What About McCord and Chester Upland School District Sale?

Since the McCord Campaign wants to double down on bringing up something from a distant past, a campaign could run an ad that would make the McCord Campaign, and the PSEA endorsement of McCord, look stupid.  While McCord was a venture capitalist, his company bought the Chester School District and then sold it 6 months later to Edison, the same company that was involved with the Philadelphia School District in the late 90’s early 2000’s.

I mean if the McCord Campaign wants to bring up something from the distant past, why not this?  There’s “enough” information highlighted here for public education activists – or a campaign – to raise questions about McCord’s role handling the sale of the Chester Upland School District.

Via Point Breeze Organizing Committee:

In early, January, the Point Breeze Organizing Committee (PBOC) released a statement, “Would Rob McCord stop the privatization of Public Education?”  It documented the role a Rob McCord led venture capital firm played in privatizing the Chester Upland School District; a move that not surprisingly, quickly led to a fight with the Teacher’s Union.  McCord’s involvement was also documented by AP Ticker on Scrapple TV highlighted by Philadelphia Weekly.

PBOC submitted the statement to the Progressive Democratic Caucus (PDC), which was asking for verifiable information about candidates, in order to develop their scorecard.  PDC was successful in getting a response from the McCord Campaign.

The McCord Campaign’s response was defensive and disturbing.  It is immediately below, followed by our response.

Rob went to Pennsylvania public schools and credits them with giving him the foundation for his future academic and professional successes.  He’s not a proponent of school privatization, he is a full-throated advocate for Pennsylvania’s public schools.

 Here are the facts:

–  When Rob was at PA Early Stage Partners, the firm, on behalf of the teachers’ pension fund, invested in a small, start up company called Learn Now.  It was founded by two Morehouse grads who wanted to make a difference in the education sector.  One of the founders, Jim Shelton, is now the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.  Here’s his bio: http://www2.ed.gov/news/staff/bios/shelton.html.  The other, Gene Wade, continues to be an advocate for innovation in education.  Here is his bio:  http://unow.com/team_members/gene-wade/

–  This is really nothing more than PA Early Stage Partners investing in two start-up business owners from an inner city background who were trying to find ways to improve the educational system.

–  When Learn Now was bought by Edison, the teachers’ pension fund made a small profit and got their initial investment back.  Rob and his partners did not make any money from the sale of Learn Now to Edison.  It’s worth repeating that last part: Rob and his partners did not profit from the sale of Learn Now to Edison!

–  Once the sale of Learn Now to Edison was complete, PA Early Stage Partners no longer had any stake in either company.

We believe the McCord Campaign response sidesteps fundamental questions about his policy beliefs and responsibility.  We believe we deserve more from a candidate for Pennsylvania’s highest office.

What roles does he believe for-profit education management companies should play in public education?

Would he have led Early Stage Partners to invest in Learn Now, if he knew, that just three months after it won the contract, it would break its word to the Chester Community and sell to Edison Schools?  – that shortly thereafter Edison Schools would fight the Teacher’s Union?

Rob McCord has not once on the campaign trail referred to the attack on public schools as a privatization effort – rather his rhetoric, along with some other candidates, has attempted to narrow the scope and define it simply as a funding issue.

Further, as a matter of policy the McCord Campaign saying he is “not a proponent of school privatization” is contradicted by the later stated support of Jim Shelton and Gene Wade.  They both have personally have profited from for-profit education management companies that have not served students.  Wade continues to do so and Shelton went on to advocate policy that enables privatization.

His bio page at the Department of Education uses code words like “Teacher Quality” and “School Choice” and while the McCord Campaign holds up his position at the U.S Dept. of Education to validate his legitimacy, that office has been at odds with Public Education movements and the policies advocates like Diane Ravitch have called for.  Indeed, the head of that department, Arne Duncan’s visits to Philly, have been often met with protest.  What’s more is Shelton’s career includes time at the Gates Foundation, a huge proponent of privatization.  Pittsburgh’s elected school board is being threatened by the Gates Foundation right now, precisely because it has cancelled contracts rather than close schools and is standing up for high quality public education and against privatization efforts that the Gates Foundation advocates.

Gene Wade is a pioneer of for-profit education, that the NY Times described as “more entrepreneur than educator.”  He has a long track record of educational failures, including in Chester with Learn Now.

So, again, here are the facts:

A venture capital firm that Rob McCord led, invested in a for-profit education management company – LearnNow, that was a driving force in the privatization of the entire Chester Upland School District.  Even worse, LearnNow made promises to Chester and emphasized it had differences with Edison Schools, but 3 month later cashed out for over $30 million by selling to Edison Schools – a fact McCord’s company prominently displayed on it’s website, as a win.  Edison Schools, then with more power took on the Teacher’s Union in Chester, on its way just a few months later to attempting privatization of the entire Philly School District.

If Rob McCord is unapologetic about investing in for-profit education management companies, then he should make that case, and see if Pennsylvanians agree with him.  If he recognizes people were wronged and that this is the wrong direction, then he should take responsibility for that mistake.

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About Sean Kitchen 681 Articles
Contributor and Assistant Editor for the Raging Chicken Press. Stationed in Harrisburg covering politics in the capitol. You can send tips to sean@rcpress.org or reach me on twitter at @RCPress_Sean!
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1 Comment on What About McCord and Chester Upland School District Sale?

  1. Excellently articulated, Sean, from start to finish. With John Hanger gone, I don’t know who I will vote for in the primary. I may vote for McCord despite this article, and I am a teacher, but your article gives every reason to be careful of this kind of campaigning. I hate when candidates couch their statements so carefully as to appear to support something, but never really say so. If McCord can’t say I’m completely and totally opposed to privitization, he would not get my vote.

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