(Getty/maroke)

How billionaire charter school funders corrupted the school leadership pipeline

Charter school funders have turned school leadership into a cartel system focused on enriching businesses


Jeff Bryant
October 20, 2019 2:00PM (UTC)
This article was produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

It’s rare when goings-on in Kansas City schools make national headlines, but in 2011 the New York Times reported on the sudden departure of the district’s superintendent John Covington, who resigned unexpectedly with only a 30-day notice. Covington, who had promised to “transform” the long-troubled district, “looked like a silver bullet” for all the district’s woes, according to the Los Angeles Times. He had, in a little more than two years, quickly set about remaking the district’s administrative staff, closing nearly half the schools, revamping curriculum, and firing teachers while hiring Teach for America recruits.

The story of Covington’s sudden departure caught the attention of coastal papers no doubt because it perpetuated a common media narrative about hard-charging school leaders becoming victims of school districts’ supposed resistance to change and the notoriously short tenures of superintendents.

Advertisement:

Although there may be some truth to that narrative, the main reason Covington left Kansas City was not because he was pushed out by job stress or an obstinate resistance. He left because a rich man offered him a job.

Following the reporting by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times about Covington’s unexpected resignation, news emerged from the Kansas City Star that days after he resigned, he took a position as the first chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan, a new state agency that, according to Michigan Radio, sought “radical” leadership to oversee low-performing schools in Detroit.

But at the time of Covington’s departure, it seemed no outlet could have described the exact circumstances under which he was lured away. That would come out years later in the Kansas City Star where reporter Joe Robertson described a conversation with Covington in which he admitted that squabbles with board members “had nothing to do” with his departure. What caused Covington’s exit, Robertson reported, was “a phone call from Spain.”

Advertisement:

That call, Covington told Robertson, was what led to Covington’s departure from Kansas City — because it brought a message from billionaire philanthropist and major charter school booster Eli Broad. “John,” Broad reportedly said, “I need you to go to Detroit.”

It wasn’t the first time Covington, who was a 2008 graduate of a prestigious training academy funded through Broad’s foundation (the Broad Center), had come into contact with the billionaire’s name and clout. Broad was also the most significant private funder of the new Michigan program he summoned Covington to oversee, providingmore than $6 million in funding from 2011 to 2013, according to the Detroit Free Press.

But Covington’s story is more than a single instance of a school leader doing a billionaire’s bidding. It sheds light on how decades of a school reform movement, financed by Broad and other philanthropists and embraced by politicians and policymakers of all political stripes, have shaped school leadership nationwide.

Advertisement:

Charter advocates and funders — such as Broad, Bill Gates, some members of the Walton Family Foundation, John Chubb, and others who fought strongly for schools to adopt the management practices of private businesses — helped put into place a school leadership network whose members are very accomplished in advancing their own careers and the interests of private businesses while they rankle school boards, parents, and teachers.

Our Schools interviewed Thomas Pedroni, an associate professor of curriculum studies at Wayne State University in Detroit and a longtime observer of reform efforts in Detroit and Michigan. According to Pedroni, the school leadership network, especially in large, urban school districts, wields a cartel-like influence that seeks to wrestle school governance away from democratically elected school boards and outsource district management to private contractors, often in the ed-tech industry. These businesses frequently have close associations with colleagues in school reform circles that are directly connected to the Broad network or seek the network’s favor.

Advertisement:

The actions of these leaders are often disruptive to communities, as school board members chafe at having their work undermined, teachers feel increasingly removed from decision making, and local citizens grow anxious at seeing their taxpayer dollars increasingly redirected out of schools and classrooms and into businesses whose products and services are of questionable value.

The Broad factor

In her seminal 2011 essay in Dissent magazine, Joanne Barkan described Broad’s influence on education as one of the “Big Three” funders — along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation — whose “size and clout” have been instrumental in driving the education reform movement’s success. Through his private foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Broad has directed huge sums of money to initiate dramatic changes to school systems and educational leadership.

Advertisement:

With a mission to “advance entrepreneurship” in education and other fields, Broad’s education donations have focused, according to the organization’s 2010 annual report, on “two issues Eli Broad knew well from his days in business: governance and management — school board to superintendent.”

Broad’s efforts to transform school governance and management include conducting a training center for school leaders; advocating for school governance models that emphasize business methodologies rather than democratic engagement; circumnavigating traditional teacher preparation programs by funding Teach for America; and supporting charter schools and organizations and political candidatesthat promote charters.

In 2011, when Covington was in Kansas City, leaders of the nation’s three biggest districts — New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago — were products of the Broad pipeline, reported Education Week, and “21 of the nation’s 75 largest districts” had “superintendents or other highly placed” administrators who had “undergone Broad training.”

Advertisement:

Upon Broad’s retirement in 2017, “experts” quoted in Education Week contended “his legacy in reshaping how private money can influence policy, and the politics around those ideas will extend into the foreseeable future.”

In describing Broad’s impact on school leadership, Barkan quoted a memorable phrase from Frederick Hess, an education scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a reform-minded advocacy organization. Hess asserted that while most philanthropists focus on funding “programs,” Broad believed in creating “pipelines . . . for talented practitioners to advance and influence” how schools are managed and governed.

“Once Broad alumni are working inside the education system, they naturally favor hiring other Broadies,” Barkan added.

Broad’s investments in education reform were about redesigning schools “to function like corporate enterprises,” wrote education historian Diane Ravitch in her 2010 bestselling book The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

Advertisement:

Acting more “corporate” was often interpreted by reform-driven school leaders to adopt a corporate language infused with business principles such as resource maximization, market competition, and getting a return on education investment. To make this business-minded agenda more palatable to the education community, practitioners of the reform creed tend to wrap their management practices in the rhetoric of being “about kids,” with promises to promote “equity” and “student-centered learning.”

But regardless of their intentions, reform-minded leaders, once in positions of power, have frequently been criticized for being “hostile to teachers,” “dictatorial,” and “anti-democratic.”

Also, despite their high-minded intentions, reform-driven school leaders, including those in the Broad community, don’t always have a clear, consistent track record of accomplishments. Most research studies on the impact school superintendents have on school performance and student achievement have found negligible results, and there are few to none independent research studies on the effectiveness of Broad leaders.

Further, the influence of the reform movement Broad helped enable is generally considered to be on the wane. The grab bag of policies the movement promoted—including high-stakes testing, curriculum standards, test-based teacher evaluation systems, and charter schools—is far from being uniformly successful. And many former acolytes of the cause increasingly consider the reform movement as over and a mostly failed endeavor.

Advertisement:

But what Broad has done to shape school leadership is likely to stick, not because it has proven to help turn around troubled schools, but because it’s turned school leadership into a profession that does what corporations often do best: advance personal careers and help create higher profits for private enterprises.

A school leadership "cartel"

Due to the influence of the reform movement, school leadership has undergone a “reorganization,” according to Thomas Pedroni of Wayne State University in Detroit.

In a phone conversation, Pedroni called school leaders who practice “market-based” approaches advocated by Broad and other reformers another effort aimed at “privatizing as much of the public system as possible.”

Advertisement:

While the history of efforts to privatize public education extends decades before the advent of the reform movement, Pedroni believes the reform ideology driven by Broad and other philanthropists has rebranded the effort.

“In the educational privatization sphere, there are two factions,” he explained. “There is the Wild West market faction, which opposes taxation and public institutions and wants government to step completely out of the way once it has created the conditions for so-called educational markets.”

This faction, according to Pedroni, is most prominently represented by current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a native of Michigan Pedroni had long followedprior to her ascendency to the Trump administration. Like Broad, DeVos used millions of dollars of her family’s money to remake public education systems to allow parents to use public funds to pay for private school tuition and to oppose attempts to regulate the private charter school industry.

“The other” faction pushing privatization, Pedroni said, is a bit different and not as aligned with conservative politics.

That faction seeks to “use the state as a regulatory body to control entry to the market,” Pedroni said. This faction supports taxing the populace to pay for public schools, and they want to keep funding in the public system. But they want to limit who can make decisions about how that money is spent and to keep those decisions behind a managerial curtain.

“I refer to the latter faction as more of the cartel system of market control,” he said.

Pedroni sees Broad as very much falling into the latter of the two camps. For instance, although Broad is a huge fan of charter schools, he also sent a letter to U.S. senators asking them to vote against DeVos when she was nominated to be secretary.

While members of an industrial cartel work to increase their collective profits by means of price-fixing, limiting supply, or other restrictive practices, Broad-inspired school leaders are seen by Pedroni to be working to increase their collective power by disrupting community-based governance, creating mutually beneficial relationships with private businesses, and limiting the supply of leadership ideas that are acceptable for transforming schools.

One can see, in the track record of Broad-infused school leaders like John Covington, the workings of this cartel.

Covington’s business connection

In leadership positions in both Kansas City and Detroit, Covington is considered by many observers to have had an impact on student achievement that was minimal or negative. Yet, in both Kansas City and Detroit, his impact on the community disruption was profound.

During his tenure in Kansas City, Covington generally angered teachers and parentsand focused on leadership imperatives more familiar in the business community, such as “right-sizing.” Student scores on standardized tests declined under his tenure, and after he left, the Kansas City district lost its accreditation due to continuing low achievement. In a 2014 article, Kansas Star reporter Joe Robertson wrote, “Most of the classroom reforms Covington started in Kansas City were subsequently dropped.”

Covington also left his Michigan position under a cloud of controversy over the lack of academic progress in the schools and questions about tens of thousands of dollars a month spent on travel expenses by his administration. The state-operated district he led was regarded as a failure and was shut down in 2017.

But what Covington brought with him from Kansas City to Detroit was his connection to Broad and his relationships with private businesses — most notably, a software company called Agilix, its Buzz learning platform, and the School Improvement Network (SINET) consulting firm.

As was reported in the Detroit Metro Times by Curt Guyette, the same journalist who would later break the Flint water crisis story, after Covington was instrumental in bringing Agilix and its software platform to Kansas City, he then promoted the product to the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) as a critical component of “student centered learning.” Under the EAA’s direction, as the Michigan ACLU reported, the district paid a total of $1.9 million to SINET to use Buzz, which “was merged with another educational software” organization. SINET had also partnered with Agilix in Kansas City, according to Guyette.

Guyette recounted how Covington and his employee Mary Esselman, who also came with him from Kansas City, worked to get the Buzz software platform “expanded” not only in Michigan but across the country, often as what Esselman and company representatives referred to as a “joint project between EAA,” SINET and Agilix officials.

Using emails obtained by Michigan ACLU, with assistance from Pedroni, Guyette detailed how the software was barely functional and increasingly angered teachers who were forced to use it. “We’re building this plane as we fly it,” Esselman was reportedly fond of saying.

Broad’s presence loomed large in the emails. In an email to an Agilix employee, Esselman wrote, “As you know we are still struggling our way through how to meet the varying needs of different levels of the organization as it relates to Buzz … the big issues prior to our visits from the governor, head of education committee, and Eli Broad.”

In another email to several Agilix support staff, Esselman wrote, “Guys . . . We have Eli Broad, the governor, Head of Education in the House and Senate, hedge funders, etc. coming . . . If we don’t fix this they will not be on the platform and it will be a debacle. This is important.”

Covington’s efforts to advance the interests of education-related businesses, while disrupting the community and accomplishing little on improving academic achievement, are recurring themes of many Broad network school leaders.

Litany of scandals

For years, Sharon Higgins kept an impressive running account on her Broad Report website of superintendents who graduated from the Broad academy and their various debacles.

Among the list of past leaders is Maria Goodloe-Johnson, a 2003 graduate of the Broad program, who as superintendent of Seattle schools alienated teachers by hiring Teach for America, used false information to manipulate the board, and had numerousongoing conflicts of interest with private nonprofits and consultants. She was fired when an audit found that $1.8 million in contracts awarded through a program she administered “provided no public benefit or were questionable.” After she was fired, Goodloe-Johnson was hired by Covington to be his top academic officer in Michigan.

Another notable Broad-associated leader who became ensnared in financial scandals was John Deasy, a 2006 graduate of the Broad program. Deasy was hired to lead Los Angeles schools in 2010 despite past controversies when he was superintendent of a school district in Maryland where he was investigated for having improperly received a doctorate degree. His questionable credentials were tied to a university dean who, the Washington Post reported, eventually “was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay $510,000 in restitution to the University of Louisville and $1.64 million to the University of Rhode Island” for defrauding the universities of $2.3 million in federal grant funds meant for research into the 2002 No Child Left Behind federal law pushed through by the reform movement. After a seven-month investigation, the university concluded Deasy’s degree was legitimate, and Deasy has denied any connections to the fraud case, according to Nicholas Filipas’ reporting for the Record.

As Los Angeles school superintendent, Deasy frequently angered teachers and “irked” school board members. Although graduation rates improved under Deasy, studies eventually showed that widely used credit recovery programs using low-quality, computer-based instruction made those increases suspect.

Deasy’s tenure was overwhelmed by scandals with private contractors, including the rollout of a new student records system “widely described as ‘disastrous’” and a $1.3 billion failed iPad program, which Deasy personally brokered with Apple and the Pearson publishing company, that added to district budget deficits. His resignation in 2014 did little to dampen Broad’s desires to privatize Los Angeles schools by turning half into charters, which was revealed in a plan leaked to the press the following year. Months after Deasy resigned, the Broad Center hired him as a consultant.

A list of Broad-trained school leaders compiled in 2018 by the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch highlighted other Broad graduates with deep ties to the school reform community, private nonprofits and businesses, and the charter school industry.

A 2019 retrospective on the influence of Broad-trained leaders written by retired school teacher Tom Ultican put the count of graduates at 243 people and noted the abundance of alumni who figure prominently in the charter school industry, including:

  • Tom Torkelson, founder of IDEA Public Schools (a charter operator);
  • Diane Tavenner, founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools (a chartermanagement organization);
  • Cristina de Jesus, president of Green Dot Public Schools California (“a non-profit network of charter schools”);
  • Soner Tarim, founder of Harmony Public Schools (“one of the largest K-12 charter school networks in Texas,” according to the Broad Center); and
  • Caprice Young, founder of the California Charter Schools Association.

But perhaps no one has leveraged the Broad network more adroitly than Joseph Wise.

Leveraging the cartel

A 2003 graduate of the Broad Academy, Wise partnered with David Sundstrom in 2007 to create Atlantic Research Partners (ARP), which eventually grew to include superintendent search services, school leader professional development programs, and district consulting services. Their business model made it possible to place new school leaders, often from the ranks of Broad programs, into positions where they could aid in pushing districts toward purchasing other products and services from ARP’s other businesses.

Wise and Sundstrom also co-founded and helped lead a Chicago charter school network, and Wise is CEO and co-founder of Acceleration Academies, a for-profit charter school chain, where Sundstrom also serves as chairman of the board.

The Wise-Sundstrom conglomerate also includes Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI), a controversial company that acts as an intermediary bringing together school administrators and education vendors to help companies improve the products and services they offer school systems. Specifically, ERDI arranged get-togethers by paying superintendents consulting fees plus expenses to travel to conferences at luxury resorts where they would meet with company representatives, according to a 2017 investigative report by the New York Times. The companies, in turn, underwrote the conferences with substantial fees paid to ERDI. (ERDI recently issued a press release in which it said honoraria paid to education leaders will be paid “on their behalf to the nonprofit/charitable foundations or organizations of their choice.”)

Broad’s network of school leaders with close associations to ERDI and its events included Barbara Byrd-Bennett, a former Chicago school leader who was sent to prison over a scandal involving secret consultant contracts. During her tenure in Chicago, Byrd-Bennett was hired as an executive coach in the Broad Academy, Substance News reported.

Another Broad graduate Calvin Watts, from the 2018-19 cohort, who became superintendent in Kent School District, Washington, became mired in controversy when board members questioned why he had participated in five ERDI-hosted conferences. In the ensuing fallout, both parents and teachers demanded Watts resign, and a group of parents filed a lawsuit accusing Watts of “misleading the public” and having “steered” the district into “the equivalent of bankruptcy.” In 2019, the Kent school board ceased automatic renewal of Watts’ contract to ensure his term isn’t renewed beyond June 30, 2021.

However, scandals resulting from Wise’s ERDI group have not prevented Broad-trained school leaders from developing similar business arrangements that thrust school leaders into potential conflicts of interest.

Broad entrepreneur Robert Avossa

Robert Avossa, Broad Academy graduate of 2011, has built a formidable business enterprise resembling the one Wise created, and school leaders attracted to the Broad network have recently been ensnared by it.

In his four-year stint as superintendent of Fulton County (Atlanta, Georgia) schools, Avossa compiled a generally positive list of accomplishments including raising graduation rates and standardized test scores while pushing for fewer standardized tests. He also shepherded the district through its first years as the state’s “largest‘charter’ district in Georgia, which” gave it the “freedom” to expand “options” such as charter schools.

Yet, Avossa left Fulton County suddenly to take a position as head of Palm Beach County, Florida, schools, where his management style became much more controversial. Under his leadership, administrator ranks surged and their salaries soared, relationships with board members became more adversarial, student achievement gains fell significantly short of desired goals, and his push to hire a Boston-based consulting group, Education Resources Strategies, to conduct a $570,000 study on the district’s financial resources drew widespread questioning.

After serving a little over three years, Avossa abruptly resigned in 2018 to join publishing company LRP Media Group that specializes in the school leadership market. LRP publishes District Administration, a long-running magazine distributed for free to qualified subscribers. The publication generates most of its revenues by selling advertising to companies that market education-related products and services.

The same year Avossa joined LRP as senior vice president and publisher of education products, a short article in District Administration announced LRP had also acquired the National Superintendents Academy, a leadership professional development business previously owned by Atlantic Research Partners, the company owned by fellow Broad graduate Joseph Wise.

The article includes a quote from the former managing director of the National Superintendents Academy Peter Gorman, who was Avossa’s boss at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, where Gorman served as superintendent and Avossa as chief strategy and accountability officer. Gorman is a graduate of the Broad Academy, class 2004.

LRP’s events business includes professional development “summits” for school leaders and a graduate style academy, à la Broad, where “motivated participants” can “[l]earn from highly successful superintendents and executives.”

The events often feature speakers who are Broad Academy graduates, including Gorman and former Sacramento superintendent Jonathan Raymond.

In testimonials featured on the website promoting the events, previous attendees describe a scenario much like what occurs at ERDI events in which school officials interact with the event “sponsors,” meet “the people behind the product,” learn “research” about the products, and “try the products out.” One participant, Jake Seely, says, “This event is better than ERDI.”

Companies that have signed up to be District Administration sponsoring partners — called “thought leaders” who “are committed to improving outcomes for our nation’s students” — include Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, and Sprint.

A typical agenda for a summit event includes an evening reception and dinner with “entertainment” on day one, an hour-long keynote from Gorman on day two, and numerous “Thought Leader Presentations” through the second and third days in which, presumably, companies present their wares.

The summits and the academy are advertised in District Administration magazine along with ads from education marketers, and advertorials — paid articles that mimic editorial — selling products and services for school leaders.

Many of the advertisers in District Administration are also clients of ERDI, including Dreambox, which purchases the inside front cover space, one of the most expensive pages, and sponsored advertorial space.

Broad wannabes

When school leaders aren’t in the Broad inner circle, they often want to be and will go to great lengths to curry the network’s favor.

In Clarke County (Athens, Georgia), local journalists and citizens have been digging into superintendent Demond Means’ relationship with Avossa and the Broad network. Based on documents obtained by a public records request, Flagpole Magazine reporter Rebecca McCarthy delved into Means’ efforts to get into the Broad school leadership training program and his hiring of Avossa as a consultant to assist his efforts.

“Means approved a $15,000 contract with Avossa for 10 days of consultations, plus travel and other expenses,” McCarthy noted, and Avossa helped “Means in a number of different ways, in addition to coaching him on applying to the Broad Academy. These services include refining presentations, offering tips on how to handle community concerns and editing documents,” including a letter sent to school board member John Knox “accusing Knox of micromanagement and unprofessional behavior (which Knox denies).”

When Avossa was superintendent of Palm Beach County schools, he had requested the board allow him to hire his former boss and Broad graduate Gorman as an “executive coach” to help train and advise the district’s administrators.

Documents a Clarke County citizen obtained via an open records request also show that while he was being paid to advise Means, Avossa sent three emails to Means inviting him to attend a District Administration Leadership Institute summit in Atlanta on September 18-20, 2019, with Avossa’s company covering “airfare (up to $400), lodging” and meals. It’s not clear whether Means accepted the offer.

Under Avossa’s wing, Means eventually had an interview with the Broad Academy requiring him to fly to Los Angeles to be among the 2019 Broad fellows. He wasn’t chosen. “Their loss,” Avossa wrote after getting the disappointing news.

Means also drew flak when a parent group filed an ethics complaint accusing him of having a conflict of interest with Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a private nonprofit offering consulting and training programs claiming to close race-defined achievement gaps and raise the percentage of students enrolling in college. Flagpole reported that Means recommended “the board spend $511,000 to send teachers for [AVID] training” without disclosing that he had an ongoing business relationship with AVID in which he received $500 for a day’s work.

Means was eventually cleared of the conflict of interest charges.

AVID is also a client of ERDI.

The role search firms play 

To avoid conflict of interest issues, school districts have frequently relied on leadership search firms to vet candidates for high administrative positions. But previous investigations of school leadership search firms have found these companies frequently forego background checks of prospective candidates they recommend, promote favored candidates regardless of their experience or track record, and push board members to keep the entire search process, including the final candidates, confidential from public scrutiny.

Covington left his leadership position in Michigan and applied to be superintendent of Nashville schools. When his name came up as a finalist in a search conducted by Schaumburg, Illinois-based Hazard, Young, Attea, and Associates (HYA), local news outlet the Tennessean raised the alarm about his troubled past. Board members questioned how the search was conducted, and the local “teachers’ union said basic due diligence was not followed in vetting candidates” and asked for a refund of at least some of the money spent with the search firm, according to Nashville NBC affiliate WSMV-TV.

After the fallout over Covington’s inclusion in the Nashville search, for which HYA was hired to consult, the finalist for the position turned down the job. The Nashville board had to conduct another search, this time hiring search firm Jim Huge and Associates.

Broad graduates dominated the roster of finalists recommended by Huge. Of the six finalists, three — Bradley Leon, Allen Smith, and Kenneth Zeff — were graduates of the Broad academy. Another, Joel Boyd, was accused of being a Broad acolyte in 2013 while he led the Santa Fe district.

Of the remaining two candidates — Jesus Jara and Shawn Joseph — Joseph got the job. But Joseph quickly became mired in conflict of interest issues for pushing through no-bid contracts with companies Joseph had close associations with and were also questioned by Nashville school board member Amy Frogge, as Our Schools has previously reported, “about possible connections these vendors might have to ERDI. A district audit would confirm that ERDI’s affiliated companies—including Performance Matters, Discovery Education, and six other companies — had signed contracts totaling more than $17 million with the district since Joseph had been hired.”

It’s not clear whether or not superintendent search firms tend to favor candidates who have come through the Broad program, but there are numerous examples where Broad alumni were at the top of the lists in searches that hired superintendent search contractors. Calvin Watts was chosen as superintendent for the Kent County, Washington, school district following a search contracted to be overseen by the search firm Ray and Associates. Means was sole finalist in the Clarke County, Georgia, superintendent search conducted by HYA. Although Means would eventually fail to get into the Broad Academy, he had expressed enough interest in the Broad Foundation to apply and work with Avossa.

Wait, it gets worse

Public school districts will continue to be vulnerable prey for businesses and education reform careerists as long as “markets are still viewed as a good thing,” Pedroni said.

“Education is still viewed as a gold mine,” he stated, and even when companies have horrible results, they still reap huge profits because education reform advocates believe for-profit corporations have the secret sauce for school improvement.

It doesn’t help that the latest version of school reform federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, enables businesses to have even more power over public schools.

According to that law, reported Education Week, school accrediting organizations that judge the worthiness of education programs are now also allowed to sell school improvement products and services.

Among the first organizations to take advantage of this opportunity is AdvancED, an accreditation agency that recently rebranded as Cognia after it acquired Measured Progress that offers online classroom-observation tools, consultant services, and teacher and leadership training programs. Measured Progress is also a client of ERDI.

That arrangement, EdWeek reporter Daarel Burnette II noted, gives unregulated organizations like Cognia the power to “use the heavy stick of accreditation to nudge states, districts, and schools into buying its growing list of school improvement services.”

At least four states, Burnette reported, “have already taken up AdvancED [now Cognia]’s offer of expanded services to some degree, signing contracts ranging from $250,000 to $1 million.”

To understand the true power of this new arrangement, keep your eyes on Clarke County, Georgia. In his ongoing conflict with school board members, superintendent Means recently “implore[d Cognia] to intervene in the school district,” Blake Aued of Flagpole magazine reported, “citing what he calls micromanagement on the part of several school board members.”

Should Cognia take up Means’ offer and threaten to take away the district’s accreditation, who would be surprised to see the district being pushed into a contract for consulting or training services from Cognia?

It would be yet another example in the well-documented narrative of reform advocates going to incredible lengths to take care of each other, regardless of the damages they may have left in their wake.

In fact, when Covington suddenly resigned from his position in Michigan, he didn’t have to worry about where he would go next. Soon after leaving, he was hired with a contract for $300,000 to start a new school reform initiative — for the Broad Foundation.

To learn more about school privatization, check out Who Controls Our Schools? The Privatization of American Public Education, a free ebook published by the Independent Media Institute.

Click here to read a selection of Who Controls Our Schools? published on AlterNet, or here to access the complete text.

This article was produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


Jeff Bryant

Jeff Bryant is a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm.

MORE FROM Jeff Bryant



Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •