Cerf has made it clear that his strategy for "transforming" New Jersey's schools is to populate the system with as many like-minded people as he can. He's aggressively moved to get his people into Camden, Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Perth Amboy, and other cities - even at the threat of removing local control from the districts. He's also setting up seven Regional Achievement Centers with Broad Foundation funds to spread the Gospel of Eli across the state.The Broad Foundation wants to step on the gas.The California-based foundation, built on the housing and insurance empire of billionaire Eli Broad, has made “transforming K-12 urban public education” a major priority. Its training and placement of top administrators in urban districts across the country and support for charter schools, school turnarounds, merit pay and other market-based reforms have put it at the center of a polarized national debate about education policy.A recent memo [see in post below this one] 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 plans were contained in a March memo for discussion at TBC’s Board of Director’s meeting in April 2012. It 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 recent Broad Foundation grants to New Jersey’s Department of Education, which is led by Commissioner Chris Cerf, a Broad Academy graduate.
Cerf's staff has even gone as far as proposing a state-wide district to take over "failing" schools, undermining local control and collective bargaining agreements. If anyone wonders what a Broad-oriented state would look like, come to Jersey.
There's quite a bit to unpack in this memo, and I'll do so next week. But one thing in particular struck me right away:
I cannot think of a better way to further deprofessionalize education careers than this. These people are proposing that we bring in a new generation of education leaders to make policy without any education experience. They are saying that the actual teaching part of education is not important enough that it should comprise part of an education leader's resume.Broad Leadership — “Academy 2.0”The new Leadership Academy will seek to deepen the pool of potential candidates, pulling in more participants from outside the field of education and reducing “the experience level required for entering [the] training program.” The Academy’s revised program of study will aim to prepare leaders for positions beyond the superintendency of districts to include leaders of charter management organizations and state education departments.Reducing the experience level required for entry into the program is designed to attract candidates with “more entrepreneurial backgrounds” and those who may be further away from assuming district leadership positions. The memo says the shift would allow the program to train future leaders of “systems that may not even exist today.” [emphasis mine]
That's astonishing, but also it explains a lot. These people keep putting forward wacky ideas that sound wonderful on paper but have no chance of working in a real school. Take merit pay. We've tried it over and over again and it doesn't work. Teachers know why: the mechanisms for administering a merit pay system are antithetical to the collaborative nature of a well-functioning school. But these people don't know how a well-functioning school works; they've never run one, let alone taught in one.
I've said before that there is a place for people with diverse backgrounds outside of education to contribute to school leadership, much in the same way people who aren't doctors can be good hospital administrators. But no hospital board in its right mind would make policy without medical professionals driving the decision-making process. This is exactly what the Broadies propose (I'm sure they would deny that, but it's silly at this point to pretend otherwise).
This is an attitude that is exemplified by the Broadies, but it's hardly limited to them:
Actually, Watkins is a spectacularly unqualified individual for this job. He's a political hack, a bankster, and a talking head on the teevee. He knows nothing about education; he has no experience in education. I mean, why not let him run NASA while we're at it?
But Watkins is the new normal for the reformies: a "change agent" who will "disrupt" the status quo and bring an "entrepreneurial" spirit to our schools - but with no experience to help him predict whether his changes will do any good . He's a direct reflection of the cult of the CEO that has tanked our economy: people so arrogant they believe their God-given gifts make them superior leaders to the people who have actually put in time in the field.
Eli Broad and Joe Watkins have no business making education policy. If they want to support the work of professionals, that's fine, but they need to do so in roles that acknowledge and strengthen the people who actually do the job.
They need to back off.