Corporate consultants Bain & Company size up Los Angeles schools
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner, seen here on Jan 7, 2018, has invited Bain & Company, a private corporate management consulting firm, to size up L.A. schools' distance learning. | Reed Saxon / AP

LOS ANGELES—While families have been scrambling to homeschool and accessorize their 20 million+ Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) GrabNGo meals, the District’s Superintendent and improbably employed former investment-banker, Austin Beutner, has sought guidance from his own comfort-sector, the world of corporate management consulting.

On Wednesday, May 6, LAUSD announced that Bain & Company will work on a pro bono basis “to evaluate and implement strategies to help teachers, students, and families in remote, online learning.” Meanwhile, the firm of Bain & Company itself announced a very different mandate to “identify and prioritize potential initiatives [based on research and insights by education experts, key district stakeholders, and Los Angeles Unified personnel…] that have a tangible impact, are fiscally responsible and can be implemented quickly. Based on agreed-upon priorities, Bain will then design a high-level plan of action for Los Angeles Unified to consider.… At Bain we are committed to investing in high impact education initiatives.”

That is, notwithstanding direct authorization from LAUSD’s elected, policy-setting schoolboard, the Superintendent has invited activist, business management consultants to filter L.A.’s Unified School District through a sieve of market efficiency—not educational—strategies.

The management consulting firm of Bain & Company is far from a politically neutral, hands-off advisory concern. Decades ago, Bain & Company distinguished itself from the competition through development of “relationship consulting,” and a corporate culture to “get their hands deep into the trousers of a company.” Bain & Company operates, explains founder Bill Bain euphemistically, so that “its objectives will be more closely aligned with those of our clients.” Toward this end, Bain & Company has spun off entities “to expand its direct investment in its clients,” including the infamous private equity firm led by Mitt Romney, Bain Capital, and the independent nonprofit focused exclusively on the social sector, Bridgespan.

As curmudgicator Peter Greene explained five years ago after a different management consultant group, BCG, appeared in the wake of the demise of Little Rock’s elected school board: “This is worse than finding the slender man in the back of your family portrait. For a public school system, this is finding the grim reaper at your front door. And he’s not selling cookies.”

Bain & Company does not hide its ideological support of business management solutions for schools seen through the lens of privatization. In this study launched by and conducted in partnership with Teach For America (TFA), schools are axiomatically presumed incompetent at a singular, principal task: workforce generation. Transformative Education Reform is the exclusive realm of management; nowhere is pedagogy, or the classroom and actual teaching or learning, ever engaged. With self-serving focus, its prescription is labeled difficult to achieve, setting up a second report by the consultant actually hired to advise LAUSD.

Again reducing the principal components of a school system to management, this panacea is inched along as cultivating a landing place for the trademark groomed leaders. These are the expert’s assertions even while school systems implement a long established system of mentorship vulnerable to factors quite apart from its commonplace design, factors such as, say, insufficient funding and staffing.

The prescriptions of Bain & Company have a long history, and its predilections are well documented. In Chicago in 2007, the “first Bain pro bono team focused on school design,” declaring their imperative to be the tautology that underserved communities have been failed by public education. Discovering that a school is a complex entity and difficult to launch, Bain encountered setbacks in its initial drive to take over Rowe Elementary School. In keeping with its tradition of “deep investment,” Bain continues its involvement with Rowe ES to this day, named for the retired chair and CEO of the beleaguered energy corporation Exelon, alongside over a dozen deep-pocketed investors in school privatization. Bain’s “social impact” has long been a selling point for their vertical business model, involving dozens of “education-focused pro bono engagements” from Michelle Rhee’s anti-union, political lobbying group StudentsFirst to the de facto TFA-lite “City Year.”

There is no doubt that LAUSD faces tremendous challenges under COVID-19, financially from the state budget crisis, operationally due to social distancing and/or remote learning, and logistically as LAUSD morphs into one of the largest social agency nutrition provisioners anywhere, any time. A phenomenal list of resources can be found here on topics ranging from IT and instructional continuity for students, parents, and students with disabilities; learning resources, and Health and Human Services.

But allowing the crisis to cloak the “deep involvement” of an industry dedicated to privatizing our public sector is ushering ideological partisans into LAUSD’s midst. This is infiltration shepherded not by elected representatives but by their controversially appointed chief, who dates from a time of the BOE’s different ideological composition.

Consider this object lesson of Bain Capital’s effect on the healthcare system and consider the analogous implications of its parent-company’s satellite’s social “mission.” Inviting Bain & Company to advise LAUSD, pro bono or otherwise, shepherds their corporate social agenda into our public education system, leaving it vulnerable to reflexive corporate extraction of public monies for private gain.

We’re all focused inward on the children borrowing our computers and attention at home. But it is important to keep an eye on outside incursion. Having granted emergency powers to its Superintendent under Covid19, LAUSD’s school board and its stakeholders cannot abdicate awareness of threats to our democratic school system. Pro-bono management consulting does not constitute a penny earned.

Reposted by permission of the author, with slight changes conforming to People’s World style. The original publication on Los Angeles Education Examiner can be viewed here.


Sara Roos
Sara Roos

Sara Roos writes from Los Angeles, California.