John Thompson, historian and teacher in Oklahoma City, has written a three-part series about superintendents “trained” by the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy, financed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

He writes:

This second post will provide a brief overview on the backgrounds of people who joined the Broad Academy, and the records they brought to their education jobs, as well as the reports of misbehavior that did not interfere with them climbing the professional ladder. I am making no judgments regarding legal controversies, but reviewing the ways Broad graduates were described when doing their jobs. I am continually struck by the similarities I have seen when trying to work with Broad leaders and what has been reported in regard to Broadies across the nation.

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. Porter left Oklahoma City after a tumultuous seven months. Porter – who was clueless about improving high-poverty schools – later became president of Mosaica Turnaround Partners.

An investigation by a former federal prosecutor found Porter had, “improperly sought reimbursement from the school system for personal, first-class airplane tickets to Washington; that he had been reimbursed for apparent alcohol purchases at expensive restaurants;” and that he asked district employees to perform a personal task at his home. The district attorney did not indict but Porter agreed to resign.

My reading of the evidence was that Porter had not meant to violate the law. Perhaps naively, I concluded that it mostly was his high-handedness that brought him down. Because of his micromanaging style, the people who knew the information he should have sought were not invested in his success. I now believe I was too charitable when sizing up nature of the problems.

Perhaps the most famous Broad leader was John Deasy (class of 2006), When he was superintendent of Prince George’s County in 2008, a controversy erupted over his doctorate of philosophy. He only completed nine credit hours in one semester. Deasy was later driven out of Los Angeles after pushing a $1.3-billion plan to provide an iPad to every student and educator. He did so despite questions about the wisdom of using of long-term bonds to buy devices that would last only a few years. But the overriding issue was the acrimony Deasy fostered. As one educator said, “If you feel the earth begin to violently shake sometime tomorrow, don’t worry — it won’t be an earthquake … “It’ll be 40,000 LAUSD employees dancing.”

When resigning, Deasy wrote that he “was unable to adjust my leadership style and my expectations for the system in a way that would have gotten me longer tenure in the job. I own 100 percent of that.”

Another consequential Broadie, Jean-Claude Brizard (class of 2008), helped provoke the Chicago teachers strike. Brizard came from Rochester where he was “mired in controversy,” and named in at least two federal lawsuits, as well as being condemned for his aggressive reform style and his methods for his handling of teachers and staff. As the Chicago CEO, Brizzard was criticized for his management style, his manner of communication, and high turnover for department heads and cabinet positions.

Conversely, Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana (class of 2006) brought sniffles to teachers in Eugene, Ore., who gave her a standing ovation after she told the inspirational tale of a teacher and a 5th grader. It turned out the story came from a forty-year-old work of fiction.

Joseph Wise (class of 2003), formerly Superintendent of the Duval County Florida Public Schools, left a $26 million deficit while a superintendent in Delaware, before being hired and fired from his Duval post. He moved on to Edison Schools.

Speaking of Edison Schools, in 2007, when its former leader, Chris Cerf (class of 2004), was the acting New Jersey Education Commissioner, The Newark Star Ledger reported that Cerf “can be thin-skinned, quick-tempered and, at times, less than forthcoming, even when the answers to questions could hardly be seen as damaging.” He was criticized for not identifying his involvement in a consulting firm which developed a secret plan to turn many Newark public schools over to charter operators.

The Broad Foundation acknowledged that it put up $500,000 to pay for the study.

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 that brings me back to Oklahoma, and whether we were sufficiently inquisitive about our first Broad graduate. After Porter resigned, the Washington Post took a second look at his record. It reported:

In a June 2006 interview with District Administration, a magazine for school administrators, Porter confessed a weakness for fine dining — “I try to find the top 10 in new cities I travel to” — and fine things: “I like expensive clothes, expensive cars. I collect pens. I collect Rolex watches.”

The Post reviewed expense records for the last full year Porter worked in Montgomery County and it noted three items:
One was Porter’s first-class flight to San Francisco for a conference in April 2006, which cost $1,379.50. “Our people don’t fly first class,” said Brian Edwards, Weast’s chief of staff. The others were a pair of December 2006 purchases at Best Buy stores totaling $373.46. There’s no evidence Porter recorded them in a transaction log, as required by the school system.

More importantly, the Post looked into “other aspects of Porter’s work in Montgomery [that] also are being questioned as a result of the Oklahoma City investigation.” The Post reported on his relationship “with a New York high-tech firm. Oklahoma City school board members alleged Porter last year arranged a contract with Wireless Generation that ‘was not, but should have been, open to competitive bidding.’ The contract provided diagnostic reading software to Oklahoma City schools.

Again, I’m not qualified to investigate legal matters. My focus is the attitudes and demeanor of Broad graduates. If you believe that education leaders should be technocrats, not people persons, that’s one thing. But if you believe that politics and human interactions are keys to education improvement, the patterns that I have seen and read about are important. In a third post, I will further stress what I saw firsthand in Oklahoma City, and how it is representative of the ways that the Broad culture has infected public schools across the nation.