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The Resistance: Casting a Broad Net of Influence

Publication Date: 2013-02-10

This appeared in Substance February 2005.


According to the Broad Foundation website ( http://www.broadfoundation.org ), its plan is to "redefine the traditional roles, practices, and policies of school board members, superintendents, principals, and labor union leaders to better address contemporary challenges in education." Broad's deep pockets mean it gets to define those challenges. Follow Broad money: A pattern emerges of business and foundation money moving in on local elections. Founder Eli Broad was influential in getting the Los Angeles superintendency for former Colorado governor Roy Romer, and it's no coincidence that the Broad Foundation gave its first urban ed prize to Houston -- with Rod Paige at the helm. A tight circle of backslapping and influence peddling reigns.

Writing in the San Diego Reader, Matt Potter asked, "Why would two obscure East Coast liberal foundations unite with some of the most conservative and wealthiest of San Diego business interests in a secretive attempt to defeat incumbent board member Frances O'Neill Zimmerman?" The answer is that Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad's money reaches far and wide --from California school boards to East Coast foundations with liberal ties. In 1999, Broad teamed up with then-Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan and Ron Burkle to get what they called a reform-minded school board elected. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, funds from the Coalition for Kids, created by Riordan and Broad, broke the union stranglehold over the Los Angeles Unified School District. The Los Angeles Times agreed, also tagging Riordan?s manipulations as "reform." A Times editorial praised Riordan and ?the business-led Committee on Effective School Governance-- for supporting school board reform candidates who would "hold greedy labor demands at bay . . . and put improving student achievement ahead of teacher union wish lists."

The alternative press put it differently. Writing in LA Weekly, Howard Blume noted, "Most of the money is from the pockets of the mayor himself and dozens of his closest rich friends and associates." With big money being spent to dump three incumbents from their $24,000-per-year low-profile jobs, the operation is known as the most expensive school board campaign in the country's history. Incumbent George Kiriyama, a former teacher and school principal who was supported by the teachers union, raised $138,000 to fund his campaign. The Riordan-Broad Coalition for Kids handed Kiriyama's opponent $771,000. One incumbent called the Riordan-Broad enterprise a "naked power grab"; at a news conference, Rev. Robert Holt, chaplain for the Black American Political Association of California, told the mayor, "We object to your colonial mentality and your unmitigated gall in trying to select our leader."

It Isn't a "Conservative" Conspiracy

For those who think any big-business involvement is a conservative conspiracy, take a look at former California state senator Jack O'Connell's run for state superintendent of schools; he was backed by the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, who together gave him more than $370,000. Eli Broad kicked in $100,000, and Reed Hastings, the president of the State Board of Education, gave $250,000. Both Broad and Burkle are big contributors to the Democratic Party, spreading maximum donations to senators across the country. Hastings gave $350,000 to Governor Gray Davis? 2002 reelection bid. In summer 2003, Hastings was listed as one of Howard Dean's connections.

Not surprisingly, the Broad Foundation is enthusiastic about the way Chicago runs its schools. On August 21, 2001, the Broad Foundation and the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC), which identifies itself as a nonprofit organization and "a recognized leader in benchmarking, knowledge management and best-practice information," announced that Chicago's school district had been chosen as a national model for leadership and principal development in our nation?s public schools. The Broad Foundation's Benchmarking Project was putting up $600,000 to identify what works in public schools. "By mining the knowledge and experiences of successful school districts and then helping other districts use that knowledge and experience, this program aims to accelerate the gains in the bottom line -- improved student achievement and school system performance," said Eli Broad. (American Product and Quality Center. 2001.Press Release. 21 August. Accessed at http://old. apqc.org /about/press /dispPress Release.cfm? ProductID=1431)

Mining the knowledge and experience. What a metaphor. What a reality. Dig right in.

According to Forbes 400, at $3.8 billion, Eli Broad places forty-fifth in U. S. wealth. Number eighty-two in world?s richest. You have to be quick on your feet to keep up with new Broad projects to reform education. On October 8, 2002, a press release from the U. S. Conference of Mayors and the Broad Foundation announced the intention of this new partnership to publish joint reports on "mayoral efforts to improve public schools, develop new ideas for federal education policymakers, and hold a mayors' education summit" in 2003.

Eli Broad addressed the conference, saying, "At The Broad Foundation, we recognize that leadership -- bold new leadership -- is critical if we are ever going to see the dramatic gains in student achievement that children across America deserve. Schools that fail to teach our children the skills necessary to participate and to succeed in our changing economy are infringing on each student's civil rights."

There's that emphasis on schooling for the economy again, as though schools had any control over minimum wage, outsourcing jobs to Asia, policies of the World Bank, and so on. And by conflating high test scores with civil rights and co-opting those who raise alarms about the growing segregation of U. S. Schools, high standards for all rhetoric hides the fact that minority and poor students are being ghettoized into dead-end, underfinanced, drill-and-kill, low-performing schools. Participants in conferences like this mayors conference carefully avoid talking about the crumbling neighborhoods surrounding troubling schools. Other participants in this so-called education summit included Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools; and Lisa Graham Keegan, president of the Education Leaders Council; as well as other education experts, unnamed in press releases.

Did you notice who's missing? The mayors are there. School boards aren't. The Broad website includes a heroes page. Headed by Rod Paige, it is a high-stakes testing crew par excellence. Take a look at:


Here is a list of the participants at the 2002 Broad Foundation strategic planning retreat. Look at the list and notice that you can't label this group liberal or conservative: Standardistas cross party lines. In the foundation's words: "The Foundation solicited guidance on how best to scale-up current Foundation investments and develop new high-impact policy initiatives. What fun: getting invited to figure out how to spend the foundation's $400 million. The participants: Arlene Ackerman, superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District; Richard C. Atkinson, president, University of California; Alan Bersin, superintendent, San Diego City Schools; Dominic Brewer, director, RAND Education; Dennis Chaconas, superintendent, Oakland Unified School District; Robert Chase, former president, National Education Association; Rudolph F. Crew, director, the Stupski Foundation; John Danielson, chief of staff, U. S. Department of Education; Chester Finn, president, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; Patricia Harvey, superintendent, St. Paul Public Schools; Genethia Hudley Hayes, board member, Los Angeles Unified School District; David Hornbeck, founder, Good Schools Pennsylvania; James Hunt, former governor, State of North Carolina; Nancy Ichinaga, member, California State Board of Education; Joel Klein, chancellor, New York City Department of Education; Wendy Kopp, president, Teach for America; Robin Kramer, senior fellow, California Community Foundation; Diana Lam, superintendent, Providence Public Schools; Arthur Levine, president, Columbia University Teachers College, Tom Luce, chairman, National Center for Educational Accountability; Joe Lucente, board president, California Network of Educational Charters; Don McAdams, executive director, Center for Reform of School Systems; Richard L. McCormick, president, University of Washington; Theodore Mitchell, president, Occidental College; Barry Munitz, president and chief executive officer, J. Paul Getty Trust; Mark Murray, president, Grand Valley State University; Joseph Olchefske, superintendent, Seattle Public Schools; Ron Ottinger, board member, San Diego City Schools, William Ouchi, professor, the Anderson School at University of California at Los Angeles; Roderick R. Paige, U. S. secretary of education, Tim Quinn, president, Michigan Leadership Institute; Richard Riordan, former mayor, City of Los Angeles; Nancy Daly-Riordan, children?s rights activist; Waldemar ?Bill? Rojas, former superintendent, Dallas Public Schools; Steven Sample, president, University of Southern California; Jay Schenirer, board member, Sacramento Unified School District; Jon Schnur, CEO, New Leaders for New Schools; William Siart, president, ExED, LLC; Kim Smith, president, New Schools Venture Fund; Glen Tripp, president, Galileo Educational Services, Adam Urbanski, President, Rochester (new York) Teachers Association; Michael Usdan, senior adviser, Institute for Educational Leadership; Carolyn Webb de Macias, senior associate provost, University of Southern California; Randi Weingarten, president, United Federation of Teachers; Caprice Young, board president, Los Angeles Unified School District.

With throwaway lines about U. S. schoolchildren being "at the back of the pack of industrialized nations," the demands of globalization and free trade, and what "our 21st Century information economy requires," Broad hammers home the point that our "public education system is not providing our young people with the knowledge and skills necessary to become future knowledge workers." Future knowledge workers. It is a phrase that reeks of Business Roundtable hypocrisy. Why are so many college graduate knowledge workers out of work?

"As we enter this new century, our nation's continued prosperity rests on a strongly educated, highly skilled workforce," Broad intoned in "Preparing Leaders for the New Economy? in School Administrator (March 2001). Fran Zimmerman, the school board member Broad wanted ousted from San Diego, told the Los Angeles Times, "He's dabbling in social policy with all his money, and affecting change with it, but it's not necessarily good change, and it's not really school reform." She emphasized, "It's basically a business agenda for reshaping the public school system."

On April 6, 2003, Eli Broad put out a call for school boards to stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution. The Broad Foundation supports what it terms leadership capacity-building initiatives, promoting corporate-style school management in cities from Seattle to Atlanta to New York. They include training for superintendents and board members, support for charter school development, and demonstration projects such as a merit pay plan in Denver. In addition to the Broad Prize for Urban Education, there's the Broad Center for Superintendents, and the Broad Institute for School Boards.

Not-So-Strange Bedfellows

On August 7, 2003, the Broad Foundation announced a first-of-its-kind residency program to recruit young business leaders for intensive management training and placement in urban school districts across the country. The program "seeks to attract talented young MBAs. . . and train them for managerial positions in the central operations of urban school districts." Broad will pay 75 per cent of their $80,000 residency salary, with local districts picking up the rest. The plan is that "the residents will receive mentoring from district superintendents as well as hands-on experience in transforming a large public institution into a high-performing organization focused on raising student achievement." Residenst will be placed in senior-level positions in Chicago, Oakland, Philadelphia, New York City, and San Diego public school districts. Eli Broad said, "I am thrilled to see so many dedicated young leaders eager to use their leadership and management skills to remedy the inequities in urban education." Funny thing: Broad isn't shipping any Harvard MBAs to Houston, winner of the 2002 Broad prize for best urban district in the Country.

In Better Leaders for America's Schools: A Manifesto (May 2003), the Broad Foundation and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute jointly proclaimed: "It is no more essential for every education leader to be a teacher than for the CEO of Bristol-Meyers Squibb to be a chemist. In any organization, the similarities between technical and leadership roles and skills are incidental and the differences fundamental."

Singled out by Broad and Fordham as exemplary in this model are:

* Joel Klein, Office of White House Council during the Clinton administration; superintendent of New York City

* Roy Romer, chair of the Education Commission of the States; chair of the national Democratic Party; Colorado governor; superintendent of Los Angeles

* John Fryer, major general U. S. Air Force; commandant of the National War College; interim president of the National Defense University; superintendent of Duval County, Jacksonville

* Paul Vallas, policy adviser, Illinois state senate; Chicago city budget director; unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Illinois governor in 2002; superintendent of Chicago and Philadelphia

* Alan Bersin, federal prosecutor; superintendent of San Diego

* Paula Dawning, sales vice president of AT&T; superintendent of Benton Harbor, Michigan

On September 9, 2003, President Bush announced a partnership between the Broad Foundation and the U. S. Department of Education,"To improve our country?s public education system." They call it an unprecedented public-private collaboration. The third partner is Just for the Kids. They're combining "$4.7 million of federal funds with $50.9 million in private philanthropy to effectively lower the cost barriers associated with the data collection, analysis, and reporting mandates of NCLB." Standard and Poor's is lending a hand. The deal is that the partners offer a website "that transforms disaggregated student achievement data into useful decision-making information." It will be free for two years. They call it private philanthropy. McGraw-Hill, owner of Standard and Poor's, Open Court, and Direct Instruction, not to mention one of the top producers of standardized tests, as a leader in philanthropy for the good of children?

It is difficult to present all this information in a way that approaches comprehensibility. Keep your eye on Broad and you'll be watching a sophisticated, many-faceted plan for dismantling the local control of schools.

Worth an aside, perhaps, is another recipient of Broad largesse: the Broad Foundation supports coverage of leadership issues in Education Week. One can wonder if "America's online newspaper of record" will ever bite the hand that feeds it.

Note: This is excerpted from Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? by Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian (Heinemann 2004).

Here's what Jonathan Kozol says about this book: "Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian have written a magnificent, carefully documented, and high-voltage manifesto to confront the degradation of our nation's schools by powerful corporations whose self-serving motives and assaultive tactics have developed into a relentless and dehumanizing juggernaut. Steam will be coming out of your ears by the time you finish this extraordinary book. It should be a wake-up call to all who care about the future of our schools and all who truly value children."

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