Apparently Nashville has been far too slow to privatize its public schools. Community pushback has annoyed the power structure, which wants more charters faster, even though the celebrated Achievement School District (mainly in Memphis) has yet to reach its goal of converting the lowest 5% of schools in the state into the top 25% within five years (by turning them into charter schools, of course). Naturally, reformers in other states want to copy the ASD even though it has not yet been successful and may never be, just as they want to copy the New Orleans’ strategy of turning every school into a privately managed charter, even though most of the charters in NOLA are graded D or F by a charter-friendly State Education Department.
And so the establishment in Nashville has called for a RESET. Reform isn’t moving fast enough for them. They are impatient for more privatization. That means everyone should pay attention to the data. Who will assemble the data? Who else but the Parthenon Group, a consulting group of MBAs and TFAs who know how to fix school systems (they say). They will tell Nashville that their test scores are not high enough, their graduation rates are not high enough, and you can guess their remedies. Read Nashville parent blogger Dad Gone Wild on the Parthenon Group here. As Jersey Jazzman wrote recently, there is a difference between “facts,” even when they are real, and “truth,” which is how the facts are used to advance an agenda.
Dad Gone Wild refers to some of the recent work by Parthenon in Tennessee (read his piece to see the links):
To see more local evidence of the Parthenon Group’s work, we don’t even have to get on the internet. We just need to talk to the folks in Knoxville. That’s Rob Taylor of Knoxville talking about the Parthenon Group in the video above. In Knoxville, the school board commissioned the Parthenon Group to study their system and share their recommendations for improvement. Those recommendations included increasing class size and eliminating around 300 positions that included guidance counselors, psychologists, and librarians. It also produced the stunning comment that not all students are the same; some are more profitable than others. Knoxville paid over a million dollars for this brilliant advice.
In case you don’t want to look to the eastern part of the state, we can also look to the west in Memphis. Where a school district already $142 million in the red paid roughly $350k a month for the Parthenon Group’s expertise. The recommendation in Memphis? Merit pay for teachers with no added compensation for higher levels of education. A plan that has been proven ineffective countless times and that Memphis rejected as well. Starting to notice a pattern? Momma Bears, a Tennessee parent group, certainly did. So did another parent group Tennessee Parents.
The Parthenon Group’s missteps are not relegated to just K-12 education though. Some of you may be familiar with the Corinthian Colleges scandal. The Santa Ana company, one of the world’s largest for-profit college businesses, allegedly targeted low-income Californians through “aggressive marketing campaigns” that inaccurately represented job placement rates and school programs. Who touts Corinthian Colleges as one of their success stories and strongly recommended them to their investors? Why, none other than the Parthenon Group. Still not noticing a pattern? The pattern seems to be one of presenting ill conceived plans to clients.
Peter Greene read Dad Gone Wild and added his astute commentary on the RESET game in Nashville.
Green reminds us that Tennessee has long been way out front on the reformster wave. It was one of the first winners of Race to the Top funding and is often celebrated by Arne Duncan. It was the first state to hire a TFA alum, Kevin Huffman, as state commissioner (he has since left).
Huffman, however, has moved on, gracefully jumping ship before he could be pushed off the plank. Late in 2014, his general incompetence and gracelessness had finally turned him into a large enough political liability to end his happy time as Tennessee Educhieftain.
Can’t We Just Start Over?
Lots of folks in power had loved Huffman and thought he had the right ideas. But the whole Common Core discussion had exploded in a welter of hard-right anti-gummint much dislike, and Huffman’s attempt to make every Tennessee teacher just a little poorer had not exactly won a lot of backing from that community, either.
So here comes the Nashville Public Education Foundation, a coalition of civic-minded folks that would really like to make a mark on public education as long as they don’t have to A) actually talk to or deal with people who work in public education or B) work through any of those democratically-elected institutions. We’ve seen this kind of foundation before (I ran across it most recently in York, PA, when local businessmen decided that they really wanted to dismantle public schools without actually having to run for office or convince the general public to go along.)
Watch their scrolling bank of happy quotes and you’ll see supportive words from Teach for America, the Chamber of Commerce, the mayor, a former governor, a parent, a CEO, the school director, the country music association foundation, and — wait? what! really??– Ben Folds.
The Foundation has had its fingers all over Nashville education, and that foundation has decided that what the city needs is to RESET. What the heck is that?
The mission of Project RESET (Reimagining Education Starts with Everyone at the Table) is to elevate the conversation on education as we approach a vital time in Nashville’s history. Led by the Nashville Public Education Foundation, with the support of Nashville’s Agenda and media assistance from The Tennessean, Project RESET will set the table for a larger, communitywide conversation about improving Nashville’s public schools.
The event, lauded by charter operators around Nashville, is coming up at the end of the month. How much fun will that be?
You know the old Will Rogers quote: “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ while you look for a rock.” Remember this any time somebody is acting diplomatically toward you. Don’t listen to what they say; watch to see if they’re looking for a rock.
The rock in this case is the Parthenon Consulting Group.
Greene goes on to look closely at the record of the Parthenon Consulting Group. The quote above has links aplenty.
What is blindingly clear is that when it comes to education, Parthenon is only interested in one topic– how to make money at it.
If your landlord says he’s called an outfit to come work on the problems in your building, and what you see pull up in front is a Demolition Specialists truck, you are the doggie. If you are a public school system and the Parthenon Group shows up to “help” you, you are the doggie. The Parthenon Group does not specialize in helping schools systems do a better job of educating students. The Parthenon Groups helps school systems turn into pieces that can be more easily replaced with profitable charter schools.
The long and short of it: powerful forces are on the move to replace public education with privatization.