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Posted at 05:01 AM ET, 08/21/2012

Broad Foundation’splan to expand influence in school reform

This was written by Ken Libby and Stan Karp. Libby is a doctoral student at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Karp is director of the Secondary Reform Project for New Jersey’s Education Law Centerand an editor of Rethinking Schools magazine.

By Ken Libby and Stan Karp

The Broad Foundation wants to step on the gas.

The California-based foundation, built on the housing and insurance empire of billionaire Eli Broad, has made “transforming K-12 urban public education” a major priority. Its training and placement of top administrators in urban districts across the country and support for charter schools, school turnarounds, merit pay and other market-based reforms have put it at the center of a polarized national debate about education policy.

A recent memo [see in post below this one] from The Broad Center (TBC) proposes a series of strategic shifts in the foundation’s education programs designed to “accelerate” the pace of “disruptive” and “transformational” change in big city school districts, and create a “go to group” of “the most promising [Broad] Academy graduates, and other education leaders, who are poised to advance the highest-leverage education reform policies on the national landscape.”

The plans were contained in a March memo for discussion at TBC’s Board of Director’s meeting in April 2012. It was included in documents released to New Jersey’s Education Law Center under the state’s Open Public Records Act. ELC was seeking information on a series of recent Broad Foundation grants to New Jersey’s Department of Education, which is led by Commissioner Chris Cerf, a Broad Academy graduate.

According to the memo, the proposed changes include:

*Merging The Broad Fellowship for Educational Leaders and The Broad Superintendents Academy. The new academy (dubbed “Academy 2” in the memo) will be called The Broad Leadership Academy to reflect the wider range of positions graduates will seek to fill.

* Creating a new advocacy group comprised of a “powerful group of the most transformational and proven leaders” who will work to “change the national landscape to make it easier for superintendents to define policy agendas, influence public opinion, coalesce political forces, and advance bold reforms on the ground.

An email from TBC to Cerf describes the proposals as “high level strategies for the Center in 2012-2013 that reflect a significant shift away from a focus on individual leadership development and career paths to an approach that seeks to have greater impact through a stronger focus on transformational leaders, driving people to reform-ready locations, and accelerating reforms across [TBC’s] network.”

Broad Leadership — “Academy 2.0”

The new Leadership Academy will seek to deepen the pool of potential candidates, pulling in more participants from outside the field of education and reducing “the experience level required for entering [the] training program.” The Academy’s revised program of study will aim to prepare leaders for positions beyond the superintendency of districts to include leaders of charter management organizations and state education departments.

Reducing the experience level required for entry into the program is designed to attract candidates with “more entrepreneurial backgrounds” and those who may be further away from assuming district leadership positions. The memo says the shift would allow the program to train future leaders of “systems that may not even exist today.”

In addition to drawing from a larger pool, the memo proposes significant changes to the training program. In the past, roughly two-thirds of Broad Academy training was dedicated to “core knowledge” (e.g. “instruction 101” and “school operations”). The remaining third was divided into “reform priorities” (including “educator effectiveness,” “innovative learning models,” “accountability,” and “school choice”); “reform accelerators” (“change management,” “political navigation/stakeholder management,” “public contributions,” and “communication”); and “systems-level management” (“providing strategic frameworks,” “theory of action,” “applied learning projects”).

The proposed plan greatly reduces the time spent on “core knowledge” of school systems to less than 10% and instead puts much more emphasis on “reform priorities” (40%), “reform accelerators” (30%), and systems-level management (nearly 20%). The shift toward strategies that produce greater political and policy impact is a recurring theme. It is also consistent with Broad’s “approach to investing” as described on its website: “We practice ‘venture philanthropy.’And we expect a return on our investment.”

Additionally, the new program will seek out potential candidates more aligned with TBC’s reform priorities rather than simply candidates looking to improve school districts. Future members of the Academy will be required “to make public contributions tied to their work, with a particular emphasis on [TBC’s] reform agenda.”

The combination of seeking more candidates from outside the field of education and increasing the policy and political focus of the Academy’s curriculum likely means future graduates would be even less familiar with school and classroom realities, and more ideologically aligned with Broad’s priorities.

Post-Superintendency Advocacy Group — “Broad Superstars”

The other major change for TBC is the creation of “a select, invitation-only group that will collaborate to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the education sector, help shape policy agendas, influence public opinion, coalesce political forces, and advance bold reform on the ground.” Comprised of 5-10 active leaders, the group would meet twice a year in Washington, D.C. to “help create a more supportive environment and change the national landscape.” The advocacy group appears to be a high-powered version of “Chiefs for Change,” a collection of state education chiefs pushing for significant changes to state education systems.

Why the changes? — “Take this program to the next level”

The proposed shifts reflect the changing education landscape, which is much different now than it was in the early 2000s when TBC first began training future district superintendents. While superintendents remain important actors, they are hardly the only CEO-level positions in education. The growth of charter management organizations, a more active role for state departments of education (greatly enhanced by the Race to the Top and NCLB waiver process), and a variety of new non-profit and for-profit companies involved in various aspects of public education have opened up more high-profile (and high-paying) positions in the field. TBC wants their graduates occupying these positions, and establishing a human capital pipeline to fill these positions strengthens and expands Broad’s influence.

Likewise, the creation of “a go-to group for reform leaders” is a sign of the growing emphasis on politicized education advocacy. As Broad looks to make more dramatic changes to K-12 schools, this advocacy becomes an important tool for promoting TBC’s core policies and priorities to a wider audience. School choice, test-based teacher evaluation, charter expansion and business-style management “all favorite policies of TBC and the Broad Foundation”already have robust, phenomenally well-funded advocates at the state and national level and have made dramatic political gains over the past decade. The creation of an organized national voice for the Broad “superstars” of corporate school reform is an effort to consolidate and accelerate these gains.

As the memo boasts, “We have filled more superintendent positions than any other national training program, and remain the only organization recruiting management talent from outside of education. We have over 30 sitting superintendents in large urban systems, as well as state superintendents in four of the most reform-oriented states (Delaware, Rhode Island, Louisiana, and New Jersey). Broad graduates are in the number one or number two seats in the three largest districts in the country (New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago), and lead the newest turnaround systems in Michigan and Tennessee.”

With TBC’s influence already spread far and wide, the Broad Foundation is looking for more.

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