Not sure what to think of Mike Miles, the Dallas school board's pick for new superintendent? Here's a shortcut. Decide what you think of the Broad Superintendents Academy (BSA).
Miles is a 2011 graduate of a boot camp for school superintendents in Los Angeles founded and funded by a foundation named for billionaire businessman and education philanthropist Eli Broad. Depending on who's talking, the BSA is either the answer to our educational prayers or a fat-cat fascist plot to turn American school children into bubble-test-taking corporate zombies.
A pay-walled report in Education Week published last year cited fear and trepidation among teachers and activists across the country as more and more Broadies take over major school districts. But the same piece also cited some successes.
In Pittsburgh, for example, a BSA-produced superintendent presided over a school system that saw substantial uniform increases in test scores in a five-year period from 2005 to 2010. In other districts, BSA supers have produced mixed results or declines.
One trend is consistent. The BSA supers, who are often former military, come into districts with a mission to kick ass and take names. In some districts, the results have been brutal. Last year in Rochester, New York, 95 percent of teachers taking part in an approval poll on that district's BSA superintendent voted no confidence.
In general the role of the Broad Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other education activism groups funded by the mega-wealthy has been viewed with suspicion by some as an attempt to achieve a corporate-style takeover of public education. Their critics accuse them of a heavy-handed emphasis on privatization and of enforcing productivity measurements more appropriate to an assembly line than an academy.
In an impassioned screed published in April of last year in The Pacific Free Press, liberal journalist Chris Hedges painted all of these groups, but especially Broad, as barbarians at the gates of public education in America.
"Passing bubble tests," Hedges wrote, "celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations.
"They don't want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs."
At the very least, one trend is unmistakable and maybe even inescapable when a BSA grad shows up to be your new super. There will be blood.
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In the Education Week piece, author and education reformer Diane Ravitch was quoted saying: "What I see happening is that they colonize districts."
In her 2010 book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch described Broad and similar groups as practitioners of what she called "education venture philanthropy."
"Once there's a Broad superintendent," she told Education Week, "he surrounds himself with Broad fellows, and they have a preference towards privatization. It happens so often, it makes me wonder what they're teaching them."
Apparently we are about to learn that answer.