Penn students protest privatization

Philadelphia — Just the threat of students protesting was enough to send the Boston Consulting Group running.

BCG, a major cheerleader for school privatization, had planned to hold a recruiting session March 20 on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Yet when it learned that the Student Labor Action Project, a student workers’ rights advocacy group, had called for a protest outside the room where they were to meet, BCG postponed the session.

In a Facebook posting calling the protest, SLAP stated, “Since BCG decided to shut down our schools, it’s only fair to shut down their meeting.” The group called for students from Philadelphia public schools slated for closure to join them.

BCG spokesperson Keri Messa claimed the group postponed the meeting after hearing that an Occupy Wall Street movement was happening right outside the room they were to use. While denying that BCG knew it was the protesters’ target, Messa stated this “might create an issue for us coming back.”

In 2011, hundreds of demonstrators from Philadelphia’s OWS forced right-wing U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor to cancel his planned talk at Penn’s Wharton School of Business.

BCG, a $3 billion management consulting firm, was the major influence behind the Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s decision in early March to close 23 public schools. In 2012, the SRC paid $1.4 million to BCG for five weeks’ work to design a plan to “decentralize” Philadelphia schools — in other words, to privatize them. BCG’s initial report recommended that 64 schools be shut down, mostly in African-American communities.

The company has a long history of working on behalf of the ruling class. Several wealthy and right-wing individuals, including Mitt Romney, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and hedge fund manager John Paulson, are former BCG members.

BCG behind school, post office privatization

The U.S. government paid BCG $7 million during the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler for consultation that resulted in drastic wage cuts and layoffs for unionized workers. BCG is currently spearheading efforts to privatize the U.S. Postal Service and eliminate rural delivery.

In 2006, BCG took advantage of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina to privatize schools in New Orleans and decimate the teachers’ union. The “achievement networks” BCG proposed for Philadelphia schools copy the New Orleans model. In 2007, BCG tried to resegregate schools in North Carolina. The company has also been behind efforts to privatize schools in Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, Memphis and Cleveland.

In partnerships with Knowledge Is Power Program and the Gates Foundation, BCG has been a key promoter of online technology in education. In 2011, it released a report calling for a “set of educational objectives, standards, curricula, assessments, interventions, and professional development” centered on the use of online technology.

If improving education were truly the driving force behind the introduction of high technology in schools, both teachers and students might benefit. This would be the case under socialism where technology could free up teachers to spend more individual time with students.

However, the BCG/KIPP approach is geared more toward breaking the backs of teachers’ unions. Under capitalism, technology is being used to turn education into a marketable commodity, replacing skilled teachers with standardized tests and computer programs, while boosting the bottom line for the companies that produce them.

While BCG and its partners stand to profit from their push for unfettered technology in education, in school districts where it has been utilized, teachers’ wages have plummeted and skilled teachers have been replaced with nonteaching staff. In fact, students in online schools in Pennsylvania have scored some of the lowest test results.

SLAP organizer Penny Jennewein called it a “victory” that BCG canceled due to students organizing. She promised that they would demonstrate again if the event is rescheduled. Jennewein criticized BCG for trying to recruit Penn students to work for them, noting, “There’s nothing socially responsible about closing schools and privatizing public education.” (thedp.com, March 20)