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Leadership: Reform Zombies Or Untrained Rookies?

ScreenHunter_01 Oct. 15 13.58It seems to me that reform critics want to have it both ways when it comes to the Broad Superintendents program -- claiming at various times that (a) everyone who's participated in the program has been brainwashed into some sort of reform zombie and -- more recently -- (b) the program is skimpy and weak in terms of preparing candidates to run or help run big city school systems.  ("It takes a Chia Pet longer to grow than the 6 weekends a person spends at the Broad Academy training to be a superintendent," quipped Chicago teacher Michelle Gunderson @MSGunderson via Mike Klonsky.)  

Well, which is it -- reform zombie or untrained rookie?  Can't be both, though I'm sure some will make the claim.    

The "reform zombie" thesis has always seemed thin to me, given the fact that these are mid-career folks who have their own experiences and ideas of the world, and frankly because the program wasn't even an in-depth residential kind of thing but rather more like an executive MBA program in which participants stayed in their current jobs and lives in between training. They also need to get hired by a school board, and to work with teachers, unions, and career administrators.

The "six weekends" line seems to come from Parents Across America's Guide to the Broad Foundation's programs and policies, according to which "The Broad Superintendents Academy runs a training program held during six weekends over ten months, after which graduates are placed in large districts as superintendents." 

That may have been true at some point, but I'm told by the Broad Foundation that the training is now taking place over a longer, 18-month period, and "has always been a very intensive program." I'm also told that the Broad Center has applied for and been deemed eligible by WASC to to apply for accreditation as a traditional Master's program, mirroring a process that TFA and others have gone through in order to be able to do their own training.  So if there's a problem there, it's weak accreditation standards.  

There is, as we've recently seen, no guaranteed route to effective, successful school district leadership. Traditionally trained school superintendents remain the norm and have demonstrated more than their fair share of weak results over a long period of time (think Crew, Byrd-Bennett, Cortines, Alvarado, etc). So have newer, nontraditional superintendents who come from business, or the military, or wherever, though more recently (think Rhee, Klein, Duncan, etc.).

It's also worth noting that many traditionally trained superintndents have been adopting reform approaches, for better or worse, out of frustration with smaller, incremental approaches that haven't worked, or in pursuit of foundation funding, or other reasons.  

What I haven't seen but would love to read are some descriptions from Broad Superintendents participants themselves about what the experience is really like, ideologically and otherwise, what pressures are perceived.  

NB:  Yes, I'm going to next week's Broad Prize event and have been to (and been reimbursed for attending) Broad events in the past.  


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