The Broad Foundation in Tulsa and Oklahoma City

In 2016, after Deborah Gist was hired as TPS Superintendent, I wrote a blog about the Broad Foundation and how to tell if your school system has been infected.

At the time, I asked parents why we should care about some foundation we’ve never heard of based in California. We should care because one wealthy individual is training people according to his own agenda of what public education should be, and then placing those people as administrators in urban school districts throughout the U.S. If you look at Broad superintendents, such as Gist, you’ll also notice a stack of highly paid administrators under them. Who pays their salaries?

Please note that the Broad Academy that is educating these individuals is unaccredited and financed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

A quick check of Tulsa Public School administrators who are Broad alumni include Superintendent Deborah Gist, Devin Fletcher, Jorge Robles, Nolberto Delgadillo, and Andrea Castaneda. There may be more. As I said, this was a quick check.

With the teacher walk-out over, and with the recent hiring of Broad-grad Jorge Robles at TPS, I thought it might be time to revisit the Broad Superintendents. Fortunately, I don’t have to write it because a more qualified individual in Oklahoma City is currently writing a series on the Broad Foundation in Oklahoma.

John Thompson, historian and teacher in Oklahoma City, is writing a three-part series about superintendents trained by the Broad Academy, so I’m just going to link to his first two articles, and when his third one is published, I’ll provide a link to that as well.

I’ve also linked to some articles about Denver Public Schools, since TPS’s latest hire Jorge Robles comes from there. Thompson states that TPS has 11 Broad hires, so my quick check left several of them out.

Here is a paragraph from Thompson’s writing:

And then came the Oklahoma teacher walkout and the conversations with educators who had similar experiences with Broad graduates. Although we appreciated Tulsa superintendent Deborah Gist’s (class of 2008) support for a teacher pay raise, she presided over a district with ten Broadies in leadership positions. (The hiring of another, from Denver, was announced last week, bringing the total to 11.) Despite the large number of Tulsa’s advantages in comparison to Oklahoma City, it is near the bottom of the nation’s urban schools in increasing student performance. When I hear from Tulsa teachers about the micromanaging imposed by the Broad-dominated administration, it’s hard to believe that their mandates haven’t undermined teaching and learning.

This prompted a survey of secondary sources, and an inventory of how and why other Broad graduates were dismissed or forced to resign. As with Oklahoma educators who finished each other’s sentences when discussing their Broad graduates, reporters across the nation used very similar language in describing the careers of their cities’ Broad superintendents. It was shocking to read how many of them played fast and loose with the facts before and after being hired, ruled their systems in similar ways, and left office in a comparable manner.

It would take a far more detailed study to determine whether Broad superintendents behave the way they do based on the personalities that they brought to the academy, as opposed to determining what it is about the organization that recruits such people and trains them to operate in such similar ways. I assume it is a combination of the two factors – it takes a certain type of mindset to advance in the corporate reform system, and there is something about the Broad world which turns out certain types of leaders.

Or should I say, turns out leadership outputs?

In 2007, the OKCPS hired a graduate of the Broad Superintendents’ Academy, John Q. Porter. The Broad Academy was run like a corporate executive training program, and it emphasized data, choice, and other market-driven policies. Broad superintendent candidates attended long weekend training sessions over a ten-week period. Their curriculum stressed instructional alignment, performance management systems, and leadership. Its management techniques emphasized “prioritizing and pacing work for optimal quality.”

Oklahoma City’s Broad graduate was unquestionably dedicated to the students, and he was a good enough sport to compete in my school’s first “Buffalo Chip Throwing Championship.” (Dressed in a fine business suit, the superintendent finished second, behind me, but unlike the champion buffalo feces thrower, he wore a plastic glove.) The superintendent enjoyed talking with my students, but he never seemed comfortable listening to teenagers when they disagreed with his policies. I never understood how a man, who was so committed to poor children of color, could be so unwilling to listen to the real experts on poor schools – the students whom he sought to help.

In one such meeting, the superintendent acknowledged that his experience had been in a suburban district that had nearly three times as much per student spending, but he said that his former district, Montgomery County, had more low income students than the OKCPS had students. I remained silent as my students tried to explain the difference between one of the nation’s top school systems where only a quarter of students were low income, and our schools where almost everyone was poor and most students were several years behind grade level. I was so proud of my students as they argued that poor kids in neighborhood schools could master the same high-quality material as kids in his old district, but that it would take time. Afterwards, my student leaders were blunt, saying that the superintendent had no idea of what he was rushing into.

At the same time, the principals whom I most admired were clearly intimidated by the new superintendent. Video cameras were installed in schools, not for supervising unsafe areas but as a first step toward monitoring routine activities. No memos, I was warned, should be sent by e-mail anymore. I wondered, perhaps naively, how policy discussions could be conducted without e-mail. Before long, however, it became clear that expressing dissent was no longer seen as appropriate and memos were no longer welcome.

According to assistant principals at my school, every teacher would now have to “be on the same page” in teaching at the same rate from the same textbook. My principal knew that I would not abide by that rule. Since I was an award-winning teacher who was then on his way to being selected the runner-up OKCPS Teacher of the Year, I had political leverage to make a deal. In case we had a visitor from the central office, my students would keep their textbooks open to the official page, regardless of whether they looked at it.

The superintendent confirmed to my students and me that he ultimately wanted a system where he could supervise classroom instruction by video throughout the district from his office. In the meantime, compliance was monitored by teams of central office staff. 

Here is Thompson’s entire article, which gives some background on Broad and also his experience with OKC’s Broad-trained superintendent:

It’s disturbing that Thompson notes that principals were intimidated by the superintendent. Were they “Relay” trained, as some of TPS’s principals are? Relay is another unaccredited training program which has created some controversy in the education world, but that’s another story.

Part II of John Thompson’s blog about the similarities of “Broad graduates” can be found here:

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Part II:

Involvement in previous scandals doesn’t necessarily seem to be grounds for exclusion from the Broad team. The Baltimore Sun reported that Kimberly Statham, the former chief academic officer for Howard County Schools resigned after allegations of a “grade changing scandal” involving her daughter. Deborah Gist, then the state superintendent of education for the District of Columbia, later hired Statham as deputy superintendent of teaching and learning. Gist said, “We discussed it really briefly.”

But she said. “It seems clear that it was an unfortunate situation, and that Kimberly had done the right thing, and that she did not do anything that would concern me at all.”

Of course, D.C. Superintendent Gist was far from aggressive in investigating cheating during Michelle Rhee’s time at D.C.

Justice Denied…

And back to Denver.

Here is a blog written by a Denver Public School parent Jeannie Kaplan about Denver’s large number of administrators. Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the Denver administrator whose communication is the subject of the blog, is a Broad Institute graduate.

At the time this was written, Broad Academy graduate Antwan Wilson was Denver’s superintendent. The current superintendent Tom Boasberg is also a Broad graduate. Antwan Wilson was recently hired back to Denver as a part-time consultant at a maximum salary (depending on hours worked) of $60,000 for 12 weeks, according to this article in Chalkbeat. As the article states, “Wilson…was recently forced to resign as Washington, D.C. schools chancellor…” Does this sound and look familiar? As Kaplan says, “Chaos, churn.”

Or this article from Chalkbeat  describing the debate over closing one of Denver’s public high schools.

What does Denver have to do with Tulsa? Or Tulsa with Oklahoma City? Administrators running the schools are heavily Broad Foundation-trained graduates. The Broad Institute is an unaccredited training program with an agenda, which should be made transparent to all parents, teachers and citizens, especially those sending their children to public schools.

Categories: Editor’s Blog