Boot Camp for Education CEO's
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The state takeover also brought an era of harsh funding cuts to Oakland, and Ward's budgeting system pushed controversial decisions out of the public eye: To avoid huge classes, a school might have to sacrifice a librarian or a counselor. But there was no school board meeting where Ward had to report in front of a packed and hostile audience that librarians and counselors were being decimated—it all happened quietly, school by school.
Much more visible were Ward's moves to close low-scoring schools and hand out new charters. "We really took accountability seriously," he told a pro-charter writer. "We set up a free market."
Ward left for San Diego after three tumultuous years and was replaced by two more Broad chiefs who continued in his path.
Higgins got angrier and angrier. After four years, she spoke out publicly in a letter to the Oakland Tribune, charging that students were being subjected to "a constant turnover of people, positions, and programs . . . with no end in sight." The schools were now "controlled by outsiders with no sincere allegiance to the well-being of our city." The state, she wrote, "has produced its very own Frankenstein monster." Her bosses asked her to resign, and she did.
Then she started digging deeper into Broad, tracking the adventures of Broad alumni all over the country and posting her findings in an excellent blog.
When the state finally gave Oakland its schools back in 2009, the deficit was estimated at $89 million, probably bigger than ever.
Shuffling Students in Seattle
When the Seattle school board hired Broad-trained Maria Goodloe-Johnson as superintendent in the spring of 2007, Sue Peters hardly noticed. She was a young mother not involved in politics. But she paid attention in November 2008, when her 4th-grade son brought home a note saying the district wanted to close his school.
"That's what made an activist of me," says Peters. "[Goodloe-Johnson] wanted to evict all the kids from my son's school, put half in one building, and half in another. There was a special education program in the school and those kids were going to be left high and dry."
One of those fighting the closures alongside Peters was Jesse Hagopian, a 7th-grade social studies teacher. "[The superintendent] had a business mentality," says Hagopian. "Our students are not widgets that can be moved from one neighborhood to another." On a Seattle radio show, Hagopian argued that "closing these school buildings is more than just terminating a brick-and-mortar edifice. You're really hanging a "Closed' sign on the hopes and aspirations of a community."
Goodloe-Johnson, on the same radio program, said a budget crunch forced her to close schools. But, she added, "if we weren't in a budget crisis, we still would have excess capacity and we would not be financially efficient, and we would need to close schools."
Sue Peters and her allies eventually saved her son's school, but half the students were sent away and replaced by students from another school. Most of Goodloe-Johnson's other closures went through.
Goodloe-Johnson defended her disruptive policies by arguing that the school system was failing its students and needed drastic change. She and other school leaders used a dramatic statistic to make their point: Just 17 percent of Seattle's high school graduates met the entrance requirements of four-year colleges.
That figure was widely accepted for two years until the Seattle Times reported it was simply false. The true number was 63 percent. It turned out that 17 was the percentage of graduates who took four years of math, three years of science, and maintained a B average—which are not required for college admission.