This year, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard helped Chicago teachers accomplish the impossible.
Under a new Illinois law, the Chicago Teachers Union has to get a 75 percent vote of its entire membership (not just those voting) to call a legal strike. With such a high barrier, "the unions cannot strike in Chicago," boasted Stand for Children CEO Jonah Edelman, who pushed for the rule with the help of millions of dollars from the Illinois business elite.
But in June, after a year of Brizard and his boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 90 percent of Chicago teachers voted to authorize a strike. The summer ended with no contract and the teachers struck a week after Labor Day.
It's been a tough year for Chicago teachers, but that's not a surprise, considering that Brizzard trained at the Broad Foundation Superintendents Academy, the most prominent and most controversial training institute for school chiefs.
The Academy is the flagship program of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the smallest of a triumvirate of corporate foundations that are at the heart of the billionaire campaign to remake public education in the image of corporate America. The Gates Foundation, spending close to half a billion dollars a year on education, is No. 1. The Walton Family Foundation, started by the owners of Walmart, spends about a third as much. Broad's education spending is much smaller—$26 million in 2009, according to the New York Times.
But Broad gets a big bang for his bucks with his strategy for catapulting graduates of his superintendents' program into the driver's seats of major urban districts. The Academy says 30 of its alumni are now running big city school systems, including Los Angeles, Dallas, and Denver, besides Chicago. Philadelphia has just hired one. In Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, Broad-trained superintendents have become state education chiefs. In 2011, Broad alumni filled 48 percent of all large urban superintendent openings, according to the Academy website. But many Broad grads have compiled records that are not much to brag about.
- In Oakland, three Broad-trained superintendents in a row left the schools in chaos and saddled with a gigantic deficit.
- In Seattle, Broad alumna Maria Goodloe-Johnson's four-year tenure was marked by fake statistics, disruption, and corruption.
- At least five Broad superintendents have earned no-confidence votes from their teachers.
When Dallas hired a Broad Academy grad last spring, Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer researched the Academy's track record and predicted: "There will be blood."
Many Broad superintendents have fought pitched battles with teachers and community organizations when they moved to close schools with low student test scores and to open new charter schools—sometimes in the same buildings, but usually not with the same students. Rating and paying teachers based on student test scores are also high on Broad alumni agendas.
These policies are not unique to Broad. They've been promoted nation-wide by both the Bush and Obama administrations. In fact, Broad is close to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "With the election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan . . . the stars have finally aligned," the Broad Foundation wrote in its 2009-10 annual report, explaining that the Obama-Dun.can agenda "echoes" Broad's.
But Broad superintendents tend to push that agenda more aggressively than other school chiefs. They often seem to be spoiling for a fight.
Some public school activists who go up against Broad superintendents come away thinking these superintendents actually welcome disruption because their real goal is to destroy urban school systems, turning public education into a competitive marketplace.
"They like to close schools and create churn," says Seattle parent activist and Broad expert Sue Peters. "Sometimes the upshot is to make parents more vulnerable to the charter people. Parents say, "Enough already, we don't want all this churn. Give us anything but this.'"
Whether or not privatization is the whole point, it's certainly a central feature of the Broad program for big city schools. And privatization is hard to reverse. Even if a Broad superintendent is finally chased out of town, closed neighborhood schools stay closed and new charter schools generally stay open.
In big cities with collective bargaining laws, switching to charter schools is the surest way to weaken unions and undermine teacher autonomy and power. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools boasts that their "market share" in big cities is rapidly growing. They say six cities already have at least 30 percent of their students in charter schools.
Erica Lepping, Broad Foundation communications director, denies that Broad favors charter over district schools, but her boss is not so shy. "Charter schools have the competitive edge," he wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece. And although he claims he's not against unions, he says one of the big advantages of charters is that "principals are empowered to decide whom to hire, whom to fire."
A Tiny Cadre
Broad launched the Superintendents Academy in 2002. Since then, the Academy has trained a select group—about eight to 25 per year—in six intensive, four-day sessions spread over 10 months. Altogether, through 2011, there were 144 Broad Academy grads.
About half of the participants come from the world of education, the other half from business and the military. You don't need to know how to teach children, Broad believes, to lead a big city school system.
Fifty-one percent of Academy grads are people of color; 43 percent are women. When a superintendent starts closing schools in communities of color, it helps to be a person of color or a woman. It can stymie and divide the opposition.
Lepping insists that the Academy is all about improving management, not fighting unions. And when Broad started it 10 years ago, he invited union leaders to come speak to the students. One of the lecturers was Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association. Urbanski is the founder and director of the Teachers Union Reform Network, a group of locals whose goal is, in his words, "to make [unions] stronger partners for improving public schools, and redefine who the client is: not just our members, but students." He adds, "Teachers will do well only if students do well. No community should tolerate dysfunctional schools."
Urbanski agreed to teach Broad's aspiring school leaders how collaborating with unions can make for better schools.
But he grew increasingly disenchanted with Broad's corporate ideas, which Urbanski summarizes as "The boss is in charge and the rest should be obedient. Leadership means you have to be strong rather than making others strong. Competition is always good. Anything that can't be measured shouldn't be valued. The ends justify the means."
Finally, Urbanski refused to continue.
In 2007, his last year at the Academy, Urbanski met Jean-Claude Brizard, who was then a New York City school administrator. Urbanski was impressed and told Brizard about a superintendent opening in Rochester.
"Noise" in Rochester
Brizard got the job and Urbanski says he started well.
"He was promising respect for teachers and collaboration with the union," says Urbanski. "He asked us to design focus groups of teachers to advise him. But then he started using them to circumvent the union."
Brizard claimed that there was no space to reduce class size, but then he offered free space to charter schools.
He dissolved an elected parents' organization and substituted parents handpicked by school principals.
"When teachers expressed opposition to merit pay, that was "noise.' When parents opposed closing schools, he called that "noise,'" says Urbanski.
The conflict heated up. Brizard said his problem was with the union, not with teachers. The union put that to a test, organizing a no-confidence vote by secret ballot. With a turnout of more than 80 percent, the vote went against Brizard by 95 percent.
"Buy-in" in Chicago
The no-confidence vote from Rochester teachers didn't stall Brizard's career. Rahm Emanuel, the newly elected mayor of Chicago, fresh off his gig as Barack Obama's chief of staff, promptly hired him to run the country's third biggest school system.
In Chicago, the mayor currently picks the school board. At their first meeting, which was also Brizard's first meeting, Emanuel's board rescinded a previously bargained 4 percent raise for teachers. The board said they needed to plug a hole in their budget. But the next week, with more than 1,000 teachers protesting outside, the board set salaries for five new top administrators far above those of the administrators they replaced. Brizard got $20,000 more than his predecessor.
In February, Brizard announced plans to close six schools, subject 10 more to disruptive "turnaround," and open 12 new charter schools. The Chicago Teachers Union, together with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Occupy Chicago, immediately organized angry demonstrations.
"We were never consulted," said CTU President Karen Lewis. "He needs to listen to the community and to the people who do the work." She said Brizard and his team "don't want collaboration. They want "buy-in.'"
In March, Brizard spoke out for vouchers, saying public dollars should follow students when their parents put them in private schools.
And in May, he announced he was applying for a Gates Foundation grant to open 60 more charter schools, which would bring the total to one quarter of Chicago schools.
Meanwhile, in contract bargaining, Brizard's negotiators demanded that Chicago teachers work 20 percent longer for 2 percent raises.
That was the background for Chicago's "impossible" strike vote.
A "Frankenstein Monster" in Oakland
Oakland, California, is probably the only city to have suffered through three Broad chief executives in a row. California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell (to whose election campaign Broad had contributed $100,000) installed one after the other from 2003 to 2009, after he seized control from the elected school board. Oakland was vulnerable to takeover because of a budget gap that was estimated at somewhere from $35 to nearly $100 million—they didn't even know how big it was.
But once in charge, the Oakland Tribune reported, "the state administration appeared to be more focused on redesigning schools and overhauling central office services than on stabilizing the district's finances."
To Sharon Higgins, who was a middle school parent coordinator at the time, the deficit was just an excuse. "They gave our district to the Broad people to try out their ideas," she said. "Their reason for coming here was to alter the district, not to heal the problem that put us in state takeover to start with."
The first Broad administrator, Randy Ward, instituted some changes consistent with Broad's insistence that he's really after improved management. Ward started a new form of budgeting in which each school got a pot of money based on how many students went there. Staff were paid out of that pot, and that had both good and bad results. In the past, schools in the wealthy Oakland hills got the most experienced teachers, who earned higher salaries. So the city spent much more on its wealthy students than its poor students. Ward's new budgeting made spending more equal. But it also gave schools an incentive to hire inexperienced teachers. "Some principals decided to staff their entire schools with newbies," says Steve Weinberg, a middle school teacher, now retired, whose assignment during this period included budgeting for his school.
The state takeover also brought an era of harsh funding cuts to Oakland, and Ward's budgeting system pushed controversial decisions out of the public eye: To avoid huge classes, a school might have to sacrifice a librarian or a counselor. But there was no school board meeting where Ward had to report in front of a packed and hostile audience that librarians and counselors were being decimated—it all happened quietly, school by school.
Much more visible were Ward's moves to close low-scoring schools and hand out new charters. "We really took accountability seriously," he told a pro-charter writer. "We set up a free market."
Ward left for San Diego after three tumultuous years and was replaced by two more Broad chiefs who continued in his path.
Higgins got angrier and angrier. After four years, she spoke out publicly in a letter to the Oakland Tribune, charging that students were being subjected to "a constant turnover of people, positions, and programs . . . with no end in sight." The schools were now "controlled by outsiders with no sincere allegiance to the well-being of our city." The state, she wrote, "has produced its very own Frankenstein monster." Her bosses asked her to resign, and she did.
Then she started digging deeper into Broad, tracking the adventures of Broad alumni all over the country and posting her findings in an excellent blog.
When the state finally gave Oakland its schools back in 2009, the deficit was estimated at $89 million, probably bigger than ever.
Shuffling Students in Seattle
When the Seattle school board hired Broad-trained Maria Goodloe-Johnson as superintendent in the spring of 2007, Sue Peters hardly noticed. She was a young mother not involved in politics. But she paid attention in November 2008, when her 4th-grade son brought home a note saying the district wanted to close his school.
"That's what made an activist of me," says Peters. "[Goodloe-Johnson] wanted to evict all the kids from my son's school, put half in one building, and half in another. There was a special education program in the school and those kids were going to be left high and dry."
One of those fighting the closures alongside Peters was Jesse Hagopian, a 7th-grade social studies teacher. "[The superintendent] had a business mentality," says Hagopian. "Our students are not widgets that can be moved from one neighborhood to another." On a Seattle radio show, Hagopian argued that "closing these school buildings is more than just terminating a brick-and-mortar edifice. You're really hanging a "Closed' sign on the hopes and aspirations of a community."
Goodloe-Johnson, on the same radio program, said a budget crunch forced her to close schools. But, she added, "if we weren't in a budget crisis, we still would have excess capacity and we would not be financially efficient, and we would need to close schools."
Sue Peters and her allies eventually saved her son's school, but half the students were sent away and replaced by students from another school. Most of Goodloe-Johnson's other closures went through.
Goodloe-Johnson defended her disruptive policies by arguing that the school system was failing its students and needed drastic change. She and other school leaders used a dramatic statistic to make their point: Just 17 percent of Seattle's high school graduates met the entrance requirements of four-year colleges.
That figure was widely accepted for two years until the Seattle Times reported it was simply false. The true number was 63 percent. It turned out that 17 was the percentage of graduates who took four years of math, three years of science, and maintained a B average—which are not required for college admission.
Goodloe-Johnson did more than close schools, shuffle students, and pro.mote fake numbers. She also boosted testing, and she pushed to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores—a high-priority "reform" for Broad (and Bush and Obama) which, like charter schools and closing low-scoring schools, has no research to support it.
Standardized testing is the engine of corporate reform and test scores drive almost all of the policies Broad promotes. From the district's central office, Broad-trained managers can't watch the human interactions of teachers and students inside every school to see whether teachers or school leaders are effective. If command and control is to be concentrated at the top, the easiest measure of success is sets of numbers.
The next step after using student scores to rate teachers is to pay teachers according to those scores—"merit pay"—and that, too, is high on the Broad agenda. Merit pay has been carefully studied in two large, controlled experiments, in New York City and Nashville, Tennessee. Both found no benefit, not even in test scores.
The New York program was funded by the Broad Foundation. So—is it time for this "data-driven" foundation to say, "We were wrong"? Lepping laughed at that suggestion. No, she said, the New York program's bonuses were too small, and they were schoolwide—they weren't limited to the specific teachers whose students' scores went up.
The Nashville bonuses were as big as $15,000 and they went only to teachers whose scores rose, but Lepping is still not convinced. We need to keep looking for a merit pay system that does work, she said. "Really, the consideration should be, is it something that teachers want, that would help keep great teachers in the systems," she added.
By that measure, merit pay is a bust. There aren't many teachers clamoring to be paid or evaluated according to their students' scores.
In Seattle, teachers fought back and Goodloe-Johnson compromised: Student scores would not count directly in evaluations, but if students don't raise their scores fast enough, the principal is supposed to observe their teacher more frequently.
Seattle teachers accepted that in their contract, but they were so fed up with their superintendent that they voted no confidence in her at the same meeting.
Closing schools in low-income neighborhoods, exaggerating students' academic shortcomings, trying to punish teachers for low scores—Seattle parents and teachers were up in arms, but Goodloe-Johnson managed to ride out every storm.
Then the state auditor's office discovered long-standing corruption in a school department program intended to help small businesses compete for school contracts. Goodloe-Johnson had been warned about what was happening more than a year earlier, but she didn't stop it. That was the final straw and the school board ushered her out.
She is now deputy chancellor of Michigan's Education Achievement System, which is supposed to improve the lowest-scoring 5 percent of Michigan schools, starting in Detroit. She was chosen for that job by another Broad alum, Chancellor John Covington. Covington was hired after he ran the Broad steamroller through Kansas City, Missouri, closing half that district's schools and "reassigning" half its employees.
In Oakland and Seattle, years of organizing by parents and teachers did eventually end with the Broad superintendents leaving town. In Chicago, the fight goes on.
Although Mayor Emanuel and CEO Brizard keep saying they are fighting for the children, most Chicagoans aren't buying it. A Chicago Tribune poll in May found that 40 percent of Chicagoans supported the union, 17 percent were with the mayor, the rest were undecided or supported neither; 86 percent thought teachers should be paid for working longer.
How did the union get the community on its side? By fighting on the community's side. In 2008, a small group of teachers formed the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) in response to then-CEO Arne Duncan's program of closing and privatizing schools.
CORE members were angry that their union was not fighting the closures, so they started doing it themselves, speaking out at hearings and joining with neighborhood organizations trying to keep their schools open. Together, they saved some schools.
After two years of action, CORE had grown from about 10 people to more than 400 and swept an election for leadership of the CTU (See "A Cauldron of Opposition in Duncan's Hometown," Fall 2010).
The arrogance of the Emanuel-Brizard leadership helped solidify the opposition. According to CTU President Karen Lewis, Emanuel told her soon after he was elected that, in her words, "25 percent of the students in this city are never going to amount to anything and he was never going to throw money at them."
Emanuel insists he never said that, but his policies—starving neighborhood schools while expanding charter and selective public schools—speak louder than his denials.
"I work in a poor neighborhood, and the schools in the poor neighborhoods just get nothing," special education teacher and CTU leader Cielo Munoz told a radio news reporter. "When I started there, we used to have two music teachers. They've taken all of that."
When Emanuel and Brizard decided to extend the school day and year without extra pay, they overreached. A neutral fact finder blasted the school board and recommended big raises.
A week later, Emanuel and Brizard gave up their demand for more teaching hours and agreed to hire back nearly 500 laid-off teachers to cover longer days. But progress stalled and the teachers struck over a range of issues, including teacher evaluation and recall rights for laid-off teachers. Teachers kept student education front and center. "When you make me cram 30–50 kids in my classroom with no air conditioning . . . take 18–25 days out of the school year for high-stakes testing . . . close and turnaround schools . . . that hurts kids," wrote social studies teacher Xian Barrett in an open letter to Brizard. "I am willing to sacrifice an awful lot to protect [my] students."
Parents and students joined the teachers' picket lines. A new poll found that most Chicagoans—and two-thirds of public school parents—supported the strike.
The confrontation drew national and international attention. As Rethinking Schools went to press, the outcome was still uncertain. But, like teachers in Seattle and Oakland, Chicago teachers are showing that the best response to corporate attackers is not to retreat. It's to make common cause with communities in the fight for better schools.
Broad "Superstars" Set to Expand Influence
The Broad Foundation wants to step on the gas.
A recent memo 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 March 2012 memo 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 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:
- A revamped Broad Leadership Academy designed to place graduates in a wider range of positions, including state education departments and charter management organizations, as well as district superintendencies.
- Creation of a "go-to" national advocacy group of Broad "superstars . . . 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."
The Academy will recruit more participants with "entrepreneurial backgrounds" from outside the field of education and reduce "the experience level required for entering" the program. It will also cut the time spent on "core knowledge" of school systems to less than 10 percent and instead put more emphasis on "reform priorities," "reform accelerators," and systems-level management. Future graduates will be required "to make public contributions tied to their work, with a particular emphasis on [TBC's] reform agenda."
The shift toward strategies that produce greater political and policy impact is consistent with Broad's "approach to investing" as described on its website: "We practice 'venture philanthropy.' And we expect a return on our investment."
It also reflects the changing education landscape. The growth of charter management organizations, a more active role for state education departments (spurred by Race to the Top and the NCLB waiver process), and rapid expansion of new nonprofit and for-profit education companies have opened up more high-profile (and high-paying) positions in the field. TBC wants its graduates occupying these posts and expanding its network.