Saturday, August 15, 2020

RI: Foxes In The Governor's Mansion

I haven't paid much attention to Rhode Island (motto: That State Nobody Pays Much Attention To), but we should all take a look, because Rhode Island has become yet another example of the many ways that privatizers and profiteers get their hands into the cookie jar.

These frickin' people
We start with Gina Raimondo, a venture capitalist who decided to get into politics via the office of state treasurer. Her signature move in that office was to "fix" the state pension fund problem by taking an axe to it, in much the same way that you would "fix" the problem of not having enough gas to get to the hospital by deciding to drive to the house on the corner of your block instead. Also, she decided to direct a bunch of those pension funds to hedge funds of her own (generating lots of fees for the Wall Street crowd). Her play was backed by EngageRI, a dark money group that pumped $740K into a pension "reform" campaign; the donors were kept secret, though the WSJ determined that John Arnold had pumped anywhere from $100k to $500K into it. Arnold is not a resident of Rhode Island; he's just a guy who "retired" at age 38 from ENRON and went on to become a major funder of pension attacks in this country. And he has many friends.

From that promising start, she leapt into the governor's mansion in 2014, and stayed there in 2018. She's been a good friend to the charter school industry, as well as the folks on Wall Street, who kicked in big time to help finance her campaign. She ran with Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, a huge charter school fan as well. Raimondo called education the "number one priority" for her second term. That has included the takeover of the schools by state government, as well as draining public education funding in order to grow pet projects like an expansion of charter chains like Achievement First. The takeover of Providence schools is, by many accounts, a last ditch effort to rescue a failing district, but it puts the schools under the control of education commissioner Angelica Infante-Green, a professional bureaucrat, administrator and education disruptor whose only classroom experience is Teach for America and whose edu-boss background includes working in New York State's department under reformster John King. State takeovers have a lousy record and go badly for many reasons (including putting the schools under the control of bureaucrats with no real school experience); in this case, complaints started almost immediately that community voices were being shut out and ignored.

Rhode Island already has a friendly atmosphere for privatization. They passed a law years ago that basically lets any mayor open up charter schools run by "municipal leaders," and charter school enrollment has passed the 10,000 student mark (out of a little under 150K in the state). It's a good setting for a governor who wants to disrupt the hell out of public education. And I almost forgot to mention--she's nominally a Democrat.

But that's just the governor. Let's talk about her husband.

Andy Moffitt is yet another of those people who has collected a wide web of privatizing connections. For starters, he was law-school roommates with Cory Booker (Raimondo later tapped a Booker staffer for her own administration). Moffitt is often portrayed as a "former teacher" in the press; three guesses what his actual teaching background consists of. Yup-- another TFA-hatched education expert.

Moffitt put that expertise as an education guy at McKinsey, the globe-spanning consultant firm that has made a living privatizing all manner of things and helping cities find ways to dismantle their public systems. They've helped fund cyber schooling. They keep pushing the computerized classroom. They beat Eli Broad to the idea of embedding their own people in the LA school district. They tout data analytics. They once hired David Coleman. Read Anand Giridharadas's Winners Take All to get a feel for just how inhuman and amoral McKinsey's approach can be.

Moffitt has written a book,  too. Actually, he co-wrote it, teaming up with Michael Barber, the head of Pearson, the media company that aspires to eat all of the education world and most especially the data therein. Barber is also a McKinsey alum; the book is one of the series touting Barber's Big Idea-- Deliverology. Moffitt co-authored Deliverology 101: A Field Guide for Education Leaders. Deliverology is a technocratic, arrogant, hubris-infused, data-worshipping nightmare of a management system. I am not going to read the book for you; just the table of contents is enough to convey how little it has to do with actual education and how much it has to do with turning a school into a data-generating algorithm-directed system that values things like "rigor" and "capacity" the human lives of its meat widgets. Pearson and McKinsey share aa deep and abiding love for Big Data. Moffitt now teachers a course about "strategic management" for Harvard's reform-loving Graduate School of Education.

Moffitt was also a board member of Stand for Children Leadership Center around 2011, 2012, which would have been shortly after the legitimate child advocacy group transformed into an astro-turfed, union-busting, Common Core pushing, privatizing, board-seat-buying, advocacy group.

While political opponents of Raimondo occasionally question the First Gentleman's privatizing inclinations and his influence, most of his press coverage is the kind of light-weight puff that first ladies are subject to. That's unfortunate, because he is a scary guy to have such a direct line to a governor who is pretty scary in her own right.

At the moment, Rhode Island's education system and the people who lead it are mired in the same pandemess as the rest of us, but if I were a parent or public school teacher or taxpayer there, I'd be concerned about the future of my public education system. These are the kinds of folks that see dollar sigs and data stacks (that can be turned into more dollar signs) and do huge damage with their imaginary educational expertise. Good luck to you, Rhode Island.

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