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Chicago has just learned that it will inherit Rochester, New York’s controversial and unpopular school superintendent, Jean-Claude Brizard (Broad Superintendent’s Academy “Class of 2007”).
Those of us who have experienced the “leadership” of L.A. billionaire Eli Broad’s corporate-trained superintendents send Chicago our condolences. We have been there, done that, with scars to show for it, and nothing in the way of real academic or positive gains for our schools and kids.
In fact, the Broad brand has been seriously tarnished lately, to the point where it really should be considered a liability rather than an asset. Here are just a few examples of Broad supts who have been ousted or left their districts in a cloud of controversy: LaVonne Sheffield (Broad Superintendents Academy “Class of 2002” – resigned), Rockford, Ill.; Maria Goodloe-Johnson (Broad “Class of 2003” – fired), Seattle, Wa.; Matthew H. Malone (Broad “Class of 2003” – resigned) former superintendent of Swampscott, MA; Deborah Sims (Broad “Class of 2005”- resigned), Antioch, CA.
Meanwhile, Detroit can’t seem to shake its power-hungry Emergency Financial Manager Bob Bobb (Broad Academy “Class of 2005”) whose illegal control of the Detroit School District was stopped in court, but has been recently ratified by a law signed by extremist Republican Governor Rick Snyder.
And now Brizard of Rochester is going to bring his brand of Broad magic to Chicago.
What’s striking is the similarity of the reigns of terror and error of these Broad ‘graduates.’ Disturbingly so, in fact. Many of the above earned No Confidence votes from their district’s teachers, and from parents too. All meted out a top-down dictatorial approach. Most alienated parents. Many closed schools. A number had questionable audits on their watch. More than one had false or questionable data to support their reforms. All commanded large salaries with perqs, while at the same time slashing services for kids and closing schools in the name of financial scarcity. A number of them avoided informing the elected school board of their plans or actively withheld information from them, effectively bypassing democracy.
Scandal, controversy, animosity followed them all, inevitably out the door.
If this trend continues, Brizard’s tenure in Chicago will likely be short-lived too. But he still could do some serious damage while he’s there. So, heads-up, Chicago.
To help our fellow school districts throughout the nation, here is a guide to diagnose whether your school district has come under the influence of the Broad Foundation (and what you can do about it).
How to tell if your School District is Infected by the Broad Virus
Schools in your district are suddenly closed.
Even top-performing schools, alternative and schools for the gifted, are inexplicably and suddenly targeted for closure or mergers.
Repetition of the phrases “the achievement gap” and “closing the achievement gap” in district documents and public statements.
Repeated use of the terms “excellence” and “best practices” and “data-driven decisions.” (Coupled with a noted absence of any of the above.)
The production of “data” that is false or cherry-picked, and then used to justify reforms.
Power is centralized.
Decision-making is top down.
Local autonomy of schools is taken away.
Principals are treated like pawns by the superintendent, relocated, rewarded and punished at will.
Culture of fear of reprisal develops in which teachers, principals, staff, even parents feel afraid to speak up against the policies of the district or the superintendent.
Ballooning of the central office at the same time superintendent makes painful cuts to schools and classrooms.
Sudden increase in number of paid outside consultants.
Increase in the number of public schools turned into privately-run charters.
Weak math text adopted (most likely Everyday Math). Possibly weak language arts too, or Writer’s Workshop. District pushes to standard the curriculum.
Superintendent attempts to sidestep labor laws and union contracts.
Teachers are no longer referred to as people, educators, colleagues, staff, or even “human resources,” but as “human capital.”
A (self-anointed, politically connected) group called NCTQ comes to town a few months before your teachers’ contract is up for negotiation and writes a Mad Libs evaluation of your districts’ teachers (for about $14,000) that reaches the predetermined conclusion that teachers are lazy and need merit pay. [“The (NAME OF CITY) School District has too many (NEGATIVE ADJ) teachers. Therefore they need a new (POSITIVE ADJ.) data-based evaluation system tied to test scores…”]
The district leadership declares that the single most significant problem in the district is suddenly: teachers!
Teachers are no longer expected to be creative, passionate, inspired, but merely “effective.”
Superintendent lays off teachers for questionable reasons.
Excessive amounts of testing introduced and imposed on your kids.
Teach for America, Inc., novices are suddenly brought into the district, despite no shortage of fully qualified teachers.
The district hires a number of “Broad Residents” at about $90,000 apiece, also trained by the Broad Foundation, who are placed in strategically important positions like overseeing the test that is used to evaluate teachers or school report cards. They in turn provide — or fabricate — data that support the superintendent’s ed reform agenda (factual accuracy not required).
Strange data appears that seems to contradict what you know (gut level) to be true about your own district.
There is a strange sense of sabotage going on.
You start to feel you are trapped in the nightmarish Book Five of the Harry Potter series and the evilly vindictive Dolores Umbridge is running your school district. (Seek centaurs and Forbidden Forest immediately!)
Superintendent behaves as if s/he is beyond reproach.
Superintendent reads Blackberry (Goodloe-Johnson, also see comments ) or sends texts (Brizard, see comments) while parents and teachers are giving public testimony at school board meetings, blatantly ignoring public input.
A rash of Astroturf groups appear claiming to represent “the community” or “parents” and all advocate for the exact same corporate ed reforms that your superintendent supports — merit pay, standardized testing, charter schools, alternative credentialing for teachers. Of course, none of these are genuine grassroots community organizations.
Or, existing groups suddenly become fervidly in favor of teacher-bashing, merit pay or charter schools. Don’t be surprised to find that these groups may have received grant money from the corporate ed reform foundations like Gates or Broad.
The superintendent receives the highest salary ever paid to a superintendent in your town’s history (plus benefits and car allowance) – possibly more than your mayor or governor — and the community is told “that is the national, competitive rate for a city of this size.”
Your school board starts to show signs of Stockholm Syndrome. They vote in lockstep with the superintendent. Apparently lobotomized by periodic “school board retreat/Broad training” sessions headed by someone from Broad, your school board stops listening to parents and starts to treat them as the enemy. (If you still have a school board, that is — Broad ideally prefers no pesky democratically elected representatives to get in the way of their supts and agendas.)
School board candidates receive unprecedented amounts of campaign money from business interests.
Annual superintendent evaluation is overseen by a fellow named Tom Payzant.
Stand for Children appears in town and claims to be grassroots. (It is actually based in Portland, Ore., and is funded by the Gates Foundation.) It may invite superintendent to be keynote speaker at a political fundraising event. It will likely lobby your state government for corporate ed reform laws.
Grants appear from the Broad and Gates foundations in support of the superintendent, and her/his “Strategic Plan.”
The Gates Foundation gives your district grants for technical things related to STEM and/or teacher “effectiveness” or studies on charter schools.
Local newspaper fails to report on much of this.
Local newspaper never mentions the words “Broad Foundation.”
Broad and Gates Foundations give money to local public radio stations which in turn become strangely silent about the presence and influence of the Broad and Gates Foundation in your school district.
THE CURE for Broad Virus:
Vote your school board out of office.
Vote your mayor out of office if s/he is complicit.
Boycott or opt out of tests.
Follow the money.
Question the data – especially if it’s produced by someone affiliated with the Broad or Gates Foundations or their favored consultants (McKinsey, Strategies 360, NCTQ, or their own strategically placed Broad Residents).
Alert the media again and again (they will ignore you at first).
Protest, stage rallies, circulate petitions.
Connect and daylight the dots.
— Sue Peters
For more information on the Broad Foundation, see: A Parent Guide to the Broad Foundation’s training programs and education policies by Parents Across America.
(this post was updated from the original version, to add more information, 4/19/11 – sp.)