The Broad Foundation Lands at TPS: Should Parents Care?

“With public schools being forced to do more with less, it’s tempting to open the doors to millions of dollars of outside foundation money…But it’s also important to look behind the curtain to see whether or not that money comes from an entity, such as the Broad Foundation, that has a specific philosophy of school reform that may or may not match the public’s view of the role of schools in a democratic society.”

Many of us are watching with interest as Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist re-shuffles the TPS administration.

The Tulsa World reported that “30 administrators had received increases totaling $243,100… Seven administrators who were shifted into new roles saw no change in pay, while three other administrators saw their salaries significantly reduced in the reorganization.”

While some teachers may be understandably upset by the large raises received by a few of the administrators, Superintendent Gist said that the teachers’ concerns were “misguided,” because the changes ultimately resulted in a savings of over $2 million.

However, quibbling about the fairness of the administrative reorganization may be the least of teachers’ and parents’ worries. What caught my attention in the article was the following:

“Also approved on Monday were two new hires for positions created through the administrative reorganization that will cost an additional $188,750, but district leaders said those salaries will be funded for two years by the Foundation for Tulsa Schools and the Broad Center’s Residency in Urban Education program.

The two new employees approved Monday are Coy Nesbitt, director of talent initiatives, and Joseph Fraier, design and innovation officer.”

The Tulsa World article goes on to say, “Officials said they were identified through a competitive application process for the Broad Center’s Residency in Urban Education. That’s a leadership development program that trains and places participants in high-level managerial positions in school districts, charter management organizations and departments of education.”

It sounds good, but do we as a community embrace the Broad Foundation’s mission of running schools like for-profit businesses? Maybe. But it might be useful to learn a little more about the foundation and its plan for public school reform.

The Broad Foundation’s controversial forays into transforming public education, especially in Los Angeles, have been well documented. Here’s a video of LA parents protesting Eli Broad’s plan to  “dismantle LA public education,” which also gives insight into the corporate charter school takeover of New Orleans Public Schools.

Broad Rally from Schoolhouse Live on Vimeo.

It also might be worthwhile to note that Deborah Gist is a Broad Superintendents Academy graduate, Class of 2008.

Here’s what Diane Ravitch, historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University, wrote about the Broad Academy:

“Now that the Broad Foundation ‘trains’ so many new superintendents, doesn’t the public have a right to know what the Broad Academy is teaching its students?

The Broad Superintendents Academy is not certified, has no state approvals, is not subject to any outside monitoring, yet it ‘trains’ people who then take leadership roles in urban districts and in state education departments. Many were never educators.

What were they taught? What principles and values were inculcated? On what research are their lessons based? How valid is the research to which they are exposed?”

For more information see: A Parent Guide to the Broad Foundation’s training programs and education policies by Parents Across America. 

So much of what appears to be happening in Tulsa Public Schools already has happened, often with discouraging results in other cities. We’ve already welcomed in a review by the Boston Consulting Group. Here’s an interesting read from about their perspectives on K-12 education by Kevin Hall, president and CEO of the Charter School Growth Fund. There’s a lot of talk about sameness, efficiency, profit, “personalized instruction” (meaning fewer teachers and more computer learning) such as Rocketship Education, which has not been effective or efficient at teaching students. (Do a little research on that one).

Privatizing public education depends on parents being fearful that all public education is failing and that millionaires such as Eli Broad and Bill Gates have the answers if only they can get their top-down, corporate model forced into schools, especially in urban areas where the problems are quite complex and can’t be solved by strangling and closing public schools to put charters in their place. Public schools are in it for the long haul. They won’t close or pull out or throw out students who may be disabled or problematic. There are some good charter schools such as Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences that are local and fit the intended purpose of a charter school. Charters were never intended to be mass-produced, cookie-cutter, for-profit institutions (even schools calling themselves non-profits may be benefiting from real estate deals, or using materials created by the for-profit companies that back them).

Here’s a frightening article about what happened at Highland Park school in Detroit.

A business’s reason to exist is to make a profit. Is that the purpose of public school?

Here’s an excerpt from a blog by Seattle parent Sue Peters posted on, an organization devoted to meaningful school reform based on input from experienced educators and education researchers (you’ll find their suggestions at the bottom):

“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 (sic), 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.

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 schools, 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 standardize 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.)
  • Superintendent bypasses school board entirely and keeps them out of the loop on significant or all issues.
  • School board candidates receive unprecedented amounts of campaign money from business interests.
  • Annual superintendent evaluation is overseen by a fellow name Tom Payzant.
  • Stand for Children appears in towns 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:

  • Parents.
  • Blogs.
  • Sharing information.
  • Vote your school board out of office.
  • Vote your mayor out of office if s/he is complicit.
  • Boycott or opt out of tests.
  • Go national and join Parents Across America.
  • Follow the money.
  • Question the data – especially if it 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

Parents Across America agrees with recent articles (in Blooomberg Views here and the Nation here for example) that the lack of attention to K-12 education policy in the current election campaign is a major concern, especially given the disappointing results of recent independent national achievement tests which make it clear that years of corporate-driven education “reform” have failed our children.

The Nation interview with Jane Sanders, wife of candidate Bernie Sanders, touched on some of PAA’s major concerns. However, we are still waiting for public statements from the candidates themselves in order to evaluate whether or not they understand the need to move on from the accountability movement’s high-stakes tests and narrowed curriculum, and its war on teachers, neighborhood schools, and the very foundation of democratic public education.

Specifically, we’d like to hear candidates call for:

  • safeguards for our children’s health and privacy against the increasing intrusion of digital devices into schools;
  • less standardized testing, whether one-shot, benchmarked, or embedded;
  • more play-based learning in early childhood classrooms rather than test prep that undermines child development;
  • an end to discipline practices that criminalize youthful mistakes and discriminate against students of color;
  • limits on federal funding for charter schools with more accountability for the financial, discrimination, cheating and other scandals associated with this dangerously unregulated industry,
  • an end to federal funding for “fast track” teacher preparation programs;
  • extra resources for instead of closure of struggling schools;
  • more voice in public school policy for educators, parents, and others in the school community and less for billionaire philanthropists and multi-billion-dollar testing companies;
  • returning federal education law to its original purpose as an anti-poverty program designed to help level the playing field between the poorest and wealthiest communities – children’s zip codes should not limit their access to a well-resourced, high-quality education.

As the 2016 party platforms are finalized and the elections draw near, parents will be looking for candidates who are willing to speak out on behalf of our children’s education. For us, that is the most important issue, and we plan to vote!”

With public schools being forced to do more with less, it’s tempting to open the doors to millions of dollars of outside foundation money. In some ways, it may really benefit public schools. But it’s also important to look behind the curtain to see whether or not that money comes from an entity, such as the Broad Foundation, that has a specific philosophy of school reform that may or may not match the public’s view of the role of schools in a democratic society. Should billionaires be dictating what happens to our children just because they have the money to do it? What will the Broad Foundation trained administrators bring to TPS? We’ll see. But we should look with our eyes wide open.

See Betty Casey’s follow-up article, “The Broad Foundation Lands in Tulsa and Oklahoma City”

Categories: Editor’s Blog