When someone gets to the other side, if they look back, do they question how they could have led their life differently, in this case, in particular, the late Eli Broad and his influence on public education?
First, it’s troubling the United States doesn’t tax the wealthy the way they should and that Americans don’t unite to invest in their public schools proudly. Their democratic ownership of public education is misunderstood. Instead, schools have increasingly been handed over to corporate leaders to run through funding handouts.
It’s as Sen. Bernie Sanders said to Betsy DeVos at her confirmation hearing to be education secretary. Do you think that if your family had not made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to the Republican Party that you would be sitting here today?
Eli Broad, like Sam Walton of Walmart fame, attended public school as a child. One could argue public schools helped these men become successful. But Broad, like Walton, promoted school privatization, casting doubt and demonstrating downright hatred of the public education system.
According to The New York Times, Broad’s legacy is wide and generous. He made his fortune in home building and insurance. He transformed Los Angeles into a cultural haven with a $140 million art center and helped create other music halls and cultural centers around California.
Like other philanthropists, like the Koch brothers, Broad’s presence is also felt in the sciences. He and his wife, Edythe, set up the Broad Center for the Biological Sciences at the California Institute of Technology, the centers for regenerative medicine and stem-cell research at several California universities, and the Broad Institute, run jointly with Harvard and MIT, focused on biomedical and genomic research.
Forgive me if I’ve left out anything. My point is that Broad did some good by all accounts.
Broad’s Influence on Public Schools
It appears he left scientists to find the answers to the most vexing problems, which is how it should be.
With public schools, Broad, like many other venture philanthropists, would not do this. As one example, he created a 44-page plan to replace public schools with charters in The Great Public Schools Now Initiative.
Once supposed to be for teachers to lead, charter schools are mostly run by educational management operations and lack accountability. Teachers usually play a small role in how they work. The Network for Public Education has a series of reports about charter school fraud.
According to Marc Haefele and Eli Broad and the End of Public Education, Broad’s plan is filled with mistakes.
Haefele describes Broad as not liking his high school because teachers found his constant questions annoying. Still, for a while, Broad supported public schools in LA. He gave $200,000 toward a $3.3 billion bond measure for 20 new LAUSD schools in 2000.
In 2007, he co-founded Strong American Schools, a lobby for better schooling that reportedly eschewed “controversial’’ topics like vouchers and charter schools. But soon, his Strong American Schools partner Bill Gates was rooting for charters, and Broad followed. Yet, as recently as his 2012 autobiography, he didn’t find conventional public education hopeless.
That changed. He pushed to de-professionalize real educators instead of lifting them to higher ground. He manipulated school boards to change schools to his vision.
Like many privatizers, Broad did not seem to see the connection between the knowledge and experience of real teachers and administrators who study and work with children or the importance of community participation to public education.
The country is now flush with non-profits and groups of individuals who have little knowledge about how children learn. They have little or no real experience in a classroom, are far removed from the community, may not live anywhere near the schools they influence. Yet they drive school changes, however unremarkable or damaging.
Broad’s latest school privatization effort includes The Broad Center at Yale. Business management is tasked with creating great schools. We should be questioning how such a group will impact our public schools. How much time do they spend studying child development and classroom work with children?
He hailed New Leaders for New Schools, now called New Leaders, a program that drives real principals out and takes anyone, even if they’ve never worked with children, to place them in that role.
Broad believed leadership was important for public schools, and few would disagree. But we wouldn’t go to a doctor with lesser preparation or only a degree in business management. Why would we subject students to minimally prepared teachers, principals, superintendents, and faux authorities when it comes to schools?
If you want to understand why schools have problems today, look to these folks. They’ve been disrupting schools for thirty years!
Broad promoted Michelle Rhee, who eventually left education, but who was despised by educators for her treatment of teachers and principals in Washington D.C. Rhee’s biggest problem was she wasn’t a real educator. Still, she harshly judged those who were. A negative influence on schools is still felt in the programs that despise real teachers and administrators.
Broad created his own Broad Superintendency Academy (now moving to Yale), which prepares mostly outsiders to transform school districts to Broad’s vision, privatization with charter schools.
He handed out carrots to school districts. He’d give them his Broad Prize for Urban Education if the district performed the way he wanted. He was kind to give college scholarships to students.
But it’s too bad he didn’t focus on uniting the country, bolstering democracy, and helping create world-renowned democratic public schools. He could have put his money where it mattered and helped many students instead of breaking up public schools.
Here’s what I wish Broad would have done.
- Listened to the teachers with education degrees, the real experts who actually work with students, to help address the challenges they find in the classroom and schools.
- Helped real teachers become public school leaders with the skills that matter.
- Created better teacher preparation programs in universities led by real teachers and teachers of color.
- Increased arts programs in every public school in America, especially schools in poor neighborhoods.
- Helped students with disabilities and differences, including those who talk a lot like he did, which may mean gifted students, including those of color, who need attention.
- Helped fund accredited universities and teacher and principal education preparation programs focused on child and adolescent development.
- Worked with teachers to design and rebuild school buildings across the country, especially in poor areas.
- Funded better STEM programs and set up teacher training programs for public schools at STEM-focused universities.
I hope Broad’s failed education projects provide lessons for those like him, the living wealthy, who look to destroy public education, to replace it with a splintered system of unregulated charter schools.
How sad they don’t unite behind and bolster the very schools that would make this country shine. Philanthropists like Broad might take a hint before it’s too late.
Grimes, W. 2021. Eli Broad Who Helped Reshape Los Angeles Dies at 87. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/30/us/eli-broad-dead.html