In Philadelphia, the state-appointed School Reform Commission got the William Penn Foundation, a philanthropy, to pay the Boston Consulting Group, a contractor, to design the “portfolio school reform plan” that recommended closing public schools and opening charter schools.
Twenty-four public schools were eventually closed last spring. For the public, it has been hard to parse out which part of Philadelphia’s ongoing school catastrophe derives from Governor Corbett’s slashing $1 billion from the state’s public education budget and what part comes from an ideological, “portfolio” Philadelphia school reform plan that promotes privatization. (For more on the crisis in the Philadelphia schools this year, check out the three part series earlier this week from National Public Radio, here, here and here.)
This morning in her Washington Post column, Valerie Strauss republishes a piece by Helen Gym, a parent activist in Philadelphia. Gym writes about the struggles members of the public have experienced as they try to secure access to the list of 60 public schools the Boston Consulting Group recommended for closure. Gym speculates that these days, while information may be available to the philanthropies funding reform plans and the consultants and contractors designing the plans and other big givers who are trying to influence school reform, the public cannot get access to the information that is shaping public institutions.
Gym writes: “The closing of 24 schools in Philadelphia remains the single most important issue of the year. The closings affected more than 9,000 students and transformed school communities. They also had an impact on political and real estate dealings, with tens of millions of dollars at stake. Last week, city leaders guaranteed a $61 million swap to fast-track real estate deals for shuttered school buildings. News reports indicate that several, mostly unnamed, buyers have shown interest in sweeping up all the properties for a single sum — in one case, an offer of $100 million. Given the stakes, it is absolutely the public’s right to know what’s in the documents presented to the District.”