The Hand That Holds the Data Rules the World


The title of this piece is a play on the old phrase “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Why? Because in this era of unfettered free-market wheeling and dealing to profit the Masters of the Universe at the expense of the rest of us, the key players in education reform know all too well that owning the data is how one rocks the cradle.  Peel back the layers of legislation, policy, reports from “think tanks,” relationships between and across education “non profits,” and political wrangling and you can find the central players: the same folks who brought you the financial crisis of 2008 now (behind the scenes) spear heading education reform (along with billionaire’s selling new technological materials). There are two central themes to all of this: Profit (to them) and surveillance (of our children).  Like the proverbial chicken and the egg, there are profits to be made in surveillance disguised as accountability, and surveillance is used to make profits- privatization disguised as “choice.”

While Rupert Murdoch probably requires no introduction, my readers may not know that Rupert Murdoch has undue influence on data collection via testing in k-12 education.  As Cody states: “The core of the technocrats’ push to reshape education is the all-powerful DATA that they believe ought to be driving all of our decisions.”

But Murdoch isn’t the only hedge-fund, venture capitalist, free market, data-collecting giant on the block.  Meet his BFF’s at McKinsey & Company.  Murdoch’s Wireless Generation (funded by Gates) will be joined by the consulting firm McKinsey, which led the first reorganization of Children’s First in 2003 (which included dissolving the district structure-contrary to law-and totally writing off parent input).

McKinsey Management Consulting firm hires the elite to serve the elite.  McKinsey “draws on both public and private sector expertise” helping “clients improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their central administrative offices and processes.”

While their finger prints can be found everywhere in educational “research” and education policy, it’s time to closely examine the constellation of influence cast by their key players, conveniently located in necessary “hot spots” of educational reform.

McKinsey itself cites that sectors positioned for greater gains from big data include education services. What they call Big Data. In order to collect big data one must have streamlined consistent measures of data collection.  So how does one clear the avenues to collect, analyze, and “sell” big data?  McKinsey & Company has followed the steps to privatize public education to the letter.  First, use “research” to create a crisis. Then, promise to bring solutions to this crisis, advocating the “need” for more data, and become the central warehouse for storing and using that data for one’s own purposes. There is a great deal of money to be made by McKinsey and the clients they serve every step of the way. And there is great power in being the holder of that data. The goal is to place public data, test scores from children among the most valuable data sets, into private hands for corporate profit and control.

According to their own research panel entitled: Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity– Capturing its value: Big data—large pools of data that can be captured, communicated, aggregated, stored, and analyzed—is now part of every sector and function of the global economy. Like other essential factors of production such as hard assets and human capital, it is increasingly the case that much of modern economic activity, innovation, and growth simply couldn’t take place without data.”

Leading this project (among others) is Martin N. Baily, a senior adviser to McKinsey and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution (the place that just terminated its relationship with Diane Ravitch as a non-resident senior fellow.)

In the McKinsey Big Data report they cite that “lack of data-driven mind-set and available data” in education is the hurdle to overcome in order to move forward. McKinsey’s report cites that incompatible standards and formats of data in different sources can prevent the integration of data from which big data gets its value.

Enter David Coleman. David Coleman, one of the main architects of the National Common Core Standards, and now President of the College Board, was formerly an associate at McKinsey. Thus the National Common Core Standards, all soon to be available for more streamlined data collection via online services, provides a consistent and efficient means to collect data from children. Never mind whether or not the Common Core or the tests used to collect the data are even developmentally or pedagogically sound-they’re big money.

Fortunately for Mr. Coleman, he has his colleague, Sir Michael Barber, former partner and head of McKinsey global education practice who is now at Pearson as the Chief Education Advisor, to ensure that the data is collected courtesy of Pearson’s textbooks and testing products (which include development of, dissemination of, and/or evaluations of the SAT, PAARC, GRE, The National Common Core Standards for pre-K through grade 12, and the Teachers Professional Assessment). Barber’s philosophy on education reform comes right out of a playbook by ALEC. McKinsey’s unofficial motto could be his own: “Everything can be measured, and what is measured can be managed.”  Pearson’s push to create online services to streamline the collection of data on teachers and children also reflects McKinsey & Company’s goal to ramp up electronic forms of data collection.

Again, according to McKinsey, “Analyzing large data sets-so called big data-will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity, growth and innovation.” As Anthony Cody writes, they will be getting their wish:

“What will it mean for these state-level data systems when these tests are all nationalized through the Common Core? It seems as if we will then have, in effect, a nationwide data system with detailed information about every single person enrolled in a public school.”

This data is needed to propel education into a free market enterprise, where hedge fund managers (once stuffing their faces at the trough of the housing and banking markets) now feed off of education.  They use brilliant marketing strategies, using key terms to sell their markets and services under false pretenses. For example, streamlined data collection via online learning (which benefits for-profit online educational companies like Connections Academy and Bill Gates) is marketed as “individualized learning.” School turn-arounds, using vouchers and corporate model charter schools, are promoted in the name of “equity” and “access” (never mind that this surge of charter schools has increased racial segregation in many cities).  Uniform and accessible data sets needed to create big data sets, created through a National Common Core, standardized testing, and the Teacher Professional Assessment (all in contracts with Pearson) are touted in the names of “accountability” and “quality control.”

And who are their clients? Not children. Somehow I doubt that my child’s test scores in the hands of McKinsey and Rupert Murdoch will be sent to educational experts within their organizations, who will provide pedagogically sound feedback to my child’s teachers on how to best modify their instructional strategies to improve the quality of learning for my child.  They do not provide services for us.  Our children are providing services for them.

What have they done to help teachers and students for all the millions they’ve been paid for their “consulting fees?”

In 2007 McKinsey worked for the Minneapolis Public Schools, where the firm recommended that the district cut “high costs” such as teacher health care, and recommended converting the 25 percent of schools that scored the lowest on standardized tests to privatized charter-school status (a plan under which schools receiving public funds are run by independent charter associations, or for-profit entities, and operate outside the authority of local school boards).

In Seattle, McKinsey was funded by a $750,000 gift from local philanthropists (hmmmm, who could THAT be?) to conduct a comprehensive study of data collected in Seattle’s education system. Teachers in Seattle passed a resolution of non-compliance with McKinsey’s study of the Seattle Public Schools in protest.

At McGill University in Canada, McKinsey provided their services to McGill senior administrators for free. Awww, they’re so nice.  According to one report “McKinsey has a reputation for prioritizing profits over people, and for doing so opaquely and without public accountability.” They impose austerity measures like cutting the institution of tenure which is being replaced by a system that relies on less-costly sessional professors and course lecturers.

So, who do they serve? Or is the question, who serves them? Maybe its mutually symbiotic?

First of all they are Bill Gates and Eli Broad’s favored consultants.

Current and former McKinsey consultants now invested in corporate-model education reform include:  Louis Gerstner (co-chair of Achieve-the group that helped sponsor Nation Common Core), Rajat Gupta (financial backer of the Harlem Children’s Zone), Marshall Lux (on the Board of the Harlem Children’s Zone), Andrés Satizábal (Harlem Charter School), Michael Stone (Chief External Relations Officer at New Schools for New Orleans),  Terrence McDonough (English Teacher and Department Chair at Edward W. Brooke Charter School  and 5th Grade Teacher at Teach for America), Luis de la Fuente (with the Broad Foundation, who develops and manages a portfolio of grants to school districts, charter management organizations, and innovative non-profits), Shantanu Sinha (COO of Kahn Academies), and Jerry Hauser ( who served as the Chief Operating Officer at Teach For America). This list could go on ad infinitum.  But one final player of note is Bobby Jindal, former McKinsey consultant, and now Governor of Louisiana. He is forming policies to privatize public education for the entire state of Louisiana.

In addition, Paul Pastorek, the former Louisiana Superintendent of Education, hired Sir Michael Barber to help redesign the Louisiana DOE.

Mitt Romney told the Wall Street Journal that if he is elected President, he will “probably” hire McKinsey to tell him how to reorganize the government.

In 2007 McKinsey was Mayor Bloomberg’s favorite consultant- “It took part in the restructuring that followed the Mayor’s takeover of the Department of Education. And why not? A C.E.O. Mayor and the consulting firm known for being a C.E.O.’s best friend.  A leader who believes in looking at the cold hard data, and a company ready to provide it. Bloomberg’s “bullpen”; McKinsey’s “teams.”

Joel Klein in partnership with McKinsey and Company began an intensive involvement in education issues more than a decade ago.  In 2007 their consultants played critical roles in planning the restructuring of the New York City schools under Chancellor Klein.

The Department of Defense contracts with McKinsey & Company as well. The Department of Defense has expressed direct involvement with the collecting and tracking of all student data as is indicated by their participation in GradNation, and calling for a “national security audit.”

Hedge fund managers love this stuff too. “Some of the best brains and biggest names in the hedge fund industry have put their philanthropic might behind charter schools in an attempt to redefine public school education in the U.S., giving millions of dollars to the effort.” They need those big data sets provided by McKinsey, because “in this world, measurements, reporting and data, including the notion of philanthropic return on investment, count.”

As the New York Times states: “Charters have attracted benefactors from many fields. But it is impossible to ignore that in New York, hedge funds are at the movement’s epicenter.” NYT adds that: “Younger on average than top executives at financial giants like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley hedge fund managers are often numbers-driven refugees of those banks, who chuck the suit and tie and work with a small staff, studying spreadsheets for investment opportunities.”

Those spread sheets of “investment opportunities” (formerly called children)  include the incessant number of mind- numbing and unreliable, pedagogically unsound tests designed and evaluated by Pearson that our children are now forced to take.  These spread sheets serve as the fodder for firing teachers and closing schools, and replacing them with “hedge fund investments.” Apparently unions, highly- qualified and experienced teachers, teacher salaries, messy yet meaningful curriculum, and bad test takers like ELL children get in the way of all that.

Our children’s futures, their education, and our tax dollars (funneled through “vouchers”) are now being used as the latest playthings of billionaires whose previous toys, banking and real estate, are now broken. And those policies and practices which broke those systems, but continue to line their pockets, are now being transposed onto educational policy. And McKinsey, safely pocketed in central locations within Pearson, The National Common Core, charter schools, and higher education, will be able to deliver education to them on a silver platter. Every test our children take, every ounce of data we allow them to collect on our children, our teachers and our future teachers in universities, serve as the noose we hand them to hang us with. And we pay them for the service of being able to hang us.

Didn’t we learn anything from the financial misdeeds of 2008?

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

30 thoughts on “The Hand That Holds the Data Rules the World

  1. I like to think that the hedge funders will soon grow tired and bored with education and devote their millions to some other inane cause.

    Speaking of hedge fund managers, I wish to give Whitney Tilson the atomic wedgie, noogies, and the swirling he do desperately deserves.

  2. I do see a day when hedge funders grow bored and tiresome of education. Perhaps when they totally destoy it?

    I do wish to give Whitney Tilson the atomic wedgie, noogies, pink belly, and swirling that he so deserves.

  3. The Deformers have discovered that education is the 2nd most lucrative market in America and once they create chaos and havoc, they will not let go…they are creating their worker drones for the future…there is money to be made in public ed…public money all for easy taking. Get real…They are here to stay. All this chaos…its to divert America’s attention from the criminality in the business world. These Broad graduates are very determined destructive people.

  4. excellent points altogether, you simply gained a new reader.

    What would you suggest in regards to your put up that you made a
    few days in the past? Any certain?

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