StudentsFirst’s Rebecca Sibilia and Her “Charter’s Little Helper,” EdBuild
One of the characteristics of those pushing the test-score-driven privatization of public education is that they easily hop from “venture” to “venture.” If time is up for them at one nonprofit or education business, they just hop onto another corporate reform nonprofit or business, or they easily secure corporate-reform-philanthropy, hedge-fund, or other bucks to mushroom into yet another, likely “nonprofit, nonpartisan”-styled venture.
They might even a preserve some tertiary connection to the former, uh, venture.
Such is the case of Michelle-Rhee-gravy-train associate Rebecca Sibilia and her new venture, EdBuild.
In August 2014, it was announced that Rhee planned to resign by the end of 2014 as StudentsFirst CEO to work at (of all places) Scott’s Miracle Gro. She is supposedly still on the StudentsFirst board of directors. Meanwhile, in January 2015, Rhee was appointed to a three-year term on the Scott’s board.
Sibilia has been working in DC in ed policy and connected to DC Public Schools since at least 2001. In 2000, Rhee’s The New Teacher Project (TNTP) began work in DC schools, “redesigning the city’s recruitment and hiring practices.” During Rhee’s time as DC chancellor (2007-10), Sibilia became chief financial officer for the Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), where she remained until August 2011, when she joined Rhee’s StudentsFirst as chief operating officer and vice president of fiscal strategy. According to Sibilia’s Linkedin bio, Sibilia continues to hold this StudentsFirst post even as she became “founder and CEO” of EdBuild (located in Jersey City, NJ) in November 2014.
One curiosity from Sibilia’s Linkedin bio is that she states that she actually created EdBuild sooner, and with other people, when she was president of Resources and Strategies, LLC (July 2005-September 2009). Here is how she describes EdBuild:
Participated in the creation of EdBuild, a venture capital project to utilize charter school facility funding and practices to renovate District of Columbia Public Schools buildings, in partnership with the New Schools Venture Fund.
Thus, it seems that the purpose of EdBuild is to help DC charter schools secure and maximize facilities.
New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) is known for supporting test-score-driven, corporate reform “ventures,” many of which are charter schools. EdBuild is currently not on the list.
What further confuses the issue is that there was a nonprofit named EdBuild that filed 990 tax forms between 2006 and 2008. Furthermore, it was located in DC and appeared to be involved with DC schools. However, Sibilia appears unconnected with this group. Its email is listed as edbuild.com (domain is currently for sale), and Sibilia’s group, edbuild.org.
Current funders for EdBuild are difficult to determine since the organization is so new. It may not have received its official nonprofit status yet, and 2014 990s of possible nonprofit funders for EdBuild are not yet available to examine. However, EdBuild is definitely a corporate-reform organization.
The edbuild.org website (which offers very little information but in a clever and cool manner) includes the following information regarding what appears to be its chief purpose: Helping charters:
We believe that rightsizing district building portfolios and providing high quality charter schools with unique financing opportunities can bring more resources to school districts and communities while increasing quality school options for families.
On May 18-19, 2015, Sibilia participated in the Alliance for School Choice National Policy Summit (New Orleans, LA) on a panel entitled, “Knocking-out Yesterday’s Education Models,” with American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Michael McShane; Bellwether’s Andy Smarick (Smarick is also associated with the Fordham Institute); Google’s Jaime Casap; and 4.0 Schools’ Katie Beck. The moderator of the session is Derrell Bradford, who is listed as with NYCAN but who is also associated with EdBuild (see below).
Here’s what an October 2014 Opportunity Lives article has to offer about Sibilia and her EdBuild. You just have to read the whole article, including Sibilia’s support for Campbell Brown’s tenure foolishness in NY:
JERSEY CITY, N.J.– School reform crusader Michelle Rhee’s recent shockwave announcement that she was stepping down as CEO of StudentsFirst left other staff members pondering their options. One former staffer, Rebecca Sibilia, previously fiscal strategy manager for StudentsFirst (the 2-million member grassroots group Rhee founded) and a former CFO under Rhee for D.C., pulled five StudentsFirst colleagues to create EdBuild, an education reform startup seeking to redesign school finance.
It aims to better manage education resources at state and local levels in the realms of infrastructure, workforce and funding equitability. Sibilia said for the past three years, she led StudentsFirst piloted division examining how to better spend the nation’s approximately $600 billion in education spending.
“When you think about this enormous investment, and it’s not being leveraged to create healthy competition, there’s something wrong with that,” Sibilia told Opportunity Lives.
On the infrastructure front, Sibilia said considerable public investment has gone toward innovative community revitalization to bring middle class families back to former rust-belt cities, but that hasn’t necessarily been paired with innovative education reform.
“They’re investing all this money in the economic development side and it’s absolutely fundamentally different than what the school systems are doing,” said Sibilia, who pointed out that in some states, local funding couldn’t go to charter schools unless the school district has authorized the spending. This leads to conflicts with local public school leaders who often feel threatened by the growth of charters.
On the other hand, in states like Connecticut, she said most charters are authorized by the state and can only be funded by state resources. In practice this means there is limited coordination between communities and their charter schools.
“For a traditional public school system, they’ll preserve these crazy underutilized buildings,” she said, pointing to D.C., Chicago, and Philadelphia, as locations where public schools have not downsized to meet the dropping enrollment. In New York City, Mayor De Blasio has come under fire for plans to block charter schools from “co-locating” in shared space with public schools.
“The districts are just maintaining these enormous portfolio facilities,” Sibilia said. “How do we start to get these resources right-sized out to the charter schools?”
Sibilia said an example of better charter integration into the local community was in Washington D.C., where district leaders asked charter schools considering entering the area if they could bring some other type of amenity. For example, a charter school with the Knowledge Is Power Program located in one underserved community and brought a dental clinic. Another school, Thurgood Marshall Academy, built a new gymnasium open to all students, including public school students.
“We started to see charters taking on the revitalizing of their community when they were asked to,” she said.
EdBuild’s planned operating model for now is a hybrid of think tank and consultancy for states and school districts across the country. A New Jersey native, Sibilia said she is bringing EdBuild “home” for her after more than 10 years in education finance around the country. She’s moving cross-country from Sacramento, Calif., where StudentsFirst is located, to headquarter EdBuild in Jersey City.
In the teacher workforce area, EdBuild’s strategy centers on differentiated compensation structures along with housing and recruitment incentives to attract the best talent to struggling schools. Data shows too often the worst performing teachers are assigned to students with the most vulnerable socioeconomic situations. Sibilia praised Campbell Brown’s efforts to reform teacher tenure in New York.
On the funding equitability issue, she said local control of money is key to coming up with solutions on the education front lines rather than mandates from distant bureaucracies. In contrast to wealthier school districts whose tax base is more self-sustaining and thereby more self-directed, she said too often the most struggling schools have the most federal and state strings attached to how they can spend their money. The result is kids’ educational quality can be compromised as administrators and teachers struggle to comply with so many mandates.
Many struggling schools also need adjusted operating revenue and relief from considerable, ongoing pension debt servicing, another area that Sibilia’s team is analyzing. EdBuild is also looking at solutions such as tax credits, pay-for-performance contracts, and social impact bonds. Sibilia said the most pressing step in this process is improving public awareness and accountability of how taxpayer money is spent.
“It’s an enormous black hole,” she said. “If we do our job right, the first thing is we’re going to bring a whole lot more transparency in terms of what’s happening with the money.”
Sibilia’s support of Campbell Brown and their both having a Rhee connection puts me in mind of two posts I wrote (one here and another here) about Brown’s avoidance of pointing out Rhee-lated indiscretions van as she pretends to be indignant about issues of student safety in NY schools.
The Opportunity Lives article notes that Sibilia started EdBuild with five StudentsFirst associates. I am not sure if these include some of the five, but I did find several individuals associated with EdBuild on Linkedin. They are
–Seeming newcomer to corporate reform, Sara Hodges;
—Matt Richmond, formerly a research analyst with the very-pro-charter, pro-Common Core Thomas B. Fordham Institute;
—Austin Ray, former “fiscal strategy associate” and IT support coordinator at StudentsFirst;
–Former Teach for America (TFA)-er Manuel Buenrostro, who left StudentsFirst to go to EdBuild, where he stayed for four months before moving on in April 2015 to become policy and programs officer for the California School Boards Association (post-TFA, Buenostro also interned with USDOE);
–Success Academy board member Derrell Bradford, who also won an “Ed Reform Champion under 40” award from the pro-charter, pro-voucher, pro-Common Core Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). (In April 2015, Bradford authored an April 2015 article entitled, “Opt Out of Tests–Kids Will Suffer,” in the New York Post.) And…
— former StudentsFirst development operations coordinator, Nicole Wardlaw.
And apparently, EdBuild is still hiring under the nebulous heading of “developer.”
Since I need to close this post in order to get on with my very-non-corporate-reform-centered day, let me leave readers to peruse the following if they so wish:
—A somewhat cheesy (at moments) podcast in which Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli and others interview Sibilia– but where Sibilia states that she “loves” the idea of “portable” Title I funding.
–A March 11, 2015, Twitter exchange involving Sibilia, Petrilli, and other pro-choice individuals, including Patrick Wolf from the Walton-funded University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform.
Corporate Reform. The Gift That Keeps On Giving– To Itself.
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.
She also has her second book available on pre-order, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, due for publication June 12, 2015.