Now as the enthusiasm for giving corporations tax dollars to run our public schools has begun to track the same trajectory as Bush approval ratings, Whittle has been one of the first to notice and the first to take a sagging idea, repackage it to appeal to investors with more money than good sense, generate a great deal of free publicity, corner a few more million for himself, and then watch the fun unfold. Market savvy as always, Whittle is now keen to develop a new kind of chain store school, but this one is based more on the easy extravagance of an educational Neiman-Marcus than the penny-pinching Target model of Edison, Inc.
Whittle wants to educate the children born from money without boundaries, from wealth of international corporations unrestrained by the parochialism of national borders or the low pedestrian loyalties of the non-wealthy. He is marketing the idea of a school to ensure a future Praetorian Guard for civilized world empire, a crown jewel of schooling unsullied by economic restriction. Wow, Chris--I'm getting cold chills!
Unfortunately, Whittle's new focus on private equity says everything about the exhaustion of the public treasuries.
The prospective buyers of the former Grosvenor Estate in Bethesda, who had declined to identify themselves as rumors of the deal swirled in recent months, announced a plan yesterday to turn the 35-acre site into an internationally oriented private school with 14 grades and more than 1,600 students.
Two educational entrepreneurs, Channel One founder Christopher Whittle and former Yale University president Benno Schmidt, were in Bethesda to lay out plans for the school, which they hope will be the flagship for 60 similar campuses around the world.
Nations Academy will offer an International Baccalaureate-style curriculum from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade to the children of expatriates, diplomats, international businesspeople and others. A student admitted to any of the schools could enroll at another Nations Academy if the family is transferred, Whittle said.
"Every time these families move, they go through all the stress and trauma of finding new schools, and their children go through the trauma as well," Whittle said during an interview at the Bethesda Marriott, where he and Schmidt were holding meetings to announce the project. "We see it as the first truly global school."
Whittle said his company, also called Nations Academy, has an agreement to buy the property from the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation, which maintains an office park of environmental groups on the land. Whittle would not reveal the selling price or say whether the deal was contingent on the buyers' ability to secure the required county approval to open the school.
"Let's just say that we have an agreement and that some money has changed hands," Whittle said.
He described the costs of the Bethesda school as "a nine-figure project." Whittle and Schmidt, who together founded Edison Schools, an educational management company, said they hope to open the Bethesda school by fall 2010 along with a second campus being planned in Manhattan. Those would be followed by four others in 2011 and six in 2012 in cities including London, Shanghai, Paris, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. . . .