Be on your best behavior! Impact investors target laundromats and barbershops in poor communities.

Today, partners in Philadelphia’s Read by 4th Campaign meet to discuss outcomes of the national Grade Level Reading Week held at the Logan Hotel July 23-27, 2018. As we know from previous comments by economist James Heckman and billionaire political candidate JB Pritzker (here), the sweet spot for early childhood impact investing is believed to be in character training ages 0-3. The Heckman Equation toolkit promises a 7-10% annual rate of return on such investments, which can be boosted to 13% when metrics are expanded to include health outcomes.

Consequently, emphasis on behavior change and links between poverty, health, and literacy referenced in the email below are closely aligned to the Heckman / ReadyNation investment plan. The one element that is somewhat surprising is the targeting of laundromats and barbershops for interventions. It will be interesting to see how these “learning landscapes” manifest and what form the “impact” data capture takes. Providing print (non-app, non-Internet of Things-enabled) books in these spaces won’t service global finance capital, though such a move would be nice for kids. I could use some eyes on the street; if you see this rolling out in your community be sure to drop me a line. I would not be surprised if the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government is involved, as they are a supporter of the Barbershop Books initiative (featured image).

Read By Fourth Meeting

The July Grade Level Reading (GLR) conference was convened to coordinate activities among a growing network of 360+ communities working around closing early literacy gaps (i.e. refining speculative impact investment markets). If you need background on the political economy of early childhood education and literacy impact investing see links here, here, here, and here. The screen shot below is from Melissa Sanchez’s May 2016 article for the Chicago Reporter, Investors earn max initial payment from Chicago’s ‘social impact bond.’ The table, derived from contract documents, shows three separate metrics that inform investment pay outs. Article here.

Chicago Early Childhood MetricsEleven videos of the GLR conference are available for viewing here, including: Using Data and Learning Science to Drive Impact; National Partners are Using Technology and Data Visualization; and the Funder Huddle Open Plenary with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. The emphasis on learning science, data visualization, technology and impact is about transforming early learning spaces into locations of data extraction that will serve up poor children as data points, not just once, but multiple times (pre-k, kindergarten, third grade), in order to maximize opportunities for venture philanthropy profit taking.

Attendees signing up for the “Funder Huddle” were invited to arrive a day early for briefings on actionable “success” tools designed for replication across the network. The other two tracks were “Community and State Leads Convening” where the focus was “bigger outcomes” and “game-changing impact” at scale, and “Institutes” charged with looking at using trauma-informed practice and character education to impact children’s health and literacy.

The William Penn Foundation was the underwriting sponsor of the GLR conference. The foundation has been a major supporter of school privatization efforts and is an influential partner in the growth of out-of-school time learning and Rebuild, the city’s program to promote healthy lifestyles and workforce development through data-driven investments in libraries and recreation centers (cue up learning ecosystems and ESAs). Other event sponsors included ReadyNation, the Bezos Family Foundation (see my post on Bezos’s Montessori Pre-K program here), Comcast, and numerous finance and banking interests. Also notable given my last post on the hijacking of non-profit media by impact investors is the presence of the Knight Foundation.

GLR Sponsors

So, with all of this money and influence behind the GLR conference, how it is that there is no hew and cry to make sure Philadelphia’s schools have libraries and librarians? How is it that no one is advocating for reduced class sizes to improve classroom environments and increase time for face-to-face instruction?  How it is that band-aids are offered up in the form of technological interventions and volunteer reading coaches? How is it that corporations aren’t offering to pay more taxes to support our schools rather than scuttling funds into foundations they can use to influence policy and seed impact investment markets?

Austerity and misery create markets for impact investment profit-taking. Once we transform early childhood education and early literacy into profit-taking opportunities, there will never be any reason to address the structural nature of the problem. Global capital is not about to eliminate a profit center. What is happening with these grade level reading campaigns is wrong. Children should be encouraged to read books of their choosing. They should have access to text-rich environments. They deserve professional teachers to support them in their literacy journey. They deserve to develop these skills in ways that are not surveilled or micro-managed through technologies, that do not transform them into speculative piles of human capital in service of banks and community foundations.

Fund our schools, and ensure administrators and school boards are accountable to communities. Make corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and eliminate philanthropic hijacking of the social sector. Enough with the cute babies on billboards. We know the games you are playing with our children. Stop it!

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