Archives for category: Boston Consulting Group

People often ask what can be done to slow down the galloping pace of privatization, which has the enthusiastic support of so many Republican governors and legislatures (see Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Louisiana), the Obama administration (see Race to the Top), and wealthy foundations (see Gates, Walton, Broad).

Philadelphia parents are not sitting back and wailing against the proposed privatization. They have lodged ethics complaints against the city’s largest foundation and the Boston Consulting Group for being unregistered lobbyists.

This is a letter from parent leader Helen Gym explaining why parents acted:

Dear Colleagues:

This week, Parents United for Public Education, the Philadelphia Home and School Council and the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP filed a complaint with the City ethics board that the activities of the Boston Consulting Group and the William Penn Foundation should constitute lobbying under the city’s new lobbying ordinance. We believe it is the first real test of the lobbying law which went into effect in January and was designed to prevent secretive attempts to influence policy, including the School District of Philadelphia.

We did not make this decision easily or hastily. We requested a thorough legal analysis from the venerable Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. We arrived at this decision after months of observation and study around the murky activities of the Boston Consulting Group and the wealthy donors who funded them. Just a week before the Philadelphia School District is expected to announce dozens of school closings which will throw our city into turmoil, we believe the public deserves to know the full influence of private money and access on decisions that impact us all.

Please read and share our post: “The public deserves to know what’s happening here” at Parents United’s new website:

As always, I would love your feedback, critiques, suggestions and shares.



Helen Gym
Parents United for Public Education

Contact us:
Visit us:
Yes, we tweet! Follow us @parentsunitedpa

Wherever the Boston Consulting Group goes, certain outcomes are predictable:

1. It will recommend closing public schools.

2. It will recommend opening privately managed charter schools.

3. Most of the schools closed will be in African-American neighborhoods.

4. Most of the teachers laid off will be African American.

5. The Boston Consulting Group will get a fee that is outrageous in comparison to the work they do in writing a report (the report is everywhere the same, just change the name of the city).

In this case, they make the usual recommendations for Memphis.

Before, their handiwork was seen in Philadelphia.

Who advises them? Margaret Spellings.

Earlier this year, the William Penn Foundation commissioned a report from the Boston Consulting Group on the future of the Philadelphia public schools. BCG, as is customary, recommended closing dozens of public schools and opening dozens of privately managed charters.

Parents and community leaders were outraged.

One group, Parents United for Public Education, complained that the William Penn Foundation was engaged in lobbying, and it sought a legal opinion from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia to support its claim.

Please read the linked article. It reveals an intent to privatize public schools, not to study their needs dispassionately.

The hard-charging president of the William Penn Foundation has suddenly resigned, in what appears to be an ouster by the board. Is this a mini-replay of the Ford Foundation’s ill-fated intervention into school politics in New York City in 1968-70? No one knows, for now. Perhaps the foundation did not enjoy being cast in the role of villain in the city’s struggles.

The interesting story here is that Philadelphia parents (and give credit here to the tireless Helen Gym) pressed the theory that the new muscular venture philanthropy crossed a clear line from philanthropy to political activism.

In the past decade, a handful of very wealthy foundations have used their funding to steer public schools, without regard to the wishes of parents or to the democratic process. Philadelphia parents just threw a wrench into the gears of the privatization machine.

This parent offered testimony to the Néw York City Council, explaining the incoherence of reform in Néw York City. She described how the Mayor dissolved geographic districts and replaced them with a structure that no one understands, a structure that leaves parents out in the cold. Her comments about the “Children’s First Networks” created by the Bloomberg administration are especially valuable, because the Boston Consulting Group has urged similar networks as a “reform” for the Philadelphia school district. This post explains what Néw York City parents think about these networks.

Please read:

Honorable Robert Jackson
Chair, Education Committee
New York City Council
250 Broadway
New York, NY 10007

November 6, 2012

Dear Chairman Jackson,

Thank you for the opportunity to submit my testimony on the NYC Dept of Education’s networks for school support.

I am a parent of two children in public schools in Manhattan. I have been an active member at my daughters’ schools having served as a PTA officer, an SLT member, and a volunteer environmental educator. I am also the current President of the Community Education Council District 2, although this testimony does not reflect the opinion of the Council.

Since the Mayor took control of the system, organizational structure has changed at least three times. In the process, the old structure based on the 32 community school districts, whose existence is mandated by the State Education Law, has been nearly dismantled, leaving only two people: District Superintendent and the District Family Advocate. The series of reorganizations has made it very difficult for parents to know where they can get assistance beyond their own schools, and created transition periods during which school administrators were unable to figure out where to go for help on anything from enrollment to budgeting. The constant reorganization has also made it nearly impossible to assess the effectiveness of any one organizational structure because none has been in existence long enough for thorough evaluation.

The current organization of Children First Networks is perhaps the worst of all the structures. Schools in a given network or cluster seem to be selected rather randomly. Within a network there may be elementary, middle and high schools from all five boroughs. While my understanding is that principals choose a network to join, the resultant networks still seem to lack cohesion of any kind. Such lack of cohesion makes me wonder how effectively the network leaders can communicate information among the member schools and more importantly how well they can deliver pedagogical support.

Most parents are not aware of the existence or the role of the networks. For those parents who are concerned about issues beyond their schools, such as mandated curriculum, the opaque and unnecessarily complicated organization of networks and clusters makes it extremely difficult for parental involvement. If parents are familiar with the networks, it is unclear how exactly network leaders support their school or to whom they report and how they are supported. In the pre-Mayoral control era, there was a clear line of command: teachers to principals to district superintendents to the Chancellor. Under the current CFN system, principals do not report to the network leaders, who themselves do not seem to report to anyone.

The performance of network leaders also seems highly variable. For instance, during the introduction of the Special Education initiative in spring of 2012, some network leaders were effectively communicating accurate information to principals while others were not disseminating the right information. Ultimately, it was the students with IEPs who suffered from the confusion and the miscommunication. Unfortunately parents were left clueless as to how to improve communication, because they do not know their school’s network leader, who was responsible for miscommunication.

Furthermore, for a network leader to be effective, s/he must be an educator, professional developer, financial manager, and a business manager. In other words, the network system expects network leaders to do everything a district office used to do with a full staff. It is unreasonable to assume we can find a person who can excel in all these areas, not to mention more than a hundred such persons for all the networks. Speaking with principals, I am under the impression that many network leaders are not equipped to manage all the aspects of their jobs well enough for principals to receive the support they need.

Finally Hurricane Sandy illustrated all too well the limitation of the CFN in a disaster. I believe that assessing the damages to the buildings and needs of affected schools, developing plans for relocation, determining closure and reopening of schools, and communicating with principals, teachers and families would have been done much more efficiently if the schools were organized by geography of the community school districts. Our Superintendent in District 2 knows his principals and his schools in the District. In fact, he was in communication with many of the principals and assisted those whose schools lost power or flooded. Our District Family Advocate has the capacity to efficiently communicate with schools in District 2. If the Superintendent were empowered to make decisions regarding schools in his District with consultation directly with the Chancellor, I believe we would have avoided a great deal of confusion and anxiety among families, teachers and principals.

I strongly believe we should return to organizing schools by the community school districts. Grouping schools by geography builds stronger communities among parents and educators alike. I also believe community school district offices should be staffed appropriately beyond the Superintendent and the District Family Advocate to provide support to schools and assistance to families. We need an organization that makes sense, easy to grasp, and most of all builds a stronger community.

Thank you.
Shino Tanikawa



This teacher read about the push in Philadelphia to weaken, perhaps eliminate collective bargaining. The School Reform Commission with the guidance of its advisor the Boston Consulting Group (big proponent of privatization without unions and parent to Bain) thinks that if it can create a flexible workforce with performance pay and no job protections, this will attract better teachers. This reader responds:

Oh boy, low pay and no protection of any kind, whatsoever. Sign me up. What is the thought process behind “better teachers without a union”? Do they truly believe those Gates funded teacher groups that claim they don’t need a union or a contract?

The School Reform Commission in Philadelphia got some recommendations from the Boston Consulting Group that would essentially wipe out collective bargaining. BCG wants principals to be able to hire and fire at will; they want teachers to have no job security. Given its druthers, according to this account in The Notebook, the business-dominated School Reform Commission would like to get rid of all job protections and simply impose a contract. The SRC and BCG think that they can attract better teachers to Philadelphia if they break the union. Like other corporate reforms, they have zero evidence for their hope.

Just another sad chapter in the ongoing effort by corporate-style reformers to get rid of collective bargaining for teachers. Very likely the BCG proposed the vast expansion of charters as another way to bypass unionized teachers.

Many readers have been critical of their unions and wish they were more militant in fighting the corporate suits. This reader disagrees and explains why:

I’m going to go out on a limb here because the comments I am about to post are probably not going to be very popular with anyone who has commented in this discussion.So many people want their state and national teachers unions to launch a campaign of all-out protest toward the corporate reform movement.If anyone here has not yet noticed, there is a great deal of public dissatisfaction with the mere idea of public unions, let alone their actions. It would be political suicide for unions at any level to come out with “horses on fire and guns a-blazing” against these public perceptions. I have found that unions will seek to publicly take the high road in working towards better ways to improve the system.

There are times to get aggressive, but for all the “right-is-on-our-side” mentality among union members, there are plenty of people with the mentality that any aggressive union action (whether in word or deed) is negative. This negative public perception was demonstrated in Wisconsin, and it can and does continually appear in just about every other state in this country. Too many people in the public do not understand the value of unions nor know the history behind the formation and support of unions throughout the last century. Many union members themselves do not even have a background in this.

This is not a time for unions to take a defensive position–there are ways to approach these issues without giving the anti-union camp more fodder to spread their “unions are bad” message.

There are many facets to the politics of the cause that can work for or against the public perception of the unions. Whether you as a purist believe that the public perception is not important is irrelevant—it is of great importance if one wishes to garner support for public education.

There truly are no advocates for teachers and public education with any kind of position of effectiveness outside of the public teachers unions. Therefore, one must tread lightly when publicly criticizing the unions. That is not to say that members should feel as if they cannot have any critical opinions—these opinions must be voiced to the union leadership, but it is never a good idea to publicly criticize your own union as a member. It only weakens everybody’s position including that of the members themselves.

Unions invariably seek to effect positive influence on policies that affect public education. One of the most effective avenues of influencing positive public education policies is through conversations with legislators in the public forum. Union members should maintain a presence in their state legislature’s public sessions–the policy-makers need to hear from the unions especially before enacting some of the horrific proposals by some factions of the political arena.

Another way to be an effective force in public education is to continually work within a public advocacy program to show the public that unions not only work to continually improve schools, they continually work to improve communities.

I ask those who are critical of the national unions: How many of you have taken the time to attend your state legislature sessions to speak up about the policies in the public forum? I’m sure there are some here and there, but it has been my experience that most union members who complain about the union have never done this very thing. Have you at least made a phone call or sent an email to your legislators? If you have not joined in the conversation and simply left that to your representation, then it might be safe to say that you are not part of the solution. It’s so easy to be critical of your union representation when you have not gotten involved. Once you see what is required of union representation on many levels, you can take a more informed position of criticism toward what union leadership actually does.

For those who have had bad experiences and felt your local representation did very little to help you, know that you should never be left without recourse. Just like in any other area, there are varying levels of effectiveness among local associations. This is why there are country and state affiliations, just like in the court system. Take it to a higher level if you are not satisfied with the local level. Your personal situations are understandably important to you, but it is not fair to characterize every local in every state across the country as the same, just as it is not fair to characterize every teacher, student, school, district, etc. in the same way. We have used this “avoid generalizations” argument time and again in discussions on this blog. I caution anyone who is using one example as evidence of how all locals operate to be a little more responsible.

In my state, engaging in conversations with the public policy-makers is just what one of the state unions does. This practice has effectively prevented many bad policy ideas from becoming law despite what some perceptions of the actions of union leadership might be. I applaud the leaders and members of our state union for having not only the courage to continually speak up, but also for working WITH the legislature to ensure that public demands for improvement are answered without demeaning of devaluing the professionals who work in the school system.

We do not operate in a public vacuum–we do need to be quite aware of the needs and perceptions of our constituency. We also need to be aware of how damaging perceptions without evidence can be.

It’s amazing that so many union members themselves believe in the existence of “back-door” deals about which so many conspiracy theorists and anti-union pundits are always going on. When did the membership start believing this hype? Where is your evidence that union leaders are conspiring with the “reformers?”

This link posted above by another reader (touting how national unions are “in bed” with the Gates Foundation) caught my attention:

You have to read a great deal before you even get to the excerpt that speaks to this claim, but here it is:
“While the foundation has given money to both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, totaling about $6.3 million over the last three years, some of its newer initiatives appear aimed at challenging the dominance that unions have exercised during policy debates.”

An article on the Gates foundation with an excerpt stating that the foundation gave money to union membership three years ago is not evidence of anything–it is supposition based on a concept that every donation has an agenda. Does the reader have any evidence of how that donation was appropriated? I also wonder where that money went. Let’s find out before we use this as “evidence” that the unions are “sleeping with the enemy.”

It is never a good idea to try to sway public opinion by openly declaring war on what many of the uninformed have convinced themselves to be “good” policies (i.e., “corporate reform”). The political stronghold on the public message belongs to those with the power and influence to control these messages, and in case no one has noticed, it isn’t the teachers unions. A great deal of the public does not support the public unions because people have been fed a constant diet of anti-union rhetoric by the powerful voices in politics. I have found even among my teaching colleagues, that just being affiliated with a teachers union turns people off from listening to you. Do you seriously think that you can change the message as a union without flack from the usual anti-union camp that is so powerful in the media and in politics?

You need a strategy of positive influence and cooperation, not a defensive posture. One needs to heed the lessons of good public relations as a union member. Start by supporting your own unions–ask questions, yes, but never, NEVER put your union down publicly because you’re so angry. Work from within the system that advocates for you, whether you want to believe it actually does or not. And for those who do not believe that the unions advocate for you, try doing your job without the unions. While I’m sure there would be isolated instances of “great non-union experiences,” the majority of us would be mistreated in our jobs just by the very nature of human nature and the public’s perception of “public service.”


According to this article, Philadelphia will spend an additional $7,000 per student to open many new charter schools. It will cost the district $139 million over the next five years.

24% of the district’s students are currently in charters. The School Reform Commission, acting on the advice of the Boston Consulting Group, wants to increase that proportion to 40%.

What is the record of charter schools in Philadelphia to date?

Does the business community and civic leadership remember what happened the last time that Philadelphia adopted privatization? Or did they forget?

Philadelphia has been under state control for years. No one is pushing for privatization but the elites who don’t send their children to public schools in Philadelphia.

Maybe the state and the School Reform Commission should let the citizens take charge of their schools and find out what the parents and citizens of Philadelphia want to do with their schools and their children.

The mayor of Philadelphia says there is no difference among different kinds of schools, be they public, private, religious, charter, whatever.

He sees no special responsibility to support public education.

In a sense it is understandable since the people of Philadelphia lost control of their schools to the state years ago.

And the state imposed a massive privatization scheme, which failed.

And now the state control board for the public schools wants to try privatization again.

Parent activist Helen Gym explains to Mayor Michael Nutter why public education matters to the people of Philadelphia.

Investigative reporter Daniel Denvir followed the money trail and uncovered a reason for Mayor Nutter’s indifference to the powerless people of Philadelphia: the big money in the city and suburbs is betting on privatization. The campaign to privatize the schools of Philadelphia has raised $50 million, while the public schools are neglected by the powerful.

You may have been naive enough to think that charter schools are multiplying because some people want better education for American children.

You may have thought they were expanding to give more choices to children trapped in bad public schools.

You may have wondered why they continue to proliferate when so many studies agree that they don’t get better results than the public schools.

But if you thought those things, you were on the wrong track.

There are other reasons that charters are growing by leaps and bounds.

They make money for investors!

They are a great investment opportunity!

Both links refer to the same interview on CNBC with the head of a real estate investment trust who explains why charters are a sure thing.

Follow the money.