Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Impact for Education Finances Reform

One of the challenging and mysterious things about ed reform can be the question of "How do these guys get their hands on money?" If I'm a gazillionaire who wants to invest some money in some ed reform scheme like a charter school or some other program, who am I gonna call?

Here's one answer. Meet the organization "Impact for Education." The slogan on their front page, in bold white-on-blue type: "Impact for Education engages forward-thinking philanthropists to catalyze systemic change in public education." And other than a list of the "team" and a form for getting on the mailing list, the site offers little else. Like a classy store on Rodeo Drive, it shows off how much space it can use for nothing, because if you're their kind of clientele, you don't need to be sold.

Philanthropy is, of course, not what it used to be. Modern philanthropy looks a lot like investment, and while all the cool corporations are doing it, they are looking for enough of a return (often in terms of shaping the world more to their liking) that we can talk about philanthrocapitalism. Meanwhile, the rising tool of "social impact bonds" literally turns philanthropy into investment banking. It's a fertile field.

So who are the people who run an operation like Impact for Education? There are nine members of the team:

-- Mallory Hutchison, Associate. Previously worked under Governor Janet Napolitano, senior director at Leadership for Educational Equity, a group "dedicated to empowering Teach for America corps members and alumni to grow as leaders in their communities." She moved on to Chief of Staf for Vice Mayor of Phoenix, and "led strategic and corporate partnerships for the StartupsAz Foundation (empowering the next generation of Arizona entrepreneurs).

-- Devansh Pasumarty, Senior Analyst. Worked in consulting developing business strategies for Fortune 100 companies and asset and wealth managers. I give him a bonus point because even though his Columbia BA is in economics, he has a special concentration in Jazz Studies.

-- Deneice McClary, Associate. Previously nine years as operations leader at JP Morgan Chase, then became district program manager of Virtual Learning and Credit Recovery programs for Chicago schools.

-- Erin C. Watts, Associate. Worked for Story Pirates, then moved on to CCS Fundraising where she helped figure out how nonprofits could raise money and develop "operational structures to drive mission impact."

-- Matt Arciniega, Senior Analyst. Founded a charter management organization (Caliber Schools) and did research and strategy work for DFER, 50CAN, KIPP Foundation, and New Sector Alliance.

-- Lauren Givner, Senior Associate. Did a lot of work in NYC mayor's office, including eight years under Bloomberg and with NYC Service. Chief of Staff at America Achieves and Education Prospects.

-- Mike Wang, Partner. Former senior vice-president of Teach for America, as well as Mid-Atlantic region exec director for TFA. Education policy advisor to governor of Louisiana. Worked on expanding charters in Philly. And he founded Leverage Impact, "a mission-driven consulting practice working with philanthropists to deepen their impact."

-- Danielle M. Allen, Managing Partner. Worked in Office of School Innovation for DCPS "supporting the district's portfolio of turnaround schools." An Education Pioneers Fellow at NewSchools Venture Fund, then on to Mass Insight Education, an outfit that will come in and totally fix your school.

And finally, President and Founder of Impact for Education, Alex Johnston. Johnston launched this organization after seven years as CEO of ConnCAN (The CAN's are long-time advocates for reform in general and charters in particular-- here he is in that role back in 2009). He's also worked as a school board member in New Haven and as an advisory board member for the Center for Reinventing Public Education.

In short, a business composed entirely of people who have worked the money-making entrepreneurial side of the education biz, with nary an actual educator among them (nope, I'm not counting their brief stint as TFA temps).

Founded in 2012, the business is located in New Haven and claims revenues of under $50K. Johnston's LinkedIn page also suggests that Impact is broadening its mission. In addition to the line offered on their website:

We help our clients to hone their theories of change and effectively execute their chosen strategies. We also design personalized learning experiences and create collaborative opportunities designed to amplify the impact of our clients' giving.

That's a lot to offer, but I suppose when you hear that "personalized learning" is a hot new buzzword you feel comfortable leaping all the way from financial advice to designing curriculum. Johnston has remained an advocate for charter systems. In 2016, contemplating the collapse of the left-right alliance in education reform, Johnston still came down hard for school choice and charters.

It's not yet clear that a passion-filled social movement for transforming education in America actually will arise, but perhaps one of the best chances for this will be around one of the issues that arguably has the greatest potential to unite communities of color and conservatives — school choice. 

Groups like Impact exist as matchmakers between gazillionaires and the Reformsters who would like to spend their money. Having government throw money at public schools is Bad, but having philanthropists throw their money at private education businesses is Awesome! You can see that Impact's actual direct knowledge and expertise when it comes to education is somewhere in the zero-to-none range, but part of the reform movement has been the assertion, implicit or explicit, that business folks, policy wonks, and professional bureaucrats know the Really Important stuff about education; the people actually working in classrooms are just meat widgets whose expertise can be safely ignored. It's too bad-- imagine what a group whose mission was to match up philanthropists with public schools could do.

1 comment:

  1. Wow ! " Modern philanthropy looks a lot like investment, and while all the cool corporations are doing it, they are looking for enough of a return (often in terms of shaping the world more to their liking)."
    So now "return" can be defined as "shaping the world more to their liking" ? If that's the definition, then just about everyone who is politically active falls into that box. What about "Black Lives Matter" or La Raza or #MeToo ... or even the public unions which you never cease to defend ? Aren't they all trying to "shape the world more to their liking ?

    I think what you really mean is that those darn hedge fund guys (and it's always men, right ?) have chosen to put their money, time and energy in support of a cause with which you disagree (improving education via choice and other reforms). And that is unacceptable to you. But others who place their money, time and energy behind causes of which you approve - well, that's just dandy. Is that right ?