Notice apparently went out to Little Rock schools today about a focus group meeting with the Walton Family Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation “in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group.”
According to a quote from a memo provided to a school district volunteer parent:
Dennis Glasgow, the associate superintendent for accountability, provided information about the meeting. The groups want four groups of 8 to 10 participants for 45-minute sessions on Feb. 10 “to discuss pressing education issues.”
The groups want parents at 1 p.m.; students at 2; administrators, counselors and curriculum instructors at 3:30, and teachers at 4:30 p.m.
Until somebody responds, it’s unclear if these meetings are at all schools or only the six schools identified as being in academic distress.
I have made an FOI request to the district for the document and for information about how the meeting was arranged and by whom. I have not received a response.
I wrote on the day the state took over the district of the extensive ties with the Waltons and Rockefeller Foundation of four of the five Board members who voted for the takeover against four opponents. The Board fired the School Board, but kept Dexter Suggs as superintendent.
The Walton-funded Arkansans for Education Reform and Arkansas Learns have produced a steady barrage of criticism of the school district even as they have worked to create charter schools that have drained thousands of students from the district. The education reform department at the University of Arkansas, financed by Walton money, similarly has provided supporting fire for charter schools, voucher programs and other “choice” ideas while providing material often critical of Little Rock schools and teacher unions.
An open question about the push to take over the Little Rock district was whether the corporate supporters of the plan were pushing a hidden Walton-financed agenda to privatize the school. Such an experiment is underway in New Orleans, with, at best, mixed results.
Diane Ravitch, a former school reform advocate who now deplores the takeover of American education by the billionaire reformers, has written on her popular blog in the past about the arrival of Boston Consulting Group in other school districts. It can be expected to recommend privatized schools, as it has done in Memphis and Philadelphia. Ravitch wrote:
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).
I’ve sent inquiries to the Walton Foundation, which customarily talks little about its business, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The two are cooperating on a study of Arkansas education that has included a steering group and on-line survey heavily slanted toward the “choice” agenda.
The Waltons have spent tens of millions in the drive to break up conventional public school districts. Ravitch has written:
There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people.
It’s certainly undemocratic if it is done largely in secret.
It would be interesting to know how long this meeting has been in the planning stages and who’s been involved in the discussions. Unlike a public entity, the Foundations operate large out of public view, as does the high-dollar consulting group that depends on them for work.
Is a plan underway to put the six academically distressed schools out to private operation? Or to put the whole school district out to private operation? Now or later, I’d be willing to predict the latter. The School Board’s promise of citizen input and a speedy return to local control are looking less promising. The citizens group, particularly, remains a question mark. Who will appoint them? Will they represent a diversity of opinion in the district? Or will they only represent an approved outlook?
I would hope that even those who favor privatizing the schools favor transparency in spending the significant public tax dollars that would flow into the private operations. If the Waltons are to be calling shots in Little Rock, they should be available to answer questions. If Dexter Suggs really is the man with a plan, he, too, should be able to explain the sudden appearance of powerful outside players in the future shape of the Little Rock School District. You can’t call schools operated in the dark without accountability public schools by any measure. Just call them a wealth transfer from poor to rich.
UPDATE: I did get a response from the School District on the note. It appears to have begun with a Jan. 16 request, before the takeover vote, and concern the larger initiative on all grades by the Walton/Rockefeller combine. It went to ALL schools in the district. But the mention of the distressed schools, the inclusion of BCG and the timing so close after Wednesday’s events, raise questions that no one has still stepped forward to answer. The district’s email follows as well as a chain of e-mails that led up to the scheduling:
From: Smith, Pamela
Sent: Friday, January 30, 2015 10:33 AM
To: Elementary Principals; Middle School Principals; High School Principals; Freeman, Greta
Cc: Mitchell, Sadie; Whitehorn, Daniel; Burton, Marvin
Subject: Opportunity to Have Input on Important Education Study by Participating in Focus groups
Good Morning, All:
Mr. Glasgow has provided information regarding a focus group study with the Winthrop Rockefeller and Walton Foundations in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group. They are requesting 4 groups of 8-10 participants each for sessions that will last 45 minutes on February 10 to discuss pressing education issues. The groups requested consist of the following:
8-10 parents (possibly PTSA members) noon-1 p.m.
8-10 students (possibly student council members) 1-2 p.m.
8-10 administrators, counselors, curriculum instructors, etc. 3:30-4:30 p.m.
8-10 teachers (various grade levels) 4:30-5:30 p.m.
This is strictly a volunteer effort – no compensation is included. Your input would be used to gather data designed to help improve educational opportunities and would include the following areas:
Teacher pipeline (this includes pre-service and well as teacher career paths and other preparation)
Wraparound services/challenges students face outside of the classroom
Promising classroom innovations, particularly as they relate to “academically distressed” schools.
While the focus group sessions would be held here in the administration building for convenience, this is an independent effort organized by the Boston Consulting Group. Please survey your teachers, staff members, parents and students and provide names of those who would be willing to participate. I will need to provide this information to the organizers of the study by Wednesday of next week. For your information, Springdale is also participating in this study. Thanks for your support.
EMAILS THAT LED TO THE EVENT
From: Glasgow, Dennis
Sent: Friday, January 16, 2015 4:20 PM
To: Suggs, Dexter
Cc: Burton, Marvin; Mitchell, Sadie; Whitehorn, Daniel; Smith, Pamela; Richardson, Shoutell; Perkins, Veronica
Subject: Focus groups
Debbie Jones at ADE has asked our district to participate by providing focus groups (see below) to support an initiative of the Rockefeller and Walton Foundations to help improve P-16 education and to make recommendations for distressed schools (information attached).
I will need to let her know next week if we are going to participate. The focus group meetings would be in early February.
From: Debbie Jones (ADE) [mailto:Debbie.Jones@arkansas.gov]
Sent: Friday, January 16, 2015 10:46 AM
To: Glasgow, Dennis
Subject: FW: Focus groups
Thank you for considering this. As you can see below, the focus groups requested of LR include:
1. Teachers with a mix of backgrounds/grade levels
2. Students (I would recommend you send them to a middle and high school)
3. Administrators (principal, assistant, curriculum director and you,
4. Parents, (time and place of your choice)
You can call my cell if you have additional questions: 501-413-2907.
Thanks so much
Debbie Jones Ed.D.
Assistant Commissioner Learning Services Arkansas Department of Education
On 1/16/15, 9:52 AM, “Laverdiere Renee” wrote:
>The first week of February is preferred, yes (but I can be a little
>flexible before or after).
>THE BOSTON CONSULTING GROUP
>Tel. +1 713 286 7077 ▪ Mobile +1 832 260 3942
>From: Debbie Jones (ADE) [mailto:Debbie.Jones@arkansas.gov]
>Sent: Friday, January 16, 2015 9:50 AM
>To: Laverdiere Renee
>Subject: Re: Focus groups
>Is your timeline the first week of February, again? I think you
>answered this but want to confirm.
>Debbie Jones Ed.D.
>Assistant Commissioner Learning Services Arkansas Department of
>From: Laverdiere Renee
>Date: Thursday, January 15, 2015 at 3:22 PM
>Subject: Focus groups
> 1 hour per focus group
>· Focus group of 8-10 people
>o Teachers, mix of experience , mix of backgrounds / grade levels
>• Little Rock
>• Another Academically Distressed school
>• Springdale (I’ll reach out separately – through Justin Minkel)
>• Little Rock
>• Another Academically Distressed school
>o Administrators – Principal, Assistant Principal, Curriculum
>• One of Little Rock or another AD school
>• One high performing school OR Master Principals
>• One AD school (probably Little Rock)
>• One high performing school
>o Guidance counselors (mix of different schools would be great)
>At the ADE, I’m love to get some perspectives on the following topics,
>and would like to do it in two or three 1 hour groups (covering a few
>topics in each group).
>· School turnaround / distressed schools
>· Teacher pipeline (this includes pre-service and well as teacher
>career paths and other preparation)
>· Wraparound services / challenges students face outside of the
>classroom (even although this might be more of a DHS topic)
>· Promising classroom innovations