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The New York Times today has an article about the new Broad-trained superintendent in Oakland, California. Antwan Wilson was recruited from Denver, which has been under control by corporate reformers for over a decade. Oakland has been under control by Broad superintendents since 2003. The article describes Wilson’s plans to “transform” Oakland by merging the application process for charter schools and public schools. The Broad superintendents have been promising transformative results for more than a decade. Years ago, Oakland was seen as an ideal petri dish for corporate reform because it was under state control, with no meddlesome school board. Now it has a school board again, and the promises continue. There is always next year.
The article gives an overview of the trajectory of Broad-trained superintendents. It is not a pretty picture.
Broad-trained superintendents currently run districts in two dozen communities, including Boston, Broward County, Fla., and Philadelphia. They have lasted an average of four and three-quarter years, delivering incremental academic progress at best. Like others in the field, they have run up against the complexities of trying to improve schools bedeviled by poverty, racial disparities, unequal funding and contentious local politics.
Some prominent academy alumni have resigned after tumultuous terms. Mike Miles, the Dallas schools superintendent, quit last June after just three years, during which he battled teachers over new evaluation criteria and performance-based pay.
In Los Angeles, John Deasy stepped down as superintendent in the fall of 2014 after a turbulent tenure in which he testified against teachers’ unions during a landmark trial involving tenure and job protections, and presided over a botched rollout of a $1.3 billion plan to give all students iPads. That same year, John Covington abruptly resigned as chancellor of a state-operated district for the lowest performing schools in Detroit. Two years earlier, Jean-Claude Brizard resigned from the Chicago Public Schools after 17 months on the job and a bruising teachers’ strike.
Still, Mr. Broad said his money is well spent. “When I look at how many students are educated in public school systems where our alumni are and have worked,” he wrote in an email, “there is no question that this has been a worthwhile investment.”
Oakland is the kind of place where philanthropists hope to make a difference. Here, across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, close to three-quarters of the 37,000 students in district-run schools come from low-income families. About 30 percent of the students are African-Americans, and more than 40 percent are Latino.
Why Mr. Broad is satisfied is not at all clear. There is an even longer list of failed superintendencies than is listed here, and in some cases Broadies were run out of town by the local citizenry. In Wake County, a Broadie was put in charge of resegregation the district after the Tea Party won control of the school board; when the majority was ousted in the next school board election, the superintendent left with them.
There is no doubt that Eli Broad “hopes to make a difference” in Oakland, as he does wherever he invests. But someone should remind him that Broad-trained superintendents have controlled the districts for more than a dozen years. When should we start seeing the “difference” that they have made?