Tuesday, January 24, 2012

When billionaire businessmen take over public education

A number of correspondents have referred to billionaire Eli Broad and the influence of the Broad Superintendents Academy in American public education over the past decade, and have asked for more information on the topic.

So, what follows is a digest of coverage of the man, his ideology and his training programs for superintendents, principals and other administrators. It's only a sample, by no means a comprehensive report.

You'll want to pop some popcorn and grab a Coke before sitting down for this.

From education researcher Diane Ravitch in 2007, in the earliest days of her change-of-mind about so-called education reform and the tactics of "reformers":

I have been doing quite a lot of soul-searching these past couple of years. I don’t think it is because of age, although one can never be too sure about that. I think I am reconsidering first principles because of the very topics that you hit so hard in your latest letter. Living in NYC, I see what happens when businessmen and lawyers take over a school system, attempt to demolish everything that existed before they got there, and mount a dazzling PR blitz to prove that they are successful.

Lest anyone think that what you described is purely a NYC story, consider this: I hear from various people who participated in the judging for the Broad Prize that NYC will win it this year. This is not much of a surprise. When Joel Klein was first named chancellor, Eli Broad held his annual prize event in NYC and handed Klein a huge dummy check and predicted that one day soon this would be his. The $1 million hardly matters to NYC, which has an annual budget that approaches $20 billion, but the prestige is what the city is after. It desperately wants the confirmation from Broad that its new regime has succeeded.

About 18 months ago, I was invited to meet Eli Broad in his gorgeous penthouse in NYC, overlooking Central Park. I hear that he made his billions in the insurance and real estate businesses. I am not sure when he became an education expert. We talked about school reform for an hour or more, and he told me that what was needed to fix the schools was not all that complicated: A tough manager surrounded by smart graduates of business schools and law schools. Accountability. Tight controls. Results. In fact, NYC is the perfect model of school reform from his point of view. Indeed, this version of school reform deserves the Broad Prize, a prize conferred by one billionaire on another.

From Worcester, Massachusetts, in 2011:

Since 2002, its Superintendents Academy has been preparing educators and others from careers outside education to become superintendents of schools. Unfortunately many individuals who complete this 10-month executive-management program remain completely unaware of the unique challenges faced by teachers, administrators, students and school committees.

Broad Superintendents Academy graduates are brainwashed into believing that charter schools are superior to traditional public schools, high-stakes standardized testing is the only way to measure the progress and achievement of students and schools, and merit pay for teachers will result in higher student test scores. However, much of the educational philosophy of the Broad Foundation, long considered to be anti-teacher union, has been discredited by national studies.
Whatever you think of charter schools, standardized testing, teacher unions and merit pay, be skeptical of a billionaire’s master plan for the education of our children. Advocate for local control of our school system. And recognize that, while the mayor and some school-committee members look the other way, the Broad Foundation is pushing a Trojan horse into the Durkin Administration building.

From Seattle, Washington:

Many of us have discovered the Broad Foundation’s presence within SPS and have requested an explanation for why they are here and what their objectives are. In the summer of 2009, we met with Harium Martin-Morris, one of the school board members, to discuss our questions and concerns. He said that he would request a “white paper” from our superintendent, a Broad Superintendent’s Academy graduate and now on the Board of Directors for the Broad Foundation, about her goals and the presence of Broad graduates and residents within our school system. We never got that white paper and Mr. Martin-Morris never explained why we never received that information.

The first Broad manifesto stated that the following is all that the state should require as credentials to be a principal and/or superintendent:
"For would-be principals, the state should require a bachelor’s degree, a careful background check, and passage of a test of basic laws and regulations pertinent to the principal’s job, including health and safety standards, special-education requirements, Title I funding regulations, etc. (The test may come after a person is provisionally hired and trained, as described below.) For aspiring superintendents, we believe that the state should require only a college education and a careful background check."

From Broward County, Florida, by way of Seattle, Washington, in 2011:

The following article should be a red flag to you about hiring anyone who has anything to do with Bill Gates or the Broad Foundation.

I would highly recommend that you personally vet each candidate even if it’s a quick Google search, for instance with the candidate’s name and the words “broad foundation”. If there is no connection, great, then continue to check out their credentials, if there is a connection, do not let this candidate pass “Go”.

From Dissent Magazine, winter edition of 2011:

the Broad Foundation, gets its largest return on education investments from its two training projects. The mission of both is to move professionals from their current careers in business, the military, law, government, and so on into jobs as superintendents and upper-level managers of urban public school districts. In their new jobs, they can implement the foundation’s agenda. One project, the Broad Superintendents Academy, pays all tuition and travel costs for top executives in their fields to go through a course of six extended weekend sessions, assignments, and site visits. Broad then helps to place them in superintendent jobs. The academy is thriving. According to the Web site, “graduates of the program currently work as superintendents or school district executives in fifty-three cities across twenty-eight states. In 2009, 43 percent of all large urban superintendent openings were filled by Broad Academy graduates.”

The second project, the Broad Residency, places professionals with master’s degrees and several years of work experience into full-time managerial jobs in school districts, charter school management organizations, and federal and state education departments. While they’re working, residents get two years of “professional development” from Broad, all costs covered, including travel. The foundation also subsidizes their salaries (50 percent the first year, 25 percent the second year). It’s another success story for Broad, which has placed more than two hundred residents in more than fifty education institutions.

In reform-speak, both the Broad Academy and Residency are not mere programs: they are “pipelines.” Frederick Hess, director of Education Policy Studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, described the difference in With the Best of Intentions: How Philanthropy Is Reshaping K–12 Education (2005):

"Donors have a continual choice between supporting “programs” or supporting “pipelines.” Programs, which are far more common, are ventures that directly involve a limited population of children and educators. Pipelines, on the other hand, primarily seek to attract new talent to education, keep those individuals engaged, or create new opportunities for talented practitioners to advance and influence the profession.…By seeking to alter the composition of the educational workforce, pipelines offer foundations a way to pursue a high-leverage strategy without seeking to directly alter public policy."
Can anything stop the foundation enablers? After five or ten more years, the mess they’re making in public schooling might be so undeniable that they’ll say, “Oops, that didn’t work” and step aside. But the damage might be irreparable: thousands of closed schools, worse conditions in those left open, an extreme degree of “teaching to the test,” demoralized teachers, rampant corruption by private management companies, thousands of failed charter schools, and more low-income kids without a good education. Who could possibly clean up the mess?

All children should have access to a good public school. And public schools should be run by officials who answer to the voters. Gates, Broad, and Walton answer to no one. Tax payers still fund more than 99 percent of the cost of K–12 education. Private foundations should not be setting public policy for them. Private money should not be producing what amounts to false advertising for a faulty product. The imperious overreaching of the Big Three undermines democracy just as surely as it damages public education.

From the advocacy group Parents Across America, in 2011:

This summary is designed to help parents and other concerned citizens better understand the Broad Foundation’s role in training new superintendents and other “reform” activities, and how the foundation leverages its wealth to impose a top-down, corporate-style business model on our public schools. It is time for communities to become aware of how this major force works.
The signature effort of the Broad Foundation is its investment in its training programs, operated through the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems and the Broad Institute for School Boards. The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems is the larger of the two and consists of two programs: the Broad Superintendents Academy and the Broad Residency in Urban Education.

The Broad Superintendents Academy runs a training program held during six weekends over ten months, after which graduates are placed in large districts as superintendents. Those accepted into the program (“Broad Fellows”) are not required to have a background in-education; many come instead from careers in the military, business, or government. Tuition and travel expenses for participants are paid for by the Broad Center, which also sometimes covers a share of the graduates’ salaries when they are appointed into district leadership positions. The foundation’s website boasts that 43 percent of all large urban superintendent openings were filled by Broad Academy graduates in 2009.

The Broad Superintendents Academy’s weekend training course provides an “alternative” certification process which has come to supplant or override the typical regulations in many states that require that individuals have years of experience as a teacher and principal before being installed as a school district superintendents.
The Broad Foundation also supports a broad range of pro-charter school advocacy groups, as well as alternative training programs for non-educators who want to work as teachers and principals (Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools).

In addition, the foundation offers free diagnostic “audits” to school districts, along with recommendations aligned with its policy preferences. It produces a number of guides and toolkits for school districts, including a “School Closure Guide,” based on the experiences of Broad-trained administrators involved in closing schools in Boston, Charleston, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Miami-Dade County, Oakland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Seattle.
The foundation also helps sponsors media events (a PBS series on the “education crisis” hosted by Charlie Rose, the series Education Nation on NBC, etc.). These programs help promote for Eli Broad’s vision of free-market education reform.

In addition to using his foundation to effect change to American public education, Eli Broad has made personal campaign contributions to candidates who are favorably disposed to his preferred policies, even down to the local school board level. In this way, he has helped influence the selection of superintendents who are aligned with him ideologically, even though they may not be Broad Academy graduates.
Broad and his foundation believe that public schools should be run like a business. One of the tenets of his philosophy is to produce system change by “investing in a disruptive force.” Continual reorganizations, firings of staff, and experimentation to create chaos or “churn” is believed to be productive and beneficial, as it weakens the ability of communities to resist change.

As Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, a proponent of this philosophy has said, “…we can afford to make lots more mistakes and in fact we have to throw more things at the wall. The big companies that get into trouble are those that try to manage their size instead of experimenting with it.”

A hallmark of the Broad-style leadership is closing existing schools rather than attempting to improve them, increasing class size, opening charter schools, imposing high-stakes test-based accountability systems on teachers and students, and implementing of pay for performance schemes. The brusque and often punitive management style of Broad-trained leaders has frequently alienated parents and teachers and sparked protests.

Several communities have forced their Broad-trained superintendents to resign, including Arnold “Woody” Carter (class or 2002), formerly of the Capistrano Unified School District; Thandiwee Peebles,(class of 2002), formerly of the Minneapolis Public School District; and John Q. Porter (class of 2006), formerly of the Oklahoma City Public School District.

A number of other Broad-trained superintendents have received votes of “no confidence” from the teachers in their districts, including Rochester’s Jean-Claude Brizard (class of 2008), Seattle’s Maria Goodloe-Johnson (class of 2003); Deborah Sims (class of 2005) while Superintendent of the Antioch Unified School District (CA); Matthew Malone (class of 2003) while Superintendent of the Swampscott School District (MA); and most recently, Melinda J. Boone (class of 2004) Superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools (MA).
Eli Broad is a wealthy individual, accountable to no one but himself, who wields vast power over our public schools. Parents and community members should be aware of the extent to which the he and his foundation influence educational policies in districts throughout the country, through Broad-funded advocacy groups, Broad-sponsored experiments and reports, and the placement of Broad-trained school leaders, administrators and superintendents.

Parents Across America considers Broad’s influence to be inherently undemocratic, as it disenfranchises parents and other stakeholders in an effort to privatize our public schools and imposes corporate-style policies without our consent. We strongly oppose allowing our nation’s education policy to be driven by billionaires who have no education expertise, who do not send their own children to public schools, and whose particular biases and policy preferences are damaging our children’s ability to receive a quality education.

From Parents Across America, also in 2011:

How to tell if your School District is Infected by the Broad Virus

Schools in your district are suddenly closed.

Even top-performing schools, alternative schools, schools for the gifted, are inexplicably and suddenly targeted for closure or mergers.

Repetition of the phrases “the achievement gap” and “closing the achievement gap” in district documents and public statements.

Repeated use of the terms “excellence” and “best practices” and “data-driven decisions.” (Coupled with a noted absence of any of the above.)

The production of “data” that is false or cherry-picked, and then used to justify reforms.

Power is centralized.

Decision-making is top down.

Local autonomy of schools is taken away.

Principals are treated like pawns by the superintendent, relocated, rewarded and punished at will.

Culture of fear of reprisal develops in which teachers, principals, staff, even parents feel afraid to speak up against the policies of the district or the superintendent.

Ballooning of the central office at the same time superintendent makes painful cuts to schools and classrooms.

Sudden increase in number of paid outside consultants.

Increase in the number of public schools turned into privately-run charters.

Weak math text adopted (most likely Everyday Math). Possibly weak language arts too, or Writer’s Workshop. District pushes to standardize the curriculum.

Superintendent attempts to sidestep labor laws and union contracts.

Teachers are no longer referred to as people, educators, colleagues, staff, or even “human resources,” but as “human capital.”

The district leadership declares that the single most significant problem in the district is suddenly: teachers!

Teachers are no longer expected to be creative, passionate, inspired, but merely “effective.”

Superintendent lays off teachers for questionable reasons.

Excessive amounts of testing introduced and imposed on your kids.

Teach for America, Inc., novices are suddenly brought into the district, despite no shortage of fully qualified teachers.

The district hires a number of “Broad Residents” at about $90,000 apiece, also trained by the Broad Foundation, who are placed in strategically important positions like overseeing the test that is used to evaluate teachers or school report cards. They in turn provide — or fabricate — data that support the superintendent’s ed reform agenda (factual accuracy not required).

Strange data appears that seems to contradict what you know (gut level) to be true about your own district.

There is a strange sense of sabotage going on.

Superintendent behaves as if s/he is beyond reproach.

A rash of Astroturf groups appear claiming to represent “the community” or “parents” and all advocate for the exact same corporate ed reforms that your superintendent supports — merit pay, standardized testing, charter schools, alternative credentialing for teachers. Of course, none of these are genuine grassroots community organizations.

Or, existing groups suddenly become fervidly in favor of teacher bashing, merit pay or charter schools. Don’t be surprised to find that these groups may have received grant money from the corporate ed reform foundations like Gates or Broad.

The superintendent receives the highest salary ever paid to a superintendent in your town’s history (plus benefits and car allowance) – possibly more than your mayor or governor — and the community is told “that is the national, competitive rate for a city of this size.”

Your school board starts to show signs of Stockholm Syndrome. They vote in lockstep with the superintendent. Apparently lobotomized by periodic “school board retreat/Broad training” sessions headed by someone from Broad, your school board stops listening to parents and starts to treat them as the enemy. (If you still have a school board, that is — Broad ideally prefers no pesky democratically elected representatives to get in the way of their supts and agendas.)

Superintendent bypasses school board entirely and keeps them out of the loop on significant or all issues.

School board candidates receive unprecedented amounts of campaign money from business interests.

Grants appear from the Broad and Gates foundations in support of the superintendent, and her/his “Strategic Plan.”

Local newspaper fails to report on much of this.

Local newspaper never mentions the words “Broad Foundation.”

Broad and Gates Foundations give money to local public radio stations which in turn become strangely silent about the presence and influence of the Broad and Gates Foundation in your school district.

THE CURE for Broad Virus:

Parents. Blogs. Sharing information.

Vote your school board out of office.

Boycott or opt out of tests.

Go national and join Parents Across America.

Follow the money.

Question the data – especially if it produced by someone affiliated with the Broad or Gates Foundations or their favored consultants (McKinsey, Strategies 360, NCTQ, or their own strategically placed Broad Residents).

Alert the media again and again (they will ignore you at first).

Protest, stage rallies, circulate petitions.

Connect and daylight the dots.

From Norm's Notes, in 2011:

In all, 21 of the nation’s 75 largest districts now have superintendents or other highly placed central-office executives who have undergone Broad training.

But as the program has risen in prominence and prestige—758 people, the largest pool ever, applied for the program this year, and eight were accepted—it has also drawn impassioned criticism from people who see it as a destructive force in schools and districts. They say Broad-trained superintendents use corporate-management techniques to consolidate power, weaken teachers’ job protections, cut parents out of decisionmaking, and introduce unproven reform measures.

One of those critics is Sharon Higgins, who started a website called The Broad Report in 2009 after her school district in Oakland, Calif., had three Broad-trained superintendents in quick succession, each appointed by the state. She said she grew alarmed when she started seeing principals and teachers whom she called “high-quality, dedicated people” forced out. She contends in her blog that Broad superintendents are trained to aim for “maximum disruption” when they come to a district, without regard for parent and teacher concerns.

“It’s like saying, let me come to your house and completely rearrange your furniture, because I think your house is a mess,” Ms. Higgins said, adding that other parents around the country have reached out to her to complain about their own Broad-trained school leaders.
...the foundation often tweaks the academy curriculum to keep it up to date. However, since its inception, the basic format for the program is a 10-month fellowship that brings participants together for six extended weekends in different cities. Tuition and travel expenses are free.

The program is designed to be a concentrated introduction to the many issues that superintendents face, and Ms. Lepping provided more than two dozen content threads that are revisited over the course of the fellowship year, including labor relations, targeted student interventions, data-management systems, management for continuous improvement, and school board relations.
Broad fellows also get continuing, on-the-job mentoring from experienced professionals, can call Broad experts in to evaluate district issues, and are part of a network that allows them to reach out to one another for advice on thorny district-management issues.
What the Broad fellows see as a program that provides mentorship and continuing support, their detractors see as a sign of a takeover.

“What I see happening is that they colonize districts,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian who criticized education venture philanthropy in her 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

“Once there’s a Broad superintendent, he surrounds himself with Broad fellows, and they have a preference towards privatization. It happens so often, it makes me wonder what they’re teaching them,” said Ms. Ravitch, who co-writes a blog on Education Week’s website.
There is little or no independent research evaluating the impact of Broad Academy graduates on all the districts where they are placed. The foundation itself looks at five measures of student achievement for academy superintendents who have been in place for three or more years, including students’ academic-proficiency levels, achievement gaps, and graduation rates. The foundation then compares those measures with those of demographically similar districts in the state and with state averages.

Based on its calculations, 65 percent of graduates who have been serving as superintendents for three or more years are outperforming comparison groups on raising state reading and math test scores, closing achievement gaps, and raising graduation rates.

Education Week examined a small slice of performance in six districts with long-serving Broad superintendents: reading and math scores on standardized tests for 3rd graders and 8th graders. In most cases, the results on that measure were mixed, even within a district.

And, from National Public Radio, an interview with Eli Broad himself in December 2011:

Ryssdal: There's a tactful way to ask this question, and then there's the expeditious way to ask this question. And so I'll go straight to that way: For all your experience, for all your resources and your success, what do you know about education?

Broad: Well, I know that we aren't getting the job done. I'm looking at student acheivement. I don't see it growing rapidly -- it has too. And how do you change it? You change it -- in my view -- by having better governance, better management -- whether it's the superintendent or the principal. You've got to have better teachers, paid more money -- incentivised -- but held accountable.

Ryssdal: You'll forgive me if I say that sounds spoken like a businessman.

Broad: Well, I'm not sure that some of the things you learn in the world of business, or in government, or in other non-profits can't be applied to education.


  1. If this was "WebMD," and I checked off the list of symptoms, I would now be 100% certain we have the disease. You can see so much of this: the bloated district staff, top down decision-making, intimidation, minimalization of principals, and the behavior of Bynum and his two Atlanta imports (furlough one and furlough two, AKA Dixon and Norman). They all act as if they are above the law, professional ethics and common decency. Randy Bynum is a pathetic, petty, bully. Look at his response to the media immediately after the board meeting. He claimed that "Quite a few things were untrue and had no factual basis, especially the finances pieces and the SWEET 16 not being researched." The "finances pieces" were quoted directly from the district credit card statements posted on the district's website by the district. So, which one is the lie? The credit card statements or saying that the information on them is untrue. Both cannot be simultaneously true. He lied. Again. He is being disingenuous when he claims that SWEET 16 has been researched. It's not the elements of it, which were taken from other existing national and state programs, its the packaging and implementation. It's a disaster. Just because individual parts are good doesn't mean putting them all in one package has any value. Try going into your kitchen, taking one of everything that you like, putting it into a blender and tasting the result. Sound good to you? That's the SWEET 16 PROGRAM. It's the incredible manhour cost for zero value returned that, in part, makes it a very bad idea. It was presented in a demeaning, intimidating manner as an evaluation program (later denied by Bynum). We're supposed to understand that it's an "audit," which makes it all better. Really? If you're in business and hear that you are about to be audited, how well do you sleep. Come teach a mile in my shoes...

  2. To "Anonymous" (Jan. 25, 2012 comment): look into Bynum's brother and HIS conduct (Cobb County, GA), and you'll be shocked (or maybe not) as to how alarmingly "copycat" the tactics and replies are to his critics. Then you'll know exactly where some of this started!

  3. If Eli Broad's fortune was founded on:
    (a) trading in school district properties, sales and purchases of real estate,
    and (b) the building new schools on those parcels to sell back to the same districts,
    and if (c) he also owned the state mandated closely held testing corporation, say CASAS tests,
    and (d) was paid each time the test was administered to each student,
    to fund his efforts to churn schools,
    (e) say $35 per test per student, $70 per semester,
    would this all make sense for him?
    Wouldn't he need school crisis after crisis to continue to build the case fore needing his services?