Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Arne Duncan's Newe$t Gig

Seems safe to say that Arne Duncan is far busier in his post-government life than he ever was a Secretary of Education. His latest gig is working with "mission-aligned private capital"at something called the Rise Fund.

"I can't believe it either. People just keep throwing money at me."

The Rise Fund is "a global impact fund led by private equity firm TPG in collaboration with a group of renowned stakeholders." TPG (which stands for Texas Pacific Group) is one of the biggest damn private equity investment firms in the world. Found in 1992, they have about $50 billion kicking around at this point. There's a long list of various businesses they have glommed up or invested in, from J. Crew to PetCo. Oh, and in 2002 they teamed up with Bain and Goldman Sachs to perform the leveraged buyout of Burger King, which I can respect because a Whopper Junior with Cheese is my guilty pleasure. Later on they also snagged all or some of Neiman Marcus, Univision, Sabre, Alltel, Midwest Air Group, etc etc-- you get the idea.

Anyway, they whipped up the Rise Fund in December of 2016 Bill McGlashan, founder and managing partner of TPG, and Bono, lead singer of That Band You're Supposed To Like and an always-useful prop for capitalists who want to look socially conscious, and also and Jeff Skoll, a global entrepreneur, film producer, and impact investor-- also the first president of ebay. Skoll's film company had a piece of An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman, and Spotlight. Presumably Bono and Skoll are among the "renowned stakeholders," a list which also includes Richard Branson and Laurene Powell Jobs.

The Rise Fund has seven areas targeted for their global impact fund (spoiler alert:  plain English is not one of them)-- Agriculture, Finance, Information, Healthcare, Infrastructure, Energy, and Education. And that's where one of their hot new hires comes in.

Arne Duncan is one of three new bright lights, along with John Rogers and Rick Levin. Rogers was a founding partner with Bridges Ventures US Sustainable Growth Fund, which in turn worked on social impact investment as well as Springboard Education, a provider of "extended learning programs" for "public and charter" schools (every time someone tacitly admits that charter schools are not public schools, I get a little bit of a warm glow inside). Levin is CEO of Coursera, the big name in online courses for the university crowd. Oh, and he used to be president of Yale.

Duncan's bio is properly puffed, pumped full of hot air, and shows what qualifications TPG was looking for:

During his tenure, Duncan created the $4 billion Race to the Top program to invest in reform and innovation and worked with Congress to secure additional investments in early learning programs and interventions to raise standards at lower-performing schools. Prior to his role as Secretary of Education, Duncan served for eight years as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, where he boosted test scores and built consensus across the district’s many stakeholders.

He handled a lot of money, made his numbers and got stakeholders on board and-- hey, wait a minute. Duncan "boosted test scores" in Chicago? All by himself!? Do you mean to tell me all those years Duncan knew the secret of boosting test scores, even had the magical power to do it himself, and he let all of America's teachers twist in the wind?!

"A quality education" is the secret of success for everyone, said the man whose success has pretty much been built on being basketball buddies with an up-and-coming future President. “Creating quality takes innovation, partnership – from teachers, students, officials, and business stakeholders alike – and a strong commitment to building better outcomes. I’m eager to help and support The Rise Fund as it works to drive impact across the education sector." Man, driving impact across a whole sector is hard, like some kind of corporate high impact Iditarod.

The Education Sector team is the first of the seven to be formed, but you can be sure the other six will be along to help achieve "measureable, positive social and environmental outcomes alongside competitive financial returns — what we call 'complete returns'.” So "complete" means you make the world a better place while getting filthy rich. There's a moral conundrum buried in all this somewhere, but it's hard to make it out among the "evidence-based impact investing" and whatever rig one uses to "harness the power of the market to drive sustainable social and environmental change, which means that profits are not only possible, they are necessary to fulfil the mission." Yes, you actually can't do good works without turning an big profit. I believe both Jesus and Buddha both taught that.

Garbled blather used to dress up a pretense of social awareness and good works all in the service of wealth and wealth and gathering more wealth. Seems like a perfect fit for Duncan.


  1. He is allowed to do that while a "Managing Partner" at the Emerson Collective (which is the baby of Steve Jobs' widow, Laurene Powell Jobs)? Sounds like Chicago has so much to hope for. Expect lots of wonderful things to start happening. Arne is committed. Obama recently made a speech. The wheels are in motion. Forget about the past 8 years. Things are looking up.

    1. Well, I suppose when you're at the bottom, having been pushed there by an irresponsible mayor and bad ed policy and crazy charter growth taking over "underutilized" neighborhood schools, the only way to look IS up.

      Chicago indeed has much to hope for, and they've BEEN hoping for years as their schools are closed, their funding is cut, and teachers & principals who advocate for students are suspended and fired. When do they get to stop hoping and start GETTING?

    2. Sadly, the people who run that city believe in themselves. They believe they are defenders of social justice, of opportunities for all. 50 years ago things were not this bad. Endless downhill spiral and people are leaving every day...those who can sell their houses...

  2. Arne's just another errand boy for the real players in this, especially Jobs. She's a real piece of work and no mistake. Jobs is one of those financial people who have no education experience whatsoever, but are convinced that because they can make a ton of money using other people's money (remember that Jobs was an asset manager at both Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs before she got her MBA and married Steve Jobs) they can do anything without having to actually bother learning about it from the people who actually do the job. It's a classic case of "capital knows best", as her XQ initiative proves.

  3. Welp, at least he's not running for office. For a second there, there were fears that he'd try to run for Mayor of Chicago or Governor of Illinois. Oh no no no....