This ran over at Forbes back in early December, and in the Christmas rush I just forgot to port it over here to the mother ship for those of you who don't read me at Forbes. So it's not fresh, shiny news-- but it still matters.
Billionaire Eli Broad has long worked to impose business solutions on U.S. education, believing that education has a management problem, not an education problem. As one Broad fan is quoted in the Washingtoin Post, “You think a superintendent is like the lead principal or lead teacher for a school district, but you have to think more like a CEO of a major corporation." It’s not unlike the belief that a private sector CEO doesn’t need to know about the industry in which he’s working—he just needs to be a good CEO.
Perhaps most central to Broad’s vision for remaking U.S. education is the Broad Academy. Created in 2002, and part of the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, the Academy was an unaccredited training program for CEO-flavored school system leaders. Much like Teach for America, which Broad has also supported and which has produced many Academy “graduates,” it’s a training program that has existed deliberately outside of the traditional programs that prepare educators and education leaders. Unlike a traditional graduate school program, the Academy has had no faculty and meets for just for a few weeks (now five, originally fewer) per year.
The goal has been to create a pipeline for Broad-minded school leaders to move into and transform school systems from the inside, to more closely fit Broad’s vision of how a school system should work. Through a residency program, Broad often sweetens the pot by paying the salary of these managers, making them a free gift to the district. A 2012 memo indicated a desire to create a group of influential leaders who could “accelerate the pace of reform.”
There’s little to point to in the last twenty years that would suggest that a slightly trained educational amateur who “thinks like a CEO” is a good bet for running a school system well. Broadies have certainly found their way to positions of power and established lucrative careers for themselves, but there is little evidence that they have benefited students. Whether Broad is hoping to buy a veneer of legitimacy for his program or is trying to secure a legacy through the program, the case for treating school districts like businesses still hasn’t been made, and it says something about that argument that the Broad Center has focused on “urban” schools and not the school systems of wealthy communities. Yale is a well-regarded school, and $100 million is a lot of money, but that does not mean that the Broad Center is a good idea.