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New: Berkeley Schools, the Billionaires, and the New Superintendent (News Analysis)

By Thomas Lord
Wednesday September 05, 2012 - 08:54:00 AM

Billionaires such as Bill Gates and Eli Broad (pronounced brōd) use charitable donations to school districts, schools, and education professionals to change public education policy nationwide. Berkeley feels its share of influence from these billionaires.

In 2003, the Gates Foundation helped Berkeley High School transition to a small schools model, a policy Gates was aggressively pushing nationwide. Today in 2012, the Broad Foundation has influenced the school district's choice for a new superintendent. 


The billionaires' influence

How does it come to pass that remote billionaires have such intimate influence over Berkeley school policies? 

The billionaires' influence: Bill Gates and the Small Schools Movement 

In 2003, Bill Gates took a turn at reforming Berkeley education policy. Berkeley High School transitioned to a "small schools" model. Money from the Gates Foundation helped to fund and assist that transformation via the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (now known as the National Equity Project). [Berkeley Daily Planet, November 11, 2003] 

By accepting the money and guidance, Berkeley openly became part of a grand Gates experiment. Gates himself had been impressed by early statistics that seemed to favor small schools. He thought he could help by spreading the smalls schools movement to more districts. Berkeley was one of thousands of districts across the country that made a transition to small schools with help from Gates Foundation money. The rate at which small schools came into existence exploded nationwide; Gates' fondness for small schools was highly influential. [, November 18, 2008] 

In 2008, Bill Gates expressed disappointment that his small schools campaign was not working and withdrew it. [ibid] 

Whether the BHS small school system was an improvement or not (opinions vary), it is in any event a vestige of a billionaire's failed tinkering with public education policy on a grand scale. 

The billionaires' influence: Eli Broad and Edmond Heatley 

Today in 2012, Eli Broad may be the next billionaire to get a turn at influencing Berkeley education policy. The Broad Foundation describes their education reform goals this way: 

Transforming K-12 urban public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition [] 

Berkeley's new superintendent, Edmond Heately, is a 2008 graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy. [Broad Center] 

The Broad Superintendents Academy awards fellowships to "talented leaders" (their words). The Academy "prepares [those leaders] to lead large urban school districts, state departments of education and high-growth public charter systems". 

The Academy helps to place its alumni in strategic jobs around the country. Alumni are supported by a network of peers and provided placement assistance. There are "additional [alumni] services and investments for Fellows in particularly high potential roles and locations". [Broad Superintendents Academy (about)] 

Broad and Gates take two different approaches to influencing public education policy. Gates promoted small schools by offering school districts money to make the transition. In contrast, the Broad Foundation trys to influence education policy primarily by placing a network of sympathetic alumni in high level administrative and managerial positions around the country. The Academy was founded in 2002 with the initial aim of installing Broad-trained graduates in 25 of the largest 75 school districts in the country in only two years. [Christian Science Monitor, June 10, 2011] 

Today, the Academy boasts: 

More Academy graduates have served as urban district superintendents than those of any other national training program. Academy graduates have held 87 superintendent roles and 107 cabinet level roles. Thirty graduates are sitting superintendents in large urban systems, and four are state superintendents (MD, RI, LA and NJ). Academy graduates also lead two of the three largest districts in the country (Los Angeles Unified School District and Chicago Public Schools), as well as newly-formed systems that focus on the lowest-performing schools in Michigan and Tennessee. [The Broad Superintendents Academy (program overview)] 

Broad's and Gates' methods of influencing policy differ in how they relate to school district autonomy: Districts joined Gates' small school experiment only if they explicitly agreed to take the money. In contrast, districts can unwittingly join Broad's experiment just by hiring Broad alumni. 

The billionaires' influence: Broad and the job market for school superintendents (a case study) 

An examination of Edmond Heatley's career trajectory gives some indication of how the Broad Foundation has become so influential in the job market, so quickly. Connections to Broad show up with remarkable frequency. For example: 

The Broad Foundation trys to place a network of alumni in high level positions around the country. To that end, the network of Broad Foundation supporters must make themselves a powerful presence in the job market for school superintendents. Heatley's experience sheds some light on how the Broad network creates and maintains its market power. 

The billionaires' influence: Broad's Power Play 

The Broad Foundation's efforts are not limited to placing allies in superintendent positions. There is much more to Broad than just the Superintendent's Academy. 

One arm, The Broad Residency is (in the Broad Center's words) "A leadership development program that places qualified participants into high-level managerial positions in school districts, CMOs [charter school management organizations], and federal/state departments of education." The residency "[...] places talented professionals into management roles in carefully selected education organizations," where they will "report to the superintendent or senior executive of the partner organization". [The Broad Residency (about the residency)] 

The current chief of staff of the federal Department of Education, Tyra Mariani, is a former Broad Resident. Her boss is Arne Duncan who, as Chicago Schools Chief in 2002 accepted money from Broad to begin a (since abandoned) program to recruit and train Chicago principals. [US Department of Education (biographies of senior officials)] [The Broad Residency (network profiles)] [Broad Foundation April 30, 2002 (press release)]  

After Duncan's appointment to the Obama cabinet, the Broad Foundations bi-annual report gushed: 

The election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as the U.S. secretary of education, marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform. In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned. 

With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments — charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards — the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted. [Broad Foundations 2009/10] 

Another component is The Broad Foundation is the umbrella organization under which the Broad Center, Broad Residency, and the Broad Superintendents Academy exist. The foundation is a grant giving organization but does not accept unsolicited proposals: they'll call you. They write: 

We are continually on the lookout for urban school districts and organizations nationwide that are progressive, led by talented, effective visionaries, and are strategically focused on improving student achievement. Once we have identified a potential investment opportunity, we initiate contact with a prospective grantee organization or individual and invite them to submit additional information.[Bround Foundations education investments] 

The academy and residency are run by The Broad Center. A sense of the Broad Center's heft and reach can be seen in it's large board of directors which includes, among others: 

  • The Honorable Joel I. Klein, Chair
    CEO, Educational Division and Executive Vice President, Office of the Chairman, News Corporation Former Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
  • Jean-Claude Brizard
    Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools
  • Harold Ford Jr.
    Managing Director, Morgan Stanley
    Former U.S. Congerssman, Tennessee
  • Wendy Kopp
    Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Teach for America
  • Michell Rhee
    Founder and CEO, StudentsFirst
    Former Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Andrew L. Stern
    Former President, Service Employees International Union
    Ronald O. Perelman Senior Fellow, Richard Paul Richman Center for Business, Law and Public Policy, Columbia University
  • Lawrence H. Summers
    Charles W. Eliot Unviersity Professor, Harvard University
    President Emeritus, Harvard University
  • Moritemer Zuckerman
    Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, U.S. News & World Report
    Publisher, New York Daily News
[Broad Center (board of directors)]

What to expect

What can Berkeley expect now that the Broad Foundation has come to town? 

What to expect: Edmond Heatley 

Edmond Heatley is, of course, his own man. To say that he will do other than faithfully execute the policies of the school board, or to suggest that he is here on some Broad secret mission would be unfair. For that reason, there is no simple or sure answer to the question of what happens now that, so to speak, "Broad has come to town" in the form of Heatley's selection.  

On the other hand, admirers and critics agree that Broad superintendents generally have a reputation for pursuing the Broad foundation agenda. It is a good guess, at least, that Heatley will work towards similar aims.  

What to expect: The Broad Agenda 

The Broad Foundations' web site provides this one-line summary of their education mission: 

Transforming K-12 urban public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition [] 

That describes a familiar education platform in contemporary U.S. politics. Other Broad statements confirm a fondness for charter schools, performance-based pay, increased testing and testing based performance metrics, and so forth. The Broad Foundation is squarely on one side of a variety of modern political controversies about education policy. 

The Broad Foundations' education agenda is fundamentally policy oriented and calls for networking strategies. In other words: 

The agenda is "policy oriented" in that ideological ideals (such as "competition can make public education better") are expressed as policy directions (such as "encourage charter schools"). Broad's activist project is to try to improve education by causing districts to move in certain policy directions. 

The Broad Foundation in their 2011/2012 bi-annual report expressed this policy oriented view this way (emphasis added): 

While schools and school districts are full of talented and well-intentioned people, it is the systems in which they work that form the greatest barrier today to student and teacher success. Archaic policies and practices result in wasteful spending, disempowered teachers who feel overwhelmed and unsupported, and inequitable learning opportunities for many poor and minority students. [Broad Foundations 2011/12] 

Towards that activist aim, the Broad agenda calls for networking strategies: The Superintendents Academy is one tactic for getting Broad-friendly administrators into influential positions, the Broad Residents program another. The network provides a system of mutual support for exchanging career opportunity information, experiences in various districts, program templates, vendor information, and so forth. 

What to expect: Broad boasts 

The Broad Foundation reports: 

2/3 of Academy graduates currently serving as superintendents for 3+ years are outperforming comparison groups in raising student achievement on state reading and math exams, closing achievement gaps and raising graduation rates. [ibid] 

What to expect: Broad critics 

Actual results may vary. Dissent Magazine offered: 

Every day, dozens of reporters and bloggers cover the Big Three's reform campaign, but critical in-depth investigations have been scarce (for reasons I'll explain further on). Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that the reforms are not working. Stanford University's 2009 study of charter schools — the most comprehensive ever done — concluded that 83 percent of them perform either worse or no better than traditional public schools; a 2010 Vanderbilt University study showed definitively that merit pay for teachers does not produce higher test scores for students; a National Research Council report confirmed multiple studies that show standardized test scores do not measure student learning adequately. Gates and Broad helped to shape and fund two of the nation's most extensive and aggressive school reform programs — in Chicago and New York City — but neither has produced credible improvement in student performance after years of experimentation. [Dissent, Winter 2011] 

Three Broad superintendents were placed in Oakland's school district while it was under state control. Charter schools proliferated in Oakland. The East Bay Express' Robert Gammon wrote an article on the theme: 

Meet Eli Broad, a SoCal billionaire who uses his cash and connections to groom Oakland school administrators and keep the district under state control. [East Bay Express, October 10, 2007] 

Gammon wrote 

An ardent charter-school supporter, Broad built his influence through his close ties with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who also happens to be Vince Matthews' boss. O'Connell, in fact, owes Broad a debt of gratitude. According to campaign finance records on file with the secretary of state, Broad helped O'Connell capture the state superintendent's office in 2002 by cutting a check for $100,000, which put him among the campaign's top donors. 

The billionaire's juice with California's highest ranked educator, in turn, has allowed him to operate what amounts to his own educational experiment behind the scenes in Oakland. 

Broad believes the best way to fix troubled urban school districts is to employ the classic American business model in which a powerful chief executive runs roughshod over a weak governing board. Oakland, under state control, has provided the perfect laboratory. Since the state takeover in 2003, Broad has donated $6 million to the Oakland schools, and the district has been led solely by graduates of his leadership training academy. During that period, nine other Broad associates also have held high-level positions in the district. 

For the Better?

Is the billionaires' influence good for Berkeley's public education policy? 

With so much money and political power you would think the case for the Broad education agenda would be easy to state clearly and convincingly. Yet, the case Broad makes in its own materials is vague (e.g. the importance of "leaders") and ideological (e.g. the emphasis on faith in "competition"). If the goal is to express and execute a clear and clearly winning reform program for public education, Broad has not only failed to achieve the goal but it has meanwhile drawn a lot of criticism for the disruptions and failures associated (rightly or wrongly) with Broad.  

If we understand Broad's goal differently — as a play to accumulate nation-wide influence over education policy to a few hands — Broad's education philanthropy is a smashing success. As a power play, Broad is winning hands down. In that sense, the Broad network's increasing political power is certainly good for the network itself, but it is quite unclear what that means for our schools and, in particular, our students.  

It's hard to say whether Broad will be good or bad for our schools in the long run but it's easy and accurate to say that Broad is going to continue to have a huge impact on public education policy whether for better or worse, including in Berkeley.  

Our public school systems are designed so that, ideally, education policy is determined by a representative democracy. Our school boards set high level policy and the public elects our school boards. In practice, non-political staff have considerable influence over policy both because they are a major source of policy proposals and evaluations, and because staff implement policies.  

Broad's education project exploits that gap between the ideal of public control over education policy and the de facto influence of staff. In a sense, the Broad network is an attempt to sieze the political power of high level education staffers around the country, and use that power to put forward Broad's particular agenda (more testing, charter schools, and so forth). Broad's agenda is pushed in large part not by persuasion, but quietly and through the murky process of filling high level administrative positions in schools.  


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 9, 2011: "DeKalb superintendent search foiled by job security"  

Berkeley Daily Planet, November 4, 2003: "BHS small schools plans gather new momentum" "Superintendent search 2012" "What Does Berkeley Want From its new schools head?" 

Broad Center press release, November 19, 2008: "Top education and military leaders graduate from urban superintendents academy" 

Bround Foundations: "Our Approach to Investing: Venture Philanthropy" 

Broad Foundations, April 30, 2002 "Chicago Schools Chief Arne Duncan and National business Leaders Announce Expansion of Drive to Recruit and Train Outstanding Public School Principals in Chicago" (press release) 

Broad Foundations 2009/10 Entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science, and the arts (bi-annual report) 

Broad Foundations 2011/12 Entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science, and the arts (bi-annual report) 

The Broad Foundations: "About the broad foundations" (web page) 

The Broad Superintendents Academy: "About the academy" (web page) 

The Broad Superintendents Academy: "Faculty and Speakers" (archived web page) 

The Broad Center: "Board of Directors" (web page) 

The Broad Center: "Impact of Broad graduates" (web page) 

The Broad Residency: "About the Residency" (web page) 

The Broad Residency: "Network Profiles" (web page) 

The Broad Superintendents Academy: "Program Overview" (web page) 

Clayton Board of Education, March 14, 2009: (minutes, called board meeting) 

Christian Science Monitor, June 6, 2011: "Is the Broad Superintendents Academy trying to corporatize schools" 

Dissent, Winter 2011: "Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools" 

East Bay Express, October 10, 2007: "Eli's experiment", November 18, 2008: "Bill Gates and his silver bullet" (profile for Robert Avossa, Ed. D), February 3, 2009: "School board rejects old search firm", March 4, 2011: "Santa Barbara School Board puts plan in place to select superintendent by June 2" 

Santa Barbara School Districk K-12: (resume for David E. Cash, Superintendent) 

US Department of Education: "Biographies of Senior Officials — U.S. Department of Education" (web page) 

Washoe County School District press release, April 10 2009: "WCSD Trustees Select Superintendent Finalists" 

Washoe County School District:"Office of Superintendent" (web page)