Superintendents, Inc.

The new Minneapolis public schools super, groomed the corporate way by a conservative foundation

The nonprofit's mission dovetails with Eli Broad's political aims as well. In 1999, according to Governance magazine, Broad contributed $200,000 toward a slate of candidates who ultimately succeeded in taking over the L.A. school board. Two years later, he and Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan "pressured one board member to scale down a teacher salary increase, and then, when she refused, contributed to a candidate who ousted her in the next election," according to Governance.

Just how much influence the foundation's considerable dollars have bought in Minneapolis remains an open question. (Audrey Johnson, the board's point person for the recent search, did not return phone calls for this story.)

On the one hand, many of the candidates seriously considered by the search firm hired to help in Minneapolis's search were Broad grads. If Minneapolis's current school leadership had this aspect of the candidates' backgrounds in mind when they composed their shortlist, it may be a sign that the district has accepted the politically charged notion that running schools like corporations is the way to save the most disadvantaged students.

Changemaker? Thandiwe Peebles has turned around tough schools in Harlem and Cleveland
Walter Novak
Changemaker? Thandiwe Peebles has turned around tough schools in Harlem and Cleveland

On the other hand, there isn't enough on the record to conclude that Peebles and other Broad alumni are swallowing the foundation's agenda wholesale. Even those with questions about Broad's agenda note that its pupils are accomplished professionals capable of ignoring bad advice. (Peebles, for example, is credited with raising test scores and sharpening discipline in failing schools in first Harlem and then Cleveland before encountering Broad.) And not all of the presenters at Broad's academy are grinding radical axes: Attendees have also heard from St. Paul Superintendent Pat Harvey and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Louise Sundin.

Nonetheless, even if the Minneapolis candidates' shared credentials are a coincidence, it suggests that a group of people with an ideological agenda have gained a great deal of influence over the process of minting new education leaders throughout the country. Indeed, last August, Peebles was a finalist for the superintendent's post in Charleston, South Carolina; she lost the job to another Broad alum, Maria Goodloe.

Ousted superintendent David Jennings, a former corporate executive and Republican state lawmaker, was the kind of outsider Broad is attempting to promote as the new reformer of public education. He embraces public charter schools and labor relations reform. But when he was appointed 10 months ago, it was exactly those attributes that made him a lightning rod for leaders in the African American community. It will be worth watching whether Peebles, who is African American and a career educator, in fact advances a similar agenda.

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