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.
(Page 2 of 2)
Mr. Horn points not only to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, of Los Angeles, but also to the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, of Bentonville, Ark., as examples of what he sees as a worrisome trend of “venture philanthropy” in education. Venture philanthropists typically emphasize the imperative of getting measurable results for their investment and maintain close ties to the organizations they fund.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“What venture philanthropy is doing seems to me to be wielding influence not to help public institutions, but to destroy public institutions, or take control of them,” Mr. Horn said. “This is a dangerous place, where corporations and government get mixed up.”
The Broad Foundation has helped support Education Week’s coverage of school leadership and the 25th anniversary of A Nation at Risk, but it is not a current funder. Editorial Projects in Education, the newspaper’s publisher, received a Gates Foundation grant for organizational capacity-building that expired May 31, and it was a recipient of earlier Gates funding.
Whatever the larger issues surrounding the role of education philanthropy, supporters of the Broad Superintendents Academy say the criticism of the training program is off base.
Erica Lepping, a spokeswoman for the Broad Foundation, says that the academy exposes program participants to many viewpoints, and that the graduates themselves come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including education, and hold different points of view.
The academy does promote a management model of “continuous improvement” that is used by successful businesses, nonprofits, and school systems, she said.
Thomas W. Payzant, a trainer and mentor for graduates of the Broad Academy and a former superintendent of the Boston public schools, says that the program’s graduates have to be willing to shake up districts that have been failing students for years—and that such change is going to be painful and sometimes resented.
“You don’t go into a leadership role with a notion that you’re just going to coast,” said Mr. Payzant, a professor of educational leadership at Harvard University and a member of the interview committee that evaluates potential academy participants.
“You want to be able to show improvement, and often improvement in the education sector means change that will make some people very uncomfortable and will not be popular,” he said. “That’s what leads to pushback. People say, ‘We were fine before you got here.’ But when you look at the data, there’s lots of room for improvement.”
When the superintendent-training program was first launched, it was billed as a bipartisan solution to a “growing leadership crisis” in public education. Mr. Broad, who made his fortune in home building and insurance and is a prominent contributor to Democratic political candidates, partnered with John Engler, a Republican who was then the governor of Michigan, to create the program.
Academy organizers said they were making a point of seeking out skilled executives who might not have any experience in education. A press release announcing the program suggested it was a negative that the vast majority of superintendents were trained as teachers, without a background in “complex financial, labor, management, personnel, and capital-resource decisionmaking.”