September 29, 2021

Mercedes Schneider: Teach Two Years, Climb Ed Ladder, Score $5M Contract from Brand New RI Gov via Brand New Consulting Firm.

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Mercedes Schneider, teacher, researcher, and author, takes us to Rhode Island, where the Teach for America model of “teach for a while, declare your self an education expert, then cash in” is on full display. Reposted with permission.

I have been following a story in Rhode Island in which new governor, Dan McKee, who took office on March 02, 2021, initiated a bidding process for millions in educational contracts on March 23, 2021, then awarded the lion’s share (just over $5M) to a “consulting firm” that had been formed on March 04, 2021— only two days after McKee took office.

The name of the consulting firm in question is ILO Group. has two excellent articles on the situation. Some info from the first, dated September 07, 2021:

A brand-new consulting firm has landed a state contract worth over $5 million to help guide Rhode Island’s back-to-school policies, despite charging millions more than a rival with a lengthier track record, a Target 12 investigation has found.

The new company — ILO Group LLC — was incorporated on March 4, two days after Gov. Dan McKee took office. Its leaders are former executives at Chiefs for Change, a prominent education nonprofit whose CEO is longtime McKee ally and adviser Mike Magee, who served on the governor’s transition team last winter.

ILO Group won the seven-figure contract after the initial bidding process unraveled, in part due to the new firm’s vastly higher estimate of how much it would cost to do the work. ILO initially put in a bid of $8.8 million, while a competing firm that has served as a state education consultant for two decades — WestEd — said it would only cost $936,000.

Documents obtained by Target 12 show the bidding process was initiated by the governor’s office on March 23. The R.I. Department of Administration convened a four-member review panel the next month to examine the bids that included an unusual choice for such a group: North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi, who is close to McKee.

The review panel’s members gave ILO Group and WestEd nearly identical scores, but they declined to go with the lower bid, saying the nearly $8-million gap between the two firms’ starting bids showed the original request had been too “broad and vague.”

ILO and WestEd then submitted revised bids of $6.5 million and $3.3 million, respectively, and by late spring the state settled on awarding two one-year contracts: $5.2 million to ILO, and $926,000 to WestEd.

ILO Group’s initial bid for the education contract made no mention of Chiefs for Change even though multiple ILO staffers worked there and Magee remains its chief executive. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit is known for helping recruit and promote up-and-coming school leaders, including Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green.

Julia Rafal-Baer, ILO’s managing partner, served as chief operating officer at Chiefs for Change before leaving to found ILO in March. Another partner, Cerena Parker, was Chiefs for Change’s director of operations. A third partner, Rebecca Shah, was a fellow at Chiefs for Change, according to her LinkedIn profile.

And from the second article, dated September 14, 2021 and updated the next day:

Gov. Dan McKee sent a letter to General Assembly leaders Tuesday making the case for his administration’s decision to give a $5.2 million contract to a brand-new consulting firm, following a storm of controversy over the agreement.

The governor sent the three-page letter to House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. It was accompanied by more than 30 pages of procurement documents and a work summary from the new firm, ILO Group LLC.  …

McKee’s letter comes one week after a Target 12 investigation examined how the consulting firm — which incorporated two days after he became governor on March 2 — landed the state contract despite an unusual bidding process. Lawmakers are considering whether to hold hearings examining the contract.

“While ILO is newly organized as a Rhode Island-based business, its team members have worked together for years and have an extensive background working in Rhode Island and throughout the country on education consulting projects,” McKee wrote. He noted that ILO’s managing partner – Julia Rafal-Baer, who owns a majority stake in the firm – is a Cranston resident.

McKee didn’t mention that ILO’s proposed hourly rate for the work still totaled $228 an hour, compared to $123 for WestEd — meaning the bids were still nearly $3 million apart. Those numbers are too small and blurry to read in the supporting documents sent by the governor’s office. (Target 12 has separate copies of the original.)

In another section of the report, McKee also downplayed the overall price tag of the ILO contract, saying he doubted the firm would end up billing taxpayers for that much money in the end.

“To avoid unnecessary spending, the contract is to be billed hourly up to the amount of $5.1 million instead of a fixer retainer fee,” McKee wrote. “Based on ILO’s billable hours for work performed since the beginning of July 2021 when the contract began, we expect to remain far below this cap.”

There are many directions I could take with this post, but I want to focus on Julia Rafal-Baer, her credentials, and her connections to two power-wielding, ed-reform organizations, Chiefs for Change (C4C) and (not mentioned here) Teach for America (TFA).

In order to better understand Rafal-Baer’s strategic positioning in getting a $5.2M contract after having formed her LLC only two days after a new RI governor is elected, readers must know some background on C4C as well as how being associated with TFA can place people with minimal K12 classroom experience into politically and/or fiscally influential positions in K12 education, which is at the center of the story of the likes of ILO managing partner Julia Rafal-Baer, who is both C4C and TFA.

To this end of grounding readers in C4C/TFA background, I will focus on someone notable for his connection to both: former Louisiana superintendent, John White.

Chiefs for Change (C4C) was the original creation of former Florida governor, Jeb Bush. In March 2013, I wrote about the members of C4C and their usefulness to their leader in promoting the test-centric, market-based education reform that Bush so ardently supports. One of those members, John White, started with TFA (including a three-year teaching stint in NJ and continuing as a TFA exec); was a deputy superintendent under Joel Klein in New York, and was brought to Louisiana first as New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) superintendent in April 2011, but only to get him in the door as the next state superintendent, which unofficially happened only seven months later, in November 2011 and officially nine months later, in January 2012.

In this October 2011 email, Jeb Bush put out the word to his C4C membership that he needed (expected?) their help in getting White, then-Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal’s, choice for state ed superintendent, in that job. C4C member Paul Pastorek had picked White as RSD superintendent and lied to La. House Appropriations saying he had not yet made a choice even as a press release for his choice was being published that very day. Seven months later, Pastorek stepped aside and ushered in Jindal-chosen White as state superintendent. (Pastorek non-decision lie and press release, both April 07, 2011; BESE approval April 08, 2011.)

White also had his Chicago connections pushing for him. White was formerly TFA executive director in Chicago, and it shoud come as no surprise that Chicagoans President Obama and Arne Duncan were both pitching for White to skyrocket into the state superintendent position.

Why not just make White state superintendent of Louisiana straight from his position as deputy superintendent in New York? Well, for all of his time as a NY deputy superintendent, it seems that White needed no advanced degree, nor did he hold any supervisory credential. This New York teacher certification lookup site produced one result for “John White” (I looked up “John C White”), who holds a permanent certificate in English, grades 7 – 12 granted in 2003. According to White’s education certification in Louisiana (lookup link here), he did not receive his masters degree until 2011, the same year he was hired as RSD superintendent. No month is provided, but word was that when he wanted to hire White for the RSD, Jindal was miffed that White did not hold a master’s degree. (Also, NYU has White as a “recent graduate” keynote in April 2012.) So, it seems that the RSD position may have helped buy some time. I am happy to be corrected on ths point, as White does not seem to want to publish specific dates related to his degrees except for the PhD that he does not yet have (dated 2022).

A few more points about White, and TFA, and wielding power over lots of money that one can direct toward those with similar, ed-reform connections:

  • Under White’s watch, in 2017, Louisiana contracted with a TFAer-run, new nonprofit, SPEDx, which was involved in a no-bid contract scandal to the tune of $4.4M in Texas. Former TFAer Penny Schwinn was involved; she is now Tennessee ed commissioner and is becoming known in that state for her no-bid contract penchant.
  • In June 2018, along with another fellow TFAer-gone-superintendent (NJ) and NYC ed connection, Paymon Rouhanifard, White began his own nonprofit, Propel America, while still Louisiana state superintendent, AND that nonprofit began doing business with Louisiana while White was still superintendent AND, Louisiana BESE was apparently caught unawares, so that may well figure into his March 2020 departure-by-resignation, announced January 8, 2020.
  • After White left the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), he and a number of his former LDOE/TFA connections created other LLCs, including Watershed Advisors (for consulting). It’s what those in the business of education do. Former TFAers do not return to the classroom. They look for high-paying admin jobs, and/or they try to leverage themselves in the education business in order to live on education-related, contract money.

Now back to Julia Rafal-Baer, ILO managing partner who has been given a $5.2M ed contract from the state of Rhode Island and who the new governor who granted the questionable contract is defending as competent in this brand-spanking new capacity because he knows of her previously and because he doesn’t think her consulting firm will really bill for that full $5.2M anyway.

Juila Rafal Baer is a former TFAer who completed a two-year stint in the K12 classroom and then was catapulted to NYC ed administration.

Rafal-Baer is connected to the Center for Education Policy and Research (CEPR) at Harvard University. My, that sounds impressive. Below is her CEPR bio, in which her limited classroom experience of two years via teacher temp agency, TFA, is airbrushed out (I underline the airbrushing):

Julia Rafal-Baer

COO, Chiefs for Change

As Chief Operating Officer, Julia Rafal-Baer, Ph.D., develops Chiefs for Change’s organizational capacity for sustained growth, strengthens our decision-making processes and goal-setting, and drives the strategic direction of Chiefs for Change. Prior to joining our team, Julia was Assistant Commissioner of the New York State Education Department where she was responsible for the strategy, management, and implementation of teacher and leader initiatives under the state’s Race to the Top grant, Teacher Incentive Fund grant, and other state-wide initiatives, managing more than $150 million in federal funds. Julia directed, coordinated, and recommended policies and programs designed to raise the achievement of students and improve the quality and diversity of the education workforce. Previously, Julia served as Manager at New Profit, Inc., where she helped lead the design and implementation of the organization’s city-level initiatives. She began her career as a special education teacher in the Bronx. Julia holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Education Policy and a Master’s in Philosophy in Education Research from the University of Cambridge where she was a Marshall Scholar, a dual Master’s from CUNY: Lehman College in Special Education and Childhood Education, and a Bachelor’s in Psychology from The George Washington University.

Another Rafal-Baer bio, this time from the National Assessment Governing Board. Wow. NAGB. Also impressive. Mentions all of her degrees, that she has been COO of C4C since 2016; that she was once a NY state assistant ed commissioner (no date), but no mention of her TFA classroom moment.

I first noticed in 2017 that some TFAers were not including TFA in their bios. It seems that Rafal-Baer is among that crew. Nevertheless, TFA remembers its alum, Rafal-Baer:

Julia Rafal-Baer, Ph.D joined Teach For America in 2004, where she began her career as a special education teacher in the Bronx. Julia went on to become Assistant Commissioner of the New York State Education Department where she was responsible for the strategy, management, and implementation of teacher and leader initiatives under the state’s Race to the Top grant, Teacher Incentive Fund grant, and other state-wide initiatives. Today, Julia lives in Rhode Island and serves as Chief Operating Officer of Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit network of bipartisan state and city education leaders.

Rafal-Baer was in the NY K12 special education classroom beginning in 2004; however, she did not receive her first NY certification until September 2005. That’s how it often works with TFAers– their first year in the classroom is without certification. Rafal did hold a transitional certificate for special populations from 2005 to 2008 as well as an “initial” certificate from 2009 to 2014. (Use this New York teacher certification search engine for information on “julia rafal.”)

Rafal-Baer once had a Linkedin profile, but it has been removed as of this writing. So, I am having to dig for specifics of what should appear in any readily-available bio for someone seeking millions in state money, but so it often goes in the land of intentionally-murky, publicized credentials in the ed-reform world.

It seems that Rafal-Baer earned her master’s degree in philosophy in education research in 2006; was a NY State Education Department (NYSED) fellow from 2010 to 2012, and then became a NYSED assistant ed commissioner in 2012, according to this 2012 Marshall scholar publication.

When I look for “julia rafal bio pdf,” I hit on this document, which includes archived information from numerous Linkedin bios and appears to be from November 2013. It complements previous information in Rafal-Baer’s bios publicized above and confirms that Rafal-Baer spent the usual TFAer’s two years in the classroom and subsequent prodding to then move into positions of influence (and money) than classroom teaching:

Julia Rafal-Baer’s Experience

Executive Director, Teacher and Leader Effectiveness, Policy and Programs, New York State Education Department: August 2012 – Present (1 year 3 months) Albany, New York

Fellow, USNY Regents Research Fund: December 2010 – August 2012 (1 year 9 months)

Manager, Urban Assets Initiative, New Profit Inc.: December 2009 – December 2010 (1 year 1 month)

Education Consultant, Independent: November 2006 – December 2010 (4 years 2 months)

President of Fundraising, Educar, Integrer, & Crecer: October 2006 – October 2008 (2 years 1 month) United Kingdom

Research Assistant, CARET: May 2007 – July 2008 (1 year 3 months)

Special Education Content Specialist, Teach for America: August 2004 – June 2006 (1 year 11 months) Bronx, New York

Special Education Teacher, NYC Department of Education: August 2004 – June 2006 (1 year 11 months) Bronx

Rafal-Baer identified herself as a “special education content specialist” in 2004 despite holding no certification in special populations until September 2005 (a transitional certification, at that, and only for two years, and unrelated to any other positions on this bio). Also note that even though Rafal-Baer held credentials to remain in the NY K6 classroom from 2005 to 2014, she chose to leave in 2006 in favor of piecemeal, education “consultant” employment. Why? To pursue top-heavy education credentials, including “supervising students in the field of eduction”:

Julia Rafal-Baer’s Education

Columbia Business School, Executive Education, Emerging Leaders Program: 2012 – 2012

University of Cambridge, PhD, Education (Focus: Policy and Research): 2006 – 2009
Successfully completed a doctoral program in education from the University of Cambridge in 2009.
Supervised undergraduate students in the fields of education, psychology and sociology. 2006 – 2009 Marshall Scholar.

University of Cambridge, MPhil, Education Research: 2006 – 2007

City University of New York-Herbert H. Lehman College, M.S., Special Education and Childhood Education: 2004 – 2006
Teach For America and Americorps affiliated program at City University of New York. Dual master of science program in special education and childhood education.

The George Washington University, BA, Psychology and Sociology: 2000 – 2004
Studied abroad at the University of Sydney in Australia during 2003

Rafal-Baer graduated with a degree in psychology; did the usual two-year stint with TFA, during which time a TFA-affiliated program with CUNY enabled Rafal-Baer to earn some pretty prestigious-sounding degrees just in time for her 2006 exit from the classroom. She added another masters degree in the year that followed even as she was simultaneously working on a PhD in education policy and research, which she finished in 2009. Rafal-Baer then connected with a nonprofit for about a year (2009-10) until she landed as a fellow at NYSE. After the fellowship, she became a NYSED assistant ed commissioner.

TFA-endorsed, professional top-heaviness complete.

Note also that John White was a NYSED deputy superintendent until mid-2011, so TFAer Rafal and TFAer White have this connection. They also have a C4C connection, as White replaced Jeb Bush as C4C chair in March 2015. Rafal-Baer became C4C COO in 2016.

And now, in September 2021, Rafal-Baer is in the news for a new RI governor delivering a fresh $5.2M to her new nonprofit.

In the name of “taking on the status quo on behalf of local children and families to create new learning options,” RI Governor McKee peddles his defense in sending millions in federal dollars to a consultant who cannot bring herself to leave before the public a clear biographical detailing of her education and related professional experience.

Quite the lesson on how market-based education reformers leverage themselves for money, power, and prestige.

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