"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Chris Whittle and Schooling for the Future Oligarchs

For those who have followed the career path of Chris Whittle, you know that he has made his fortune from failure, managing to walk away unscathed from each subsequent example of burning corporate wreckage. From his failed media/advertising empire in Knoxville, to his Channel One flameout and ditching, to his Edison, Inc. corporate welfare venture, Whittle has shown a consistent capacity to generate, through savvy marketing, enough excitement to corner a few million for himself before the blush on each new business model is spoiled by a rotting from within.

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!

From WaPo:

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. . . .

Unfortunately, Whittle's new focus on private equity says everything about the exhaustion of the public treasuries.


  1. Just what we need in this area: another high-priced, over-hyped private school. This one sounds like it will also cause all manner of traffic problems in an area that has plenty right now.

  2. Anonymous8:42 AM

    Our association has reviewed this plan and find it totally without substance, financial viability, or common sense. This insight into Mr. Whittle makes it much clearer. Thank you

  3. Anonymous8:41 AM

    I have followed Whittle's flummery with astonishment since he first preened on the National stage. Interesting that neither Whittle nor Schmidt have any experience running a high school yet have credibility with press and business community. A double comment on the gullibility of business folks and the underlying contempt for those teachers and principals who have actually made their schools work.
    Jacques Barzun's concept of educational "preposterism"...a persistant belief (Quintillian first identified it) that we can avoid the gritty work of schools by some clever technical or curricular advance... goes a long way toward explaining this.
    Bruce Buxton, Headmaster Emeritus, Falmouth Academy