I’ve been exposing school privatization in Mass since 2008. These are my stories…
Last week, we used the DigBoston feature well to look back at the long war that’s been fought on cannabis in Massachusetts. This week I am giving a similar treatment to my own coverage of the Commonwealth charter school conflict, excerpting darts and revelations from the tens of thousands of words I have reported on the topic since last decade.
I hate to sing such sour notes with the election looming closely (thousands have already voted at this point), but even if ballot Question 2, which would expand charters at a clip of as many as 12 per year statewide, fails at the polls, the corporate forces driving school privatization won’t shrink. As demonstrated in my past reporting, setbacks tend to make the anti-union forces stronger, richer.
In any case, this latest conflict has been a magnificent (and draining) drag-out, if not the defining Commonwealth primary ed debate of the first part of the century (with the rift over MCAS coming in a distant second). Well-endowed charter disciples have thrown a heaping horseshit enchilada at the Mass electorate, from specious data and studies to talking heads helping to angle for ed bucks.
This close to such a pressing vote, there’s no room for modesty. So I’ll just come right out and say that I’m among the top authorities on charter plundering in Mass, having traced millions of dollars flowing between elite corporate interests, shady pro-biz dink tanks like the Boston Municipal Research Bureau that masquerade as non-partisan, state and city administrators, and an extended cast of other leeches.
While thousands of people have already shared and read these stories, it’s nevertheless clear that more voters could stand to learn about the backroom deals and free market ideas that have poisoned the educational infrastructure in Mass. I could just as easily scream on recent sickening developments (and certainly will in the coming weeks and months), but I’ve been telling you for years that it’s a fix. The research is already done, the inevitable outcome cooked.
All excerpts originally published in DigBoston and written by Chris Faraone unless otherwise noted.
THE PRICE OF CHANGE (June 2012, co-written with Matt McQuaid, originally published in the Boston Phoenix)
To the disgust of many Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) members, earlier this month the union’s negotiators conceded significant seniority rights in future hiring after a series of meetings with [the corporate-backed charter advocacy group] Stand For Children (SFC) … The MTA had little choice but to cave; if the union did not agree on a package, SFC had enough signatures to force harsher measures through a ballot initiative. The settlement will spare both sides the burden of spending millions on a ground war over a ballot campaign. Still, these developments raise important issues. Namely, how did Stand for Children get powerful enough to scare the state’s biggest educators union into submission? Who’s behind the charge, and what are they really trying to accomplish?
GREAT TEACHERS, GREAT FOOLS (Originally published in the Jamaica Plain Gazette, May 2013)
On June 5, at the Edward Brooke Charter School in Roslindale, a so-called ed reform group called Stand For Children—in reality, a front for corporations including Bain Capital, and a staunch adversary of the teacher’s union in Chicago—is co-sponsoring a mayoral forum to be “centered on education.” … Since 2008, more than half-a-dozen Bain executives have served on national and local SFC boards. This should be alarming for any number of reasons, but especially because Bain owns Bright Horizons, a Watertown-based education services company that builds and operates for-profit charter schools in Florida and California. Massachusetts has already paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Bright Horizons for its universal pre-kindergarten care services.
ANATOMY OF THE NEW MASS CHARTER SCHOOL BATTLEGROUND (April 2014)
Openly opposing charters is unpopular business. Republicans and Democrats are largely on the same page regarding this issue, while around here, neither side seems awfully concerned that companies like Bain Capital, which boasts several executives on boards of pro-charter nonprofits, is literally in the school business. Even under the progressive new Boston mayor, Marty Walsh, education is increasingly subjected to the mercy of corporate interests. In assembling a search committee for the new Boston Public Schools (BPS) superintendent, Walsh tapped Bank of America Massachusetts President Robert Gallery as co-chair.
CHARLIE BAKER’S WAR
IT HELPS TO KNOW WHO’S FULL OF SHIT (October 2015)
Governor Charlie Baker, while seemingly cool-headed if not downright liberal on some other issues, is a shamelessly conservative post-voucher apostle on schools. Baker has such little regard for traditional ed that he appointed Paul Sagan, a venture capitalist with no teaching or school administration experience, to chair the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
MCAS-HOLES (June 2015)
DESE Board Chair Paul Sagan doubled down on his “vision that’s been nurtured over the past two decades.” Sagan’s not himself an educator; before Governor Baker asked him to serve, he was the president and CEO of a technology firm, and an executive at the venture capital group General Catalyst Partners, which backs more than 200 high-tech companies including ClassDojo, a student tracking app … Sagan’s only experience in the ed sector is with the advocacy group Massachusetts Business Leaders for Charter Public Schools.
WHO’S FULL OF CRAP ABOUT CHARTERS? (August 2016)
According to Samuel Tyler of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau (BMRB), the warring factions should agree to “lengthen school days, overhaul the teacher evaluation and job-assignment systems, and replace guaranteed pay raises with merit increases”—all positions favored by charter school advocates … Though you’ll never read about Tyler’s longstanding role as a regional policy whore in their pages, it wouldn’t take the Globe’s award-winning Spotlight team to see that BMRB’s board of directors boasts members from such companies as State Street Corporation, Suffolk Construction, Fidelity Investments, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Citizens Bank, Boston Properties, and John Hancock, among others in the corporate class whose money drives the pro- side of the charter war.
CHARTER TANK (October 2015)
The Gates Foundation’s tentacles in Massachusetts are plentiful, but for now I’ll remark on a tip that I received from out of state. The reader asked for information about Education Resource Strategies—a Watertown nonprofit with strong links to Gates—and said the outfit is angling for a contract to advise their struggling district. I took a look at the vendor’s credentials and track record, and wrote the reader back the following:
You’re fucked. Among ERS board members—always a good place to start in checking if these operations are nefarious or altruistic—the nonprofit boasts an advisor partner from Bain Capital, as well as former Ted Kennedy advisor Ellen Guiney, who I recently reported has been instrumental in directing public education dollars to third-party service providers. I’m glad you wrote me though, because I now see that our own struggling school system has partnered with the same nonprofit for 8 out of the past 16 years, working with ERS in “several areas including professional development spending, comprehensive resource mapping and analysis, and supporting the creation of a district-wide strategy for turnaround schools.” As it turns out, the same consultants making money grabs in your neck of the woods have preached the education reform gospel for a decade from behind administrative lines in Boston.
FAHRENHEIT K-12 (February 2015)
Here in the Hub, where it was just announced that a “handful” of schools may close due to budget shortfalls, there’s no better example of the corporate fix than what happened at the Dearborn Middle School in Roxbury, where parents and community members fought for and successfully secured more than $70 million in state funding to build a STEM academy from the ground-up … Local families became outraged last year when BPS suddenly announced a new arrangement … to hand the Dearborn over to BPE, a nonprofit that runs the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School. The plan was fast-tracked behind closed doors, likely thanks to BPE’s politically wired board members, a gang that includes two Bank of America executives, John Fish of Suffolk Construction and the Boston 2024 Olympics, and the Hub’s chief of economic development.
THE OPERATORS (April 2014)
Beneath the surface war between unions and charter school cheerleaders, a much more nuanced shift in administration and policy has gone virtually unnoticed in the Bay State … Similar to the way in which the MBTA Commuter Rail is operated by Keolis, a private company, an increasing number of third-party players are being given control of Hub schools. Unlike the MBTA arrangement though, this is a case in which money flowing from taxpayers to nonprofit BPS partners is often difficult to trace, and is not always itemized for transparency purposes. Despite tepid-to-weak results stemming from partnerships in Mass so far, the trend continues.
BOSTON PUBLIC-SCHOOL APARTHEID? (Originally published in the Boston Phoenix, October 2009)
Opponents charge that charters benefit from not having to account for students that they purge. District schools cannot legally enforce the same behavioral and academic sanctions as charters, which suspend students nearly five times more than district schools, and often expel underachievers and lose kids as a result of asking them to stay back. Furthermore, while charter admissions don’t discriminate, critics say they are ill-equipped to instruct learning-disabled and foreign-speaking students, who, as a default, mostly wind up at district schools, where they negatively affect test scores, producing low rankings and the sort of reputations that charter-school guidance counselors warn their students about.
BOSTON DUCKS ED REFORM (Originally published on Esquire.com, August 2013)
With Boston engulfed in its first mayoral race in two decades, this week the Bain Capital and Walmart-affiliated nonprofit Stand For Children (SFC) announced plans to spend $500,000 cheerleading for popular City Councilor-At-Large John Connolly … The money pledged by SFC is as much in outside dough as Connolly has spent from his own war chest thus far, and probably enough to help the councilor secure the top polling spot. But after a bitter torrent of Twitter blowback over SFC’s private equity pedigree — compounded by haranguing from other leading candidates to sign a pledge denouncing outside cash — Connolly held a press conference today to openly reject the offer.
BOSTON’S NEXT BEST SUPERINTENDENT (March 2015)
Of the four [BPS superintendent] finalists, Tommy Chang, an instructional superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District, is the only one I was unable to meet. Even if the MBTA hadn’t failed me on the morning of his scheduled media interview though, chances are it would have been a bigger waste of time for me than waiting on the Red Line platform for an hour. Chang is a product of the charter ethos, as well as a likely bridge to untold outside influences. I would have been happy to figure this all out up close rather than by watching him on video, but I’m no less confident in saying that while some systems may need a severe overhaul, Boston needs a super who will mind the store rather than bulldoze it. [2016 ed. note: Chang got the job.]
THE BARBARISM OF CHARTERISM (December 2015)
The latest theater in the Bay State ed scrum erupted not in direct response to actions taken by Walsh or the city, but rather following attention springing from a November blog post by Esquire.com writer Charles Pierce titled “Boston’s Mayor Goes Full Scott Walker on Charter Schools.” Though only a few paragraphs long, due to exposure through the national magazine’s website, the mention brought a quiet backroom storm to a public head, as Pierce opined that “charterism is privatization on the public’s dime, the worst of all possible worlds,” and specifically condemned Walsh’s alleged plan “to close 36 public schools in order to make way for charters—and, it seems, for the city’s parochial schools.”
To further obfuscate matters, upcoming building changes will be impacted by the Boston Compact, a 2011 agreement between then-Mayor Tom Menino, the BPS superintendent at the time, and more than 15 parochial and charter school leaders from around the city. Partially funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the compact initiative, which aims to “bring district, charter and Catholic school educators together,” was resuscitated and revamped in 2015. With news of potential shutterings reaching national outlets, spokespeople at City Hall swiftly denied Pierce’s claims … The issue of the reinvigorated compact, which even boggled some who were familiar with the 2011 version of the agreement, proved too confusing for reporters, many of whom ran City Hall’s rebuttal as fact.
HOW MASS BECAME GROUND-ZERO FOR CORPORATE ED PRIVATIZATION (Originally published on Alternet, July 2016)
Mayor Walsh, who inherited a system wracked with failing infrastructure and historically ineffable fiscal management practices, has indeed offered some concessions. After the March walkout, the mayor diverted $6 million away from larger institutional investments to cushion the blow felt by individual schools. Still, in public and in interviews, the mayor has been reluctant to acknowledge the massive impact of the charter few on the traditional many.
“I’m not going to be part of the conversation around charter schools versus public schools versus Catholic school,” Walsh told questioning BPS parents at a town hall meeting in early May [Ed. note: Walsh has since come out in opposition to Question 2]. “I’m unique—I went to kindergarten at a public school, I got educated at St. Margaret’s grammar school in Dorchester, which is a Catholic school, and I went to Newman Prep in Back Bay, which is a private school. And I’m a founding board member of a charter school, so I know how all educations work.”
Like everything related to school systems in Mass, the entire story is a bit more complicated than the mayor lets on.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.