Eighteen months ago, on January 5, 2012, Governor Malloy’s sponsored an Education Reform Workshop at Central Connecticut State University. During the first breakout session there was a panel discussion focused on the issue of “Low-Performing Schools and Districts.” The panel was moderated by Justin Cohen, President of the School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight Education company.
A few weeks later, Mass Insight Education’s Justin Cohen returned to Connecticut to submit testimony in support of Governor Malloy’s education reform bill, Senate Bill 24. Cohen wrote, “To dramatically and systemically improve our nation’s failing schools, comprehensive state turnaround initiatives, like the Commissioner’s Network included in Senate Bill 24, must be pursued as part of a spectrum of interventions. As the President of the School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight Education, I applaud the Connecticut State Senate for its consideration of Senate Bill 24 and strongly support its passage.”
Cohen added, “Senate Bill 24 creates part of the structure and authority necessary for the state to perform this work and hold districts accountable…”
Two trips to Connecticut in a matter of weeks.
Talk about a dedication to Governor Malloy’s education reform proposal!
And now it turns out that just last month, on 4/13/13, the State of Connecticut wrote out a check to Mr. Cohen’s Mass Insight Education company for $123,930.00. It was an initial payment on a much larger contract signed by the Malloy Administration’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor. Mass Insight Education was chosen, over a number of entities including Connecticut’s Regional Education Service Centers, to assist with Stefan Pryor’s Commissioner’s Network Turnaround Program. Funny…that was the very thing Cohen came to Connecticut to testify in favor of the year before!
Prior to becoming President of Mass Insight Education’s School Turnaround Group, Justin Cohen was the Director of the Office of Portfolio Management and senior advisor to Chancellor Michelle Rhee at the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).
Rhee’s time there in Washington DC won her fame and fortune, as well as the demand for investigations into allegations about widespread cheating to inflate standardized test scores.
Before he worked as Rhee’s Director of Portfolio Management, Cohen worked as Director of Industry Support and Development for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
And before that, worked for the Edison Schools company. Finally, of course, having won a contract from Stefan Pryor, we shouldn’t be surprised that Cohen also went to Yale University.
Fellow education blogger Gary Rubinstein investigated and wrote about Mass Insight Education. Rubinstein observed that while Mass Insight claims to lead turnaround projects around the country, their track record is murky, at best. Rubinstein wrote, “On their School Turnaround Group [website] they list eight successful ‘turnarounds’ from around the country. Ironically, these eight ‘turnarounds’ were led by companies other than Mass Insight, but as Mass Insight doesn’t seem to want to put its own record up to scrutiny, they use these case studies to show the sorts of strategies that Mass Insight employs in its own turnarounds.”
Not surprising, Rubinstein discovered that the examples that Mass Insight Education relied upon are similar to what charter school companies here in Connecticut have been doing. The “improved test results” that they education reforms tout are simply the result of policy changes that allowed these schools to skim off students that are less poor, have fewer language barriers, need fewer special education services or display fewer behavioral problems. As usual, the “miracle turnaround” was a product of comparing apples to oranges, not comparing real “turnaround” in the existing population of students.
Meanwhile, Mass Insight Education has been raking in the money. According to research conducted by EduShyster, a public education blogger with extensive experience in Massachusetts, “In 2009, [Mass Insight] CEO William Guenther reported earning a cool $370,000–for 30 hours per week work. That works out to roughly $237 per hour.”
By 2011, Guenther, the Mass Insight CEO, was making $450,000.
Among its purported services, EduShyster discovered that “Mass Insight has moved into the highly lucrative consulting world, offering helpful tips to public districts and state officials around the country about how to “modify collective bargaining agreements .”
It figures that senior officials in the Malloy administration would hire a pro-charter, anti-union consulting company to advise his administration on how to undermine collective bargaining agreements.
And to further their standing, according to their IRS 990 filings, Mass Insight even engages in lobbying, although their most recent report fails to identify whether their 2012 efforts to support Governor Malloy’s education reform bill counted as lobbying.
But like all good lobbying, it would appear that their government relations expenditures can really pay off.
For example, last month’s check for $123,930.00 could have been spent here in Connecticut, supporting a Connecticut school or it could have retained the services of Connecticut residents, but instead it joined the millions of dollars flowing that are flowing to the corporate education reform industry outside of our state.
In this case, Malloy’s Department of Education is using Connecticut taxpayer funds to pay corporate consultants from Massachusetts, while Connecticut towns are left laying off teachers and reducing vital services.
Let’s hear it for the success of the corporate education-industrial reform movement!