Menu
Donate today!
view counter

Parents United prevails in getting BCG school-closings list

By Helen Gym on Jan 28, 2015 07:20 PM

What could possibly justify the closing of Northeast High School, the largest school in the city and each year bursting at the seams? Why would anyone suggest closing four elementary schools in Olney, a neighborhood that once housed some of the most overcrowded schools in the District?

We may not find out the answers to these questions, but we know now that these were some of the ludicrous ideas proposed by the Boston Consulting Group in a long-secret 2012 report presented in a private meeting to the School Reform Commission.

BCG called for closing 88 District-managed schools, which would have displaced a conservative estimate of 22,000-31,000 students districtwide – more than triple the number of students displaced by the actual 2013 school closings. A five-year plan sought the removal and reassignment of up to 45,000 students, more than one-third of the District.

This information and more came to us after Parents United for Public Education and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia won a two-and-a-half-year battle to get BCG’s list of school closings. After losing three times in official proceedings, the District this month agreed to hand over BCG’s recommendations.

(View the document here)

More than anything, the BCG documents show deep flaws in the analysis made by multimillion-dollar paid consultants. Years later, reality also exposes how far off base BCG’s projected outcomes would be. Among some of the more troubling aspects of BCG’s school closings plan:

  • Targeting 20 percent of closures – 18 schools in all – at schools which were over 90 percent full, including Lowell Elementary, Feltonville Intermediate, Barton, Hopkinson, and Frankford High schools.
     
  • Defining low utilization at any school under 80 percent capacity. But over the last few years, between 80 and 85 percent utilization has been considered a target goal, not a delineating line for closure.
     
  • Presuming that 100 percent of students at closed schools would automatically transfer into less-populated District schools and increase utilization rates. This proved untrue in the actual school closings process, when 24 school closures resulted in numerous students leaving the District.
     
  • Presuming that school closings were the only means to getting District schools to increase enrollment, rather than, say, actually addressing educational improvement or opportunities.

 

Although some District officials tried to minimize BCG's influence, the list clearly held weight in the final school closings outcome. BCG recommended 14 of the 26 schools – more than half – that were closed by the District in 2013.

Even today, a number of prominent groups continue to champion school closings, including mayoral candidate Lynne Abraham and a December report published by the Philadelphia School Partnership, one of the original funders of the BCG report.

Parents United's fight for this list wasn’t just about legal technicalities, although some interesting issues arose as a result. Our fight was about the importance of public transparency and dialogue on matters of grave importance to communities and taxpayers.

In 2012, the Boston Consulting Group came under intense criticism for a controversial plan that promoted school closings, massive charter expansion, and privatization of key functions within the District. Under its multimillion-dollar contract with the William Penn Foundation, BCG agreed to provide the foundation with a number of “contract deliverables,” one of which was identifying schools for closure.

In court proceedings regarding our case, the District sought to make a troubling, and fortunately unsuccessful, argument that “certain stakeholders and members of the philanthropic community” ought to have special access to information denied to the public – a move that we think is closely akin to pay-to-play.

We argued that large donors, such as former William Penn Foundation president Jeremy Nowak, had special access to school-closing documents and to District officials. An Ethics Board investigation later found that Nowak did have private meetings with District officials and reviewed and commented on draft reports.

The District held that some “members of the philanthropic community” and undefined “stakeholders” get to have a different level of access than the rest of the public. This reveals a lot about decisionmaking and voice in a state-takeover district.

It should make a difference that some of the entities that helped contribute to the Boston Consulting Group plan had board members who were real estate developers and individuals with financial and political stakes in charter school operators. These were groups that pushed hard for school closures, which rocked the District in 2012-13, forcing 7,000 children to crowd into schools that today are worse off than the ones they had attended. A number of the properties were then fast-tracked for sale.

We know that mass school closings didn’t improve the District’s finances. They didn’t stop the loss of nearly 4,000 jobs just a few months later. They didn’t buy us any good will from the state legislature. And most important, they didn’t improve the academic opportunities for students in schools targeted for closure or for those in the rest of the District.

As teacher Andrew Saltz wrote in this great piece, when his school went through the closings process:

“They wouldn’t have to walk through gang territory or take a 70-minute bus ride just to stay in their ROTC program.  ... Not a single person involved in the process, from the Boston Consulting Group that wrote the closure plan to the William Penn Foundation that funded it to the School Reform Commission that voted on it — none of them are accountable to the people who are suffering the consequences.”

For Parents United, this is a lasting lesson about the importance of public decision-making and voice. It’s a lasting reason why money shouldn’t buy access in lieu of democratic processes.

And it’s why we will keep fighting for a public voice in our schools.

 

We thank our attorneys at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, especially Ben Geffen and Michael Churchill, for their multiyear dedication to this effort.

 

Helen Gym is a cofounder of Parents United for Public Education.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Click Here
view counter

Comments (24)

Submitted by Alison McDowell (not verified) on January 28, 2015 7:50 pm

Wonderful amazing news. Thank you to all who worked so hard to make these records public. This was never about Philadelphia's children. This was about a business model of education "reform" completely void of humanity. 

Submitted by Deborah Grill (not verified) on January 28, 2015 8:57 pm

 Thanks to Parents United and the attorney at PHILCOP for their tenacity.   BCG has had a hand in the corporate school reforms initiatives of cities and states around the country (Chicago, North Carolina Hillisborough County, Florida, Princ Georges County, Delaware,Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Orleans) and in several KIPP schools.  Former BCG board members and staff have work at or are on the boards of KIPP, DC Prep, Teach for America, UP Academy Charter, and Democrats for Education Reform.  Doug Martin exposes BCG and the other players in the destruction of public education in Philadelphia in his article In the City of Brotherly Love and Beyond:  The Boston Consulting Group, Gates, and the Filthy Rich at http://btownerrant.com/2012/05/18/in-the-city-of-corporate-love-and-beyond-the-boston-consulting-group-gates-and-the-filthy-rich/

Submitted by In the Trenches Teacher (not verified) on January 29, 2015 4:32 am

Thanks you for sharing the link - Boston Consulting Group, Teach for America, KIPP, Phila. School so-called "Partnership,"  etc. - all part of the privatization machine.  These organizations enrich each other while supporting the  starving of public schools, students and families.

Submitted by Linda (not verified) on January 29, 2015 6:36 pm

The UPAcademy is where the daughter of a charter researcher, works. A recent paper, written by the woman's dad, a MIT guy (one of the Koch bros. is on MIT's Board), was released by the NBER. The paper was crticized by a Georgia professor at the Diane Ravitch blog.

Submitted by Lisa Haver on January 28, 2015 10:08 pm

"In court proceedings regarding our case, the District sought to make a troubling, and fortunately unsuccessful, argument that “certain stakeholders and members of the philanthropic community” ought to have special access to information denied to the public – a move we think is closely akin to pay to play." 

Isn't that the way this district has operated since the SRC was inflicted on us?  Especially since the creation of the Great Schools Compact and its Committee, operated in secret by PSP.

Thanks to Helen and PILCOP for a tremendous victory.

(APPS's Sunshine Act complaint will be heard this Friday at 1:30 PM in Common Pleas Court,  City Hall Room 426.  All are welcome to come and support the fight for the public's right to know and participate in decisions about our schools.)

 

Submitted by Beth (not verified) on January 29, 2015 7:38 am

What a crazy argument for the district to make.... that wealthy reformers who send their own kids to private school have more of a stake than public school parents in Philadelphia. It's downright insulting. Thank you to Parents United for shining a light on this injustice.  

Submitted by Beth (not verified) on January 29, 2015 7:54 am

What a crazy argument for the district to make.... that wealthy reformers who send their own kids to private school have more of a stake than public school parents in Philadelphia. It's downright insulting. Thank you to Parents United for shining a light on this injustice.  

Submitted by Peg D (not verified) on January 28, 2015 10:06 pm

Special thanks to all who made this happen!  I am very grateful that there are good people who work to expose the truth, genuinely care about our students, our democracy and our city.   Thank you so much.

Submitted by In the Trenches Teacher (not verified) on January 29, 2015 4:51 am

Based on the proposed list of schools and the recent sale of schools, I assume some of the public schools were going to be turned over to charters. (For example, String Theory, Esperanza and Mastery have proposed opening schools in recently closed public schools.)  If a school is closed, why should a charter move into the building?  There's no logic - only an orchestrated plan to close public schools.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on January 29, 2015 8:24 am

There's also Germantown HS.  The School District shut it and now the charter corp. want to open it again but under their rules.  It will not be a neighborhood school - just like other charters they will be able to select students.  It also will be filled with "at will" employees.  Just what the Koch brothers ordered!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 30, 2015 8:42 pm

That is definitely the way it usually works. In the Germantown case though, I think the group asking for a charter is a lot of the same people who asked keep it open as a public school. It seems to include some of those who proposed making it a k12 instead of closing & who were concerned that all of the neighborhood schools are being closed (both public & independent charters). Only mastery seems to be safe in germantown. I could be wrong though-just the impression I've gotten. I'd still greatly prefer a public school.

Submitted by reformer (not verified) on January 29, 2015 5:43 am

Thanks fo getting the list.  So publish it and let's start closing those schools. Why pay for bad schools when 40 new good ideas are waiting. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 29, 2015 6:38 pm
There aren't, 40 good ideas out there. They have No ideas only education thief. They have robbed and stolen from the Parents, students and citizens of Phila.
Submitted by notebook reader (not verified) on January 29, 2015 9:18 pm
The Charter School Office evaluators have now documented, very specifically, what's wrong with each of the 40 proposed schools: 
http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/c/charter_schools/new-charter-applications/charter-application-hearings/charter-application-evaluation-reports
 
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 29, 2015 6:42 pm
There aren't, 40 good ideas out there. They have No ideas only education thief. They have robbed and stolen from the Parents, students and citizens of Phila.
Submitted by Honest Agent. (not verified) on January 29, 2015 7:48 am

Keep driving away well intentioned folks willing to invest money in our kids. A great strategy Helen. Let's just keep things the way they are. It's working so well. And by the way, you lost your Ethics complaint against WPF and Nowak. It's interesting that you continue to hide that fact. 

Submitted by Diane Payne (not verified) on January 29, 2015 7:00 am

To both "reformer" and "honest agent", good intentions will not fix our schools and at best that is what these public school closures to charter school opening plans are...good intentions.  However, if you follow the money...it is hard to imagine why anyone still thinks this is anything remotely based on good intentions.  It is a power/money deal at the expense of our children and at the expense of a cornerstone of democracy....public education.

Submitted by Lisa Haver on January 29, 2015 10:20 am

Why is it that the "well-intentioned folks" never let you come to their meetings or read their  reports?

Submitted by KATHLEEN (not verified) on January 29, 2015 8:04 am

Thanks to all who helped to untangle the mess of lies, pay to play culture and general ineptitude in decision making.

 

Submitted by Duckman GR (not verified) on January 29, 2015 11:06 am
No, Reformer, that's not a great idea, as you know full well. The schools just need appropriate funding. Charters are just money for corporations from the government, just like welfare and food stamps. Education is not the corporations concern.
Submitted by Madeleine Nist (not verified) on January 29, 2015 12:50 pm

As a Philadelphia resident, I am sickened to hear the extent outside interests have on the shaping of our schools while taxpayers like myself are shut out of the decision making process.

Last I heard, this was a democracy. Why does it take years of legal battles for ordinary citizens to get information that is easily available to edu-prenuers and real estate developers? 

It's time for the people who are affected by these decisions to get a place at the table, and more than time to get rid of the SRC and their buddies.

 

Submitted by Sue Altman (not verified) on January 30, 2015 11:59 am

Privitisation has been the plan from the beginning. It is a strategy to make money and destroy unions.  All the quasi well-meaning, "we know better than you," "let's close the achievement gap,"  "civil rights fight of our time" rhetoric is just a marketing plan.  A marketing plan to sell a business plan.  

Thank you to all who helped shine a light on these plans.  Sadly, I think these documents only scratch the surface... 

Submitted by Sue Altman (not verified) on January 30, 2015 11:01 am

Privitisation has been the plan from the beginning. It is a strategy to make money and destroy unions.  All the quasi well-meaning, "we know better than you," "let's close the achievement gap,"  "civil rights fight of our time" rhetoric is just a marketing plan.  A marketing plan to sell a business plan.  

Thank you to all who helped shine a light on these plans.  Sadly, I think these documents only scratch the surface... 

Submitted by Pervez74 (not verified) on March 19, 2017 4:28 am

Amazing content writing! I'm sure which means thrilled to read through this unique, however your state provides tremendously completely different trust for this topic area section. Nowadays follow-up payday loans Done well forever give good results.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

By using this service you agree not to post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable. We reserve the right to delete or remove any material deemed to be in violation of this rule, and to ban anyone who violates this rule. Please see our "Terms of Usage" for more detail concerning your obligations as a user of this service. Reader comments are limited to 500 words. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

Follow Us On

Read the latest print issue

Philly Ed Feed

Recent Comments

Top

Public School Notebook

699 Ranstead St.
Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 839-0082
Fax: (215) 238-2300
notebook@thenotebook.org

© Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy