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

Friday, July 07, 2017

Billionaire Fave, Matchbook Learning, Coming to Indy

By Doug Martin 

UPDATE:  The Mind Trust has now posted its press release on its website.  Here is what it says about Matchbook Learning's proposed Indy school: 

  • They propose to launch a new school in Indianapolis, which would be the seventh prototype of a school turnaround model that has been tested and refined in Detroit and Newark, NJ.  The proposed K-8 Innovation charter school would launch in Fall 2018, with Swann as school leader. 

Along with several other outside people and groups, Matchbook Learning’s Sajan George and his chief school officer, Amy Swann, have been picked as 2017 fellows for the Mind Trust Innovation Schools program. IPS’ supt. Lewis Ferebee and the IPS board helped choose these Mind Trust fellows, and two of them are planning new high schools (KIPP and the Purdue Polytech High School), even as the district is closing its own high schools.  Mind Trust fellows can launch new charter schools, take over IPS schools, and partner with IPS itself.  

According to Chalkbeat Indiana’s Dylan Peers McCoy, Matchbook Learning will open a K-8 school in Indy.  But a Matchbook Learning job posting states that “We want a Principal ready for the challenge and opportunity of a five year mission to turnaround a failing school and to do say [sic] in such a way that it can impact the entire city of Indianapolis by sharing their success with other failing schools via our Accelerator.”

Known for blended learning turnaround models and cashing in on disaster capitalism, or as Matt Tully pleasantly puts it, “running a nonprofit that helps turn around profoundly failing schools,” Sajan George is the CEO of Matchbook Learning and a billionaire favorite of many involved in school privatization in Indiana and across the country.   


Sajan George visited Indianapolis earlier this year, giving the closing address at the DeVos/Walton American Federation for Children conference back in March, where so-called personalized learning was the buzzword, as it was a few weeks earlier at the NewSchools Venture Fund Summit.

Silicon Valley’s NewSchools Venture Fund, in fact, backs Matchbook Learning’s blended learning schools,.  NewSchools Venture Fund, if you remember, gave Phalen Academy $200,000 in October 2015 to help take over IPS’ Francis Scott Key School 103.  That same year, NewSchools’ New Schools Fund gave Matchbook Learning $840.000 (page 41), adding to its $250,000  investment  in Matchbook in 2011. 

Two months after Sajan George spoke at the DeVos/Walton event, IPS’ Lewis Ferebee joined a panel discussion on “ESSA opportunity” at the NewSchools Venture Fund Summit. 
In 2012, when Sajan George was awarded the NewSchools’ Growth Mindset Award, Deborah McGriff, now a partner at NewSchools, said George “has a long-term view of change and he and his students frequently think about what they want to be when they grow up.” As I mention in Hoosier School Heist, McGriff is a former Edison Schools leader and the wife of Howard Fuller, the Black Alliance for Educational Option’s founder.  Both Edison Schools (now Edison Learning) and BAEO have played their part in Indiana school privatization.  

In 2015, when the now Mind Trust-supported Arnold Foundation gave over $16 million, the Dell Foundation $2.5 million, the Walton Foundation $2.2 million, and the Bloomberg Family Foundation $1 million (see pages 44-45) to the Charter School Growth Fund, the Charter School Growth Fund, in its 990, stated that Matchbook Learning received $250,000 for loan forgiveness implementation (page 19).  It is unclear if this was forgiveness for a loan from the Charter School Growth Fund or if the money was used to help Matchbook pay off a loan from somewhere else. 


Another Matchbook Learning funder is Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC), the edtech initiative supported by many in the corporate school movement in Indiana.  The Next Generation Learning Challenge’s $150,000 to Matchbook Learning in late 2012 went to the company’s plans to “reinvent a middle school in Tennessee’s Achievement School District with its teacher-centric, blended turnaround school model.” 

The Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative, ran by Educause, has received funding from the Gates Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, both supporting the technology takeover of public schools and Indiana school reform.

Billionaire Eli Broad’s Foundation, whose Academy just named Lewis Ferebee a fellow, handed $2.4 million to the Next Generation Learning Challenges in 2014 to hold a contest in which “at least four major cities across the United States will compete to win funds to redesign or build new schools that personalize instruction for their students.”


On his bio page, Matchbook Learning’s Sajan George boasts of working in New York City when it received the 2007 Broad Foundation Prize for a turnaround school system.  He was paid quite handsomely.  

The New York Times notes that George was outrageously making $450 an hour working as the managing operator of Alvarez & Marsal, the consulting firm Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein hired, “without competitive bidding,” for $15.8 million to restructure the NYC school system, finding “cuts in regional superintendent offices, janitorial services and school building repairs,” and to revamp the student busing.  George’s other job title was “the chancellor’s chief adviser on restructuring.” At the time, Alvarez & Marsal specialized “in rescuing bankrupt companies.” 

Alvarez & Marsal’s busing plan with the city schools’ Office of Pupil Transportation fell apart in early 2007, “leaving shivering students waiting for buses in the cold and thousands of parents hollering about disrupted routines,” and “the complaints threatened to morph into a renewed attack on Mr. Klein’s reliance on outside consultants.”  

In 2010, George and Alvarez & Marshal advertised its school turnaround plan with partners Connections Academy, Florida Virtual Schools, and Wireless Generation. Joel Klein went on to work for Wireless Generation, after NewsCorp’s Rupert Murdoch bought the edtech outfit in November 2010. 


There’s much more to say about Sajan George and Matchbook Learning, but I will leave that for my new book-in-progress and now let the man speak for himself, this time to the billionaire crowd in Indy during the American Federation for Children conference: “I think the root cause (in the classroom) is a design problem.  “(Students) lack personalization. I believe the personalized learning model can change the structure of our nation.”  The nation George refers to is not my nation, your nation, or your children’s nation; it is a nation which belongs to the billionaires and those like Sajan George who are paid well to do the billionaires’ work. 

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:59 PM

    The entire organization is a FRAUD! Just look at what happened to Merit Prep. in Newark, NJ which was a Matchbook school. Their charter was revoked and rightfully so. The school was absolutely horrible! I had the opportunity to observe numerous classrooms over a three week period at Merit Prep. The students were NOT learning because the model that was implemented really doesn't work. It is all smoke & mirrors. SHAMEFUL!!!!