with starving our own schools and their students while opening and renewing charter schools, many of whom do no better and are sometimes worse than our public schools. How dare these charters cry “foul” when the SRC wants to negotiate conditions for renewal. And more often than not the SRC goes along with them, by secretly negotiating down the number and degree of the conditions and even renewing the schools again and again even when they still don’t improve. They claim high poverty students and subsequent behavior problems for their lack of academic achievement. Excuse me, but our neighborhood schools have been dealing with those conditions for years without redress or support from the District and don’t have the luxury of that excuse.
Yet the SRC and the District keep pouring tons of money into these schools and programs. I’m an educator and I just don’t get it.