Seattle teachers fighting back against privatization

January 18, 2008

NEW SEATTLE Public Schools superintendent, Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, in her effort to centralize and standardize the Seattle Public School District has hired the New York-based consulting firm McKinsey & Co.--a corporation with a track record of supporting school privatization.

But the teachers developed a different lesson plan for the direction of the public schools--the Seattle Education Association (SEA, the local teachers' union) overwhelmingly ratified a motion strongly advising its members to not participate in interviews with McKinsey.

McKinsey has worked with over half of the Fortune 1000, advising clients around the globe on how to cut costs and run their operations more efficiently. They have also recently been brought into school districts around the country to make suggestions for public schools that echo and elaborate on vile elements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

In a nine-point plan to improve the Minneapolis school district, McKinsey recommended replacing the poorest performing schools with charter schools, creating a principal corps that gives principals power over curriculum, firing "under-performing" teachers and cutting costs such as employee health care.

McKinsey's private-sector record is just as objectionable. As Business Week reported about McKinsey's partnership with Enron, "Outsiders marvel that the secretive partnership has not been drawn into the debacle, given its extensive involvement at Enron.

"'I'm surprised that they haven't been subpoenaed as a witness, at least,' says Wayne E. Cooper, CEO of Kennedy Information, a research and publishing firm that keeps tabs on consultants. 'There was so much smoke coming out of the Andersen smoking gun that all the firefighters went after that one. McKinsey was lucky. They dodged a bullet.'"

Business Week went on to identify many other McKinsey clients that went bankrupt, including "Swissair, Kmart, Global Crossing, Exide Technologies and North Point Communications Group."

As for "Dr. Maria," as Goodloe-Johnson was known in Charleston, S.C., her hiring appears to be part of an effort to control costs and wrest control of the Seattle school board and district management by city officials and business interests.

Dr. Maria's decision to hire McKinsey comes on the heels of recent school board elections in which pro-business candidates, who raised record amounts of money, unseated or defeated progressive, grassroots candidates.

The $750,000 to pay McKinsey was secured outside school district oversight by private donations, coming mainly from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates has consistently lobbied here for charter schools, which are a step towards privatizing public schools. However, Washington voters have been equally consistent in voting to reject charter schools.

A recent Seattle Times editorial attacked the SEA for picking a fight with the new superintendent. The reality is that the SEA membership's vote to oppose participation with the McKinsey firm is just the latest example of teachers' increasing willingness to struggle for quality public education.

SEA passed a recent resolution to participate in a local peace demonstration on October 27, to demand that the over $100,000 a minute that is being spent on the war be used for the schools.

Parents, students, teachers and supporters of public education deserve better than the tired NCLB-oriented privatization schemes of McKinsey & Co. With contract negotiations a year away, organizing opposition to Dr. Maria and Co. now will be essential to protecting teachers jobs and fighting for better funding of public schools.
Vicky Jambor, Seattle Education Association, Seattle

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