March 13, 2018

(Wikimedia Commons)

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s interview with 60 Minutes not only extinguished any notion of her qualifications for the job, but highlighted questions about the knowledge and understanding of the leadership of the education reform movement. As the Massachusetts experience indicates, the movement is characterized by the near total absence of anyone with expertise in education.

My examination of the high levels of reform organizations involved in Massachusetts charters campaign – Families for Excellent Schools, Democrats for Education Reform, Massachusetts Parents United, Strategic Grant Partners, etc. – shows almost no one with a terminal degree in education, either the EdD or PhD. At the board level, these education leaders are mostly MBAs operating in the finance industry. At the operational level, they are often political organizers.

For example, here are the members of the Board of Trustees of the now defunct, engorged by scandal, and Banned-in-Boston Families for Excellent Schools:

Trustee                             Highest Degree               School                 Employer

Paul Applebaum             JD                                       NYU                     Rock Ventures LLC

Bryan Lawrence             MBA                                  HBS                     Yorktown Partners LLC

Jonathon Lewinsohn        JD                                       Yale                     Diameter Capital Partners

Frances Messano            MBA                                  HBS                      New Schools Venture Fund

Yvonne Chao                   MBA                                  Northwestern        UKA Ventures

Reshma Singh                  MPA                                   NYU                     Families for Excellent Schools


(HBS=Harvard Business School. NYU=New York University).

At the operational level the FES CEO was Jeremiah Kittredge with a BA from Brown, no formal training in education, and a background in organizing. The former FES Massachusetts director, now state director of Massachusetts Parents United, is an organizer. MPU is backed by the Walton Family Foundation and others with more money than credentials. The board of Education Reform Now, dark money funder of Democrats for Education Reform, is dominated by MBAs. The national officers of DFER seem to lack anyone with a terminal degree in education. The Executive Director of DFER Massachusetts is an MBA.

There are some exceptions. Massachusetts Stand for Children’s executive director has a PhD from Cornell in Law, Policy, and Education. (As of last month, MassStand had reposted its job for Massachusetts Statewide Organizer; no education background required). Rarely in these organizations does anyone at the Board level have any expertise in education. At the operational level, sometimes there is someone who has headed a classroom, though mostly with Teach for America.  It’s odd. If you found a movement to reform medicine, law, or accounting, you would expect to find some doctors, lawyers, or accountants.

We’ll get back to Walton money another day, but what about the dark money behind the Massachusetts Financial Privatization Cabal, the SGP Big 3 from Strategic Grant Partners? They not only bankrolled the entry of corrupt FES into Massachusetts, but when the Office of Campaign and Political Finance forced disclosure of the secret dark money funders of Question 2, guess who headed the list? So let’s take a quick look at the educational bona fides of the SGP Big 3:

Jonathon & Joanna Jacobson        MBA(s)      HBS                     Highfields Capital, SGP 

Seth Klarman                                 MBA          HBS                      Baupost LLC

Joshua Bekenstein                         MBA           HBS                      Bain

The reformers are asking us to give over our public schools to the supervision of the Harvard Business School.

Who better to leave with the last word than Jeremiah Kittredge? At one of the famous FES rallies for which he pulled kids out of their classrooms to serve as props for the cameras, Kittredge was asked if the students would be marked absent or have to do make-up work. Replied the CEO of Families for Excellent Schools: “I can’t tell you that – I’m not an educator.”

The Washington Post recently adopted a new slogan: “Democracy dies in darkness.” I agree.

[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money (and other things). I don't write about education policy.]

Strategic Grant Partners, betsy devos, Massachusetts Parents United, Families for Excellent Schools

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