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Is the Broad Superintendents Academy trying to corporatize schools?

Created in 2002 by billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, the Broad Superintendents Academy has come under fire by critics who say that it is hostile to teachers. Defenders of the program say that its fellows graduate with a variety of viewpoints.

By Christina A. SamuelsEducation Week / June 10, 2011

In this 2009 photo, Valeria Silva, the chief academic officer for the St. Paul, Minn.m school district and graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy works with Four Seasons Elementary first grader Makiya Sandifer.

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Billionaire businessman Eli Broad, one of the country’s most active philanthropists, founded the Broad Superintendents Academy in 2002 with an extraordinarily optimistic goal: Find leaders from both inside and outside education, train them, and have them occupying the superintendencies in a third of the 75 largest school districts—all in just two years.

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Now hosting its 10th class, the Los Angeles-based program hasn’t quite reached that goal, but it’s close. The nation’s three biggest districts have Broad-trained executives in top leadership positions: Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer in New York City; John E. Deasy, the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified; and Jean-Claude Brizard, who became the chief executive officer of the Chicago schools last month. 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.

‘Corporate Training School’

Likewise, James Horn, an associate professor of education policy at Cambridge College in Massachusetts, keeps up a drumbeat of criticism in the blog Schools Matter. In one post, he referred to the academy as “Eli Broad’s corporate training school ... for future superintendents who are trained how to use their power to hand over their systems to the Business Roundtable.”

In an interview, Mr. Horn said that school officials trained by the program graduate with a hostility to teachers. His critique goes beyond the Broad superintendents program to include many of the foundations that have emerged as major players in efforts to reshape education over the past decade.

Academy by the Numbers

The Broad Superintendents Academy seeks senior-level executives from a variety of backgrounds, including national, state, and local government officials; managers of “complex businesses or business units” with revenues of more than $250 million; senior military officers with command experience; and educational leaders with supervisory experience, such as regional or deputy superintendents, chief academic officers, and charter managers who oversee successful schools with multiple sites. The program has had 139 graduates.

Professional Background and Total Alumni

Education: 71
Education Hybrid: 25
Government: 2
Higher Education: 2
Military: 24
Private Sector: 10
Social Sector: 5

Where Are They Now?

39 currently serve as school district superintendents
28 are cabinet-level executives in school districts
31 serve as executives in education nonprofits or private-sector education organizations
4 hold federal, state, or U.S. territory education policy positions
3 are state commissioners of education
10 are retired
24 work in other fields

The New Class

Eight Broad fellows were accepted in 2011:

Robert Avossa superintendent, Fulton County, Ga., public schools (Mr. Avossa was the chief strategy and accountability officer for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., system when he applied.)

Chris Barbic, founder and chief executive officer, YES Prep Schools, Houston

Mark Brown, brigadier general, U.S. Air Force

Penny MacCormack, chief academic officer, Hartford, Conn., public schools

Mike Miles, superintendent, Harrison, Colo., public schools

Michael Oates, lieutenant general, U.S. Army

Judy Peppler, state president, Qwest Communications, Portland, Ore.

Rick Richardson, colonel, U.S. Army

The Curriculum

Broad fellows are expected to study on their own when they’re not meeting as a group. A recent reading list includes:

Leading Change, James O’Toole, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996

How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning, Michael J. Schmoker, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2006

Bringing School Reform to Scale: Five Award-Winning Urban Districts, Heather Zavadsky, Harvard Education Press, 2009

Teaching Talent: A Visionary Framework for Human Capital in Education, Rachel E. Curtis and Judy Wurtzel (eds.), 2010

“English Language Learners,” Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, September 2004

Urban School Leadership, Thomas W. Payzant, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2010

“Special Education in America,” Christopher B. Swanson, Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, November 2008

Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School, Theodore R. Sizer, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984

“Choice,” Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, September 2004

What School Boards Can Do, Donald R. McAdams, Teachers College Press, 2006

“Facing the Future: Financing Productive Schools,” Paul T. Hill, Marguerite Roza, and James Harvey, Center on Reinventing Public Education, December 2008

“Managing for Results in America’s Great City Schools,” Council of the Great City Schools, October 2008

Execution, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, Crown Business, 2002

“How the World’s Best-Performing Systems Come Out on Top,” McKinsey & Co., 2007

Strategy in Action: How School Systems Can Support Powerful Learning and Teaching, Rachel E. Curtis and Elizabeth A. City, Harvard Education Press, 2009

SOURCE: Broad Superintendents Academy

Republished with permission from Education Week. Copyright © 2011 Editorial Projects in Education, Inc. For more information, visit www.edweek.org.

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