How Hard It Is To Translate Policy into Practice: The Broad Superintendency Academy

EDUCATION POLITICS-One would think that top decision-makers and philanthropists would learn a few lessons after these many years they have struggled in negotiating the pot-holed strewn road from adopting policies to changes in school and classroom practice. Perhaps a touch of humility in face of the complexity they face in improving urban schools. Or more consideration of the professional expertise that practitioners have. Not yet. Consider the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation’s Broad Superintendents Academy (BSA). 

Eli Broad made it clear that he knew how to run successful businesses. He wanted customer-driven knowledge to be applied to urban public schools. At one conference, he said, “We don’t know anything about how to teach or reading curriculum or any of that, but what we do know about is management and governance.” What Broad did not say was that managing and governing are not the same as converting key policies into classroom lessons.[i] 

The BSA was created to prepare a new breed of market-aware district leaders to raise student academic achievement and reduce the test score gap between minorities and whites. BSA, however, has quietly struggled with the trip from policy to practice. It is an 18-month program of extended weekends and internships for educators and non-educators (for example, ex-military officers, business leaders, and government officials). But determining how many graduates have become urban superintendents and how long they have served is difficult because of fragmentary and biased data salted liberally with conflicting accounts from Broad and its critics.[ii] 

In attracting fresh recruits from the military, businesses, and government to enter urban education posts, the Academy has, to a small degree, altered the administrative workforce in urban settings. But whether Broad graduates stay longer or perform better as school chiefs than those trained in traditional university administration programs, I do not know. I do not know because since 2002 when BSA began, none of its nearly 200 graduates have stayed in a district superintendency for over seven years—a term that some observers believe is sufficient to show signs of student success. 

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Broad officials say five years is the minimum, but I could still only find two BSA graduates who served that long: Superintendents Abelardo Saavedra in Houston (TX) and Mark Roosevelt in Pittsburgh (PA).[iii] 

Lacking data on longevity and performance of urban school chiefs has persuaded independent observers (including myself) that the Broad pipeline into top leadership posts has not led to better test scores or significantly altered existing school structures.[iv] 

Part 2 will take up the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation’s recent suspension of the $1 million prize for urban districts that had improved student achievement and reduced the test score gap between and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations dropping of their decade-long journey to improve U.S. high schools. 

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[i] Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine, “Bill Gates School Crusade,” July 15, 2010.

 

[ii] For press releases from Broad Superintendents Academy, see website.  For a highly critical view, see Sharon Higgins, a parent who has followed Broad graduates of the Academy and other programs.  As of 2011 there were 165 graduates. The Foundation released no figures for 2012 and 2013.

 

[iii] Angela Pascopella, “Superintendent Staying Power,” District Administration, April 2011, Retrieved November 3, 2024.

 

[iv] Further evidence of the struggle to go from policy-to-practice is the announcement that the Broad Foundation no longer will give a $1million prize, begun in 2002, to urban districts that have improved student achievement and reduced the test score gap between minorities and whites. See: Howard Blume, “Broad Foundation Suspends $1-million Prize for Urban School Districts,” Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2015. For a recent study of the correlation between superintendents and student achievement, see Larry Cuban, “Superintendents and Test Scores,” October 14, 2014 at: Retrieved November 17, 2014.

 

(Larry Cuban is a former high school social studies teacher, district superintendent and university professor. He lives in Los Angeles.  Follow @CubanLarry.  Larry.cuban.wordpress.com

-cw

 

 

 

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 15

Pub: Feb 20, 2015