Foundations influence urban school leadership

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

As large urban districts including Philadelphia grapple with the challenges of finding the right school leaders, they have been influenced by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which has taken upon itself the task of recruiting and training prospective big-city superintendents and CEOs.

The foundation runs the Broad Superintendents Academy and the Broad Residency in Urban Education. The academy is a 10-month program that trains experienced executives from business, the military, the nonprofit sector, and government to run urban school districts. The residency is a two-year program that puts experienced executives from the private sector inside urban districts, charter organizations, and departments of education, often to coordinate major projects and learn the ropes of education management. Broad’s philosophy is that the best practices in the corporate world will also work well in education.

Former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman was a Broad superintendent-in-residence before being hired in Philadelphia. Tom Brady, who served as the interim CEO before Ackerman’s arrival, was a retired Army colonel who went through the Broad Academy.

The Wallace Foundation also invests in educational leadership, but focuses its efforts on developing and expanding the pool of effective principals. It disseminates and generates reports on school leadership, creates tools including how-to guides for principals, and funds initiatives in selected districts. It is now underwriting a program in six districts, including New York and Denver, to define the job of principals, provide high-quality training, hire the best people, and provide evaluation and support.

Note: Erica Lepping of the Broad Foundation contacted the Notebook to provide a clarification to Broad’s approach to school leadership. She wrote: “The Broad philosophy is that school districts can benefit from incorporating continuous improvement models used by high-performing government agencies and nonprofits that have similarly sought to modernize and innovate to insure that taxpayer dollars optimally serve the public.”

These “continuous improvement” models in areas including assessment, budgeting, professional development, instruction, and facilities have been used by high-performing urban districts that have been awarded the Broad Prize for Urban Education.

She said that there are “many corporate best practices that have no place in education,” or cannot be transferred easily to school districts due to “nonprofit/taxpayer/public service/democratic considerations.”