Correction and Apology:
I mistakenly read and presented Gary Solomon’s association with The SUPES Academy as being with the Broad Foundation Superintendent Academy and subsequently based much of the post below on that association. This was sloppy and wrong and I apologize to my readers for my mistake.
That said, it was clear from his career and presentation last night that Solomon’s beliefs and work are aligned with the Broad agenda.
Update: The Board voted unanimously to hire Ray & Associates. Good move.
At open and closed meetings this evening (7/16/2012. starting at 5:00 PM, no public testimony, so write them at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have thoughts), the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education will take the next step in finding a new, permanent Superintendent by considering and maybe hiring a search firm. The two firms under consideration are ProAct (Madison materials here) and Ray & Associates (Madison materials here). I did some digging on both and unfortunately found that both had ties to the Broad Foundation’s Superintendent Academy, a major cog in the school deform machine. I also concluded that the ProAct principals are much more involved in these efforts and that for these and other reasons, I think Ray & Associates are the better choice for Madison.
Before offering some background on the Broad Academy, the firms and their connections, I want to say that whichever firm is chosen, I think that the most important thing to have included in the contract is a requirement that the report to the Board on candidates include a section that explicitly explores reasons why that candidate might not be right for MMSD. Both ProAct and Ray & Associates have run in trouble with searches where they seemed to have put more effort into selling their candidates than in vetting them. An example for ProAct is not catching and informing the Board about false work history items for a candidate in Racine; Ray had similar, though larger problems with a search in Kentucky, where one post on the matter was headlined “Confidential Candidate File for Barbara Erwin accentuates the positive, eliminates the negative” (more on this situation here). The district is the client and for the fees paid we need to demand that both the positive and negative are put before the Board for consideration.
Eli Broad is a “disaster capitalist” who through his “philanthropy” has been big part of creating the sense of crisis in public education and then exploiting that crisis to reshape schools in the model of business, including expansion of charters and privatization of services and schools. The motto he espouses is “never let a crisis go to waste,” the truth he doesn’t want exposed is the role of his ilk in creating the sense of crisis and offering self-serving “solutions that distract from and reinforce the structural inequalities that have provided them with the means to assert undue influence on public policy and institutions (that’s another story, see Valarie Strauss here for part of it).
The best source on Broad is the Broad Report site. Here are some other links that provide good background:
From the Christian Science Monitor, “Is the Broad Superintendents Academy trying to corporatize schools?”
John Thompson, “Always Listen to the Billionaire.”
Ann Doss Helms posts on the Broad Foundation.
Diane Ravitch posts on the Broad Foundation.
Seattle Education posts on the Broad Foundation.
I could go on and on with links, but these should give you the idea, make it clear that the chief means employed is the proliferation of superintendents trained at the academy, and I hope lead you to the conclusion that Madison should stay as far away from the Broadies as possible.
In this case, that means hiring Ray & Associates. Although Gary Ray’s CV includes a stint as faculty at the Broad Academy, Gary Solomon of ProAct sits on the Board of Advisers. In this deform dominated climate, Ray offers about as large a degree of separation as we can hope for.
You might not think degree of separation from the Broad Academy is as big a deal as I do. You’d be wrong, but I’ll play along and offer another reason to go with Ray: Ray and Associates do searches, period; while through his various companies and even a “foundation,” Gary Solomon seems to be chasing every public education dollar out there by consulting, evaluating, trying to open his own charter schools. No wonder Broad wants his insights.
Some examples. Solomon and his team do most of their work through Synesi Associates, offering Reviews, School Turnaround Kits, Coaching and “Targeted, Intensive Support.” There is something incestuous about the same people who do the hiring then selling services to those who are hired, but that’s the Broadie way. Among the clients they boast about are schools and the systems in Detroit, Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia and St. Louis. At least you can’t accuse them of scrubbing their resume’. More seriously, in the twisted world of school reform, these are considered success stories. I also looked at what is labeled “Research” on their site and with the exception of a link to a paper from the Chicago Consortium on School Research, there is next to nothing of value (they also link to the Association of Effective Schools, but what they link to is isn’t very useful doesn’t tell you much about the strengths and weaknesses of Ronald Edmonds’ work). There is also a Synesi Foundation, which applied to run Charter Schools in LA.
At one point Solomon also had another consulting company, Solomon Consulting Services Inc.. I’m not sure if they are still active. They seem to have disappeared after being caught trying to sell “The Vallas Model” of school reform without permission or direct involvement by Paul Vallas. As I said before about Vallas, “there is very little in his version of school reform that our community, or any community will benefit from.”
Finding a new superintendent is about doing a full vetting and matching the person to the community. The same should be true with the search firm picked to do the search. With Gary Solomon, I think what I said about Vallas applies, “there is very little in his version of school reform that our community, or any community will benefit from.”
Thomas J. Mertz