Behind the Consulting Firm Raking In Millions From D.C. Charter Schools

Darrow Montgomery:

That’s a D.C. charter school administrator’s assessment of TenSquare, one of the city’s most connected, lucrative, and controversial charter consulting companies. And true to his word, he was talking anonymously. Not many people feel comfortable discussing TenSquare publicly.

Even in education circles, most people have never heard of TenSquare, a national for-profit consulting firm that currently operates in seven states and the District. It markets itself as a universal fixer for troubled charters—a one-stop shop for facility financing, staff recruitment, back-end operations, teacher training, and academic turnarounds. The company has kept a remarkably low profile since its founding in 2011, in one case even contracting to work with a charter unbeknownst to the school’s own principal.

TenSquare has powerful allies in D.C., most notable among them the Public Charter School Board, or PCSB, which governs the city’s charters. “I would characterize their results as remarkably strong,” says Scott Pearson, executive director of the PCSB. “In every case where TenSquare has done a full turnaround with a D.C. charter school, their results have improved significantly.”

But a five-month City Paper investigation has raised a host of questions about TenSquare’s work. Available data do not show consistent improvements across the D.C. schools that hired TenSquare, and several schools got worse. Its business dealings reveal a criss-crossing web of repeat players, potential conflicts of interest, and in one instance the recurring appearance of an alleged far-right activist. Yet it’s not a coincidence that TenSquare has landed some of the most remunerative charter contracts in the city: While not every school leader disparages TenSquare, a number have said they felt real pressure from the PCSB to hire the company.