Dear Mr. Broad,
In a 1785 letter to John Jebb, future President John Adams said,
“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”
Yet going against every fiber of our country’s philosophy about the importance of public education, you promote the idea that we should turn schools into businesses and children into commodities. You project a seemingly-philanthropic interest in impoverished school districts because you see them as a means to profit for corporate America, and in doing so, you make the following claims:
Claim #1: The Broad Foundation “seeks to dramatically transform American urban public education so that all children receive the skills and knowledge to succeed in college, careers and life.”
How ironic that you—with your billions—target poverty-stricken areas as those needing the most help but effectively ignore poverty as the root of so many students’ struggles. Instead, you implement policies that widen the social divide which exists between urban students and their rural counterparts. To many urban children living in poverty, schools are homes when the ones to which they return at the end of the day are not sufficient. Yet you, with your cavalier attitude and financial power, publish manuals that give your superintendents license to close schools en masse with no regard for the children who will be displaced, the teachers who will lose their jobs, or the communities that will be divided as a result.
Claim #2: “Teachers feel disempowered.”
How ironic that your approach to “education” has already created conditions that are so unfavorable to teaching and learning that the best educators in the profession no longer recognize the jobs they once loved. You’ve implemented a depersonalized, high-stakes testing culture that pressures districts to raise test scores at any cost and stifles teacher and student autonomy, creativity, and love of school and learning.
Claim #3: “To become effective, efficient organizations that serve students well, American school districts and schools need strong, talented leadership.”
How ironic that so many superintendents who have graduated from your Broad Superintendent Academy have been driven from their posts because of votes of no confidence and questionable ethics—and left the districts they were supposed to “rescue” in shambles. Where is there real evidence of improvement your “leaders” have made? (Hold it right there: proliferation of for-profit charters and manipulated scores on meaningless standardized tests are not evidence of improvement.)
Claim #4: “Competition among American schools is healthy.”
How ironic that even your jargon seeks to destroy the idea of a unified, cohesive, collaborative public education system in the United States. As corporate influence continues to weaken the public school system and push education toward privatization, all but the least fortunate children will be driven to private and charter schools that are not bound by the ridiculous, limiting, and restrictive regulations to which public schools have become subject. And when those students fail because the underlying causes of their troubles have not been addressed and because their programs are being cut, their schools are closing, and their teachers are being laid off, people like you will say, “we told you: public schools are failing.”
Make no mistake that children who are successful academically will never attribute their successes to nameless, faceless billionaires who close schools, lay off thousands of teachers, and mandate standardized testing that’s used too frequently and punitively. Instead, they’ll attribute their successes to teachers who know them, who care about them, and who do their best to educate students every day despite the uncompromisingly capitalist influence you and your fellow profiteers have over their careers.
Just as teachers would never presume to dictate how you sell insurance, build houses, or manage your finances, you should refrain from dictating educational policies and practices—especially those that are destructive to students, teachers, communities, and the future of public education in America.
Why not focus your charitable undertakings on improving the conditions in our society that stack the odds against children before they even enter kindergarten? You don’t have to answer: we all know it’s because doing so won’t make you a profit.
Simply put, public education cannot afford your billions.