Education — July 10, 2015 at 9:11 am

UPDATED: How is former EAA chief John Covington still being considered to run schools? Two words: Broad Foundation


This post has been updated below.

Former Education Achievement Authority Chancellor John Covington has left a trail of scandal and disarray in both Kansas City and Detroit after abruptly quitting leadership positions in both cities. Yet, over the past week, we’ve learned that he’s in the final four being considered to head up the Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Once Nashville officials learned about his sordid past, things began to fall apart with the local teachers union asking for a refund of at least some of the money spent with the search firm Hazard Young Attea & Associates. “I really thought that when the board of education entered into a contract with the search firm, they were hiring a search firm that would do appropriate vetting, or at least, call up all of the references to find out what they knew about the individual,” said Erik Huth, president-elect of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association.

So how is it, exactly, that Covington could even be considered to run a school district, much less be one of the final four candidates? To answer that, you need to look at the connections between Covington, the Broad Foundation, and the search firm Hazard Young Attea & Associates (HYA).

Covington himself is a graduate of the Broad Superintendent’s Academy (BSA). Since leaving the EAA, he has become a consultant for the Broad Foundation and, according to his job application, he has a $300,000 contract with them to start the National Institute for Student-Centered Teaching and Learning.

HYA, as it turns out, is also connected to the Broad Foundation. According to the blog The Broad Report, HYA staff have been presenters at training sessions of Broad Superintendents Academy of which Covington is a graduate. Here’s more from The Broad Report:

The Broad Superintendents Academy (BSA) is a training program held in six-sessions over ten months after which participants may expect to be placed in an urban school district. Applicants are solicited from the fields of education, the military, the private sector, and government. The sessions include contact with companies which specialize in nationwide school executive searches (eg. Ray & Associates and Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates).

A commenter on the Charlotte Observer made this comment:

Ray & Associates is the superintendent search firm which recruited Gorman to CMS in 2006.

Carl Davis of Ray & Associates is also listed as one of the speakers for the Broad Superintendents Academy.

Two other firms, Jim Huge & Associates and Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, appear on the Broad Foundation’s list of BSA training session guest speakers. I presume they are paid to appear.

What needs to be investigated is if these particular superintendent search firms give preferential treatment to the Broad-trained candidates, in terms of presenting them to school boards.

For instance, in the case of the Springfield (MA) search in 2008 conducted by Jim Huge, three of the four finalists were Broad fellows.

Springfield isn’t the only school district to be presented with candidates who were mostly BSA graduates. In Baton Rouge, HYA gave them three choices, ALL of whom were graduates of the BSA:

Two superintendents and one deputy superintendent — all from out of state — were named finalists Wednesday in the hunt for the next superintendent of East Baton Rouge Parish public schools.

Marvin Edwards with the search firm Hazard Young Attea & Associates said these three candidates should be able to handle any questions thrown at them by the School Board when they sit down for interviews Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. […]

All three are 2008 graduates of the Broad Foundation’s superintendents’ academy.

And, funny thing, guess who one of those candidates selected by HYA was. If you guessed John Covington – DING! DING! DING! – you’re a winner!

Further evidence of the HYA connection to the Broad Foundation can be found on two of the selection committees they have in place to choose the Broad Prize and the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. John Simpson is on both committees. Here’s his bio:

John Simpson is an education consultant and serves as advisor to and superintendent-in-residence of The Broad Academy and an associate with Hazard, Young and Attea, LLC. Previously, he was senior executive and director of the District Alliance Program at the Stupski Foundation. Simpson has also served as superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools, Va., Ann Arbor Public Schools, Mich., and North Chicago Community Unit, District 187.

Finally, in Berkeley, California, The Berkeley Daily Planet did a terrific overview of how billonaire “education reformers” like Eli Broad and Bill Gates are impacting school districts around the country in its piece Berkeley Schools, the Billionaires, and the New Superintendent:

The billionaires’ influence: Broad and the job market for school superintendents (a case study)

An examination of Edmond Heatley’s career trajectory gives some indication of how the Broad Foundation has become so influential in the job market, so quickly. Connections to Broad show up with remarkable frequency. For example:

  • [Berkeley Unified School District] BUSD hired Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates – an executive search firm for school districts – to help with the search for a new superintendent. Two of that firm’s senior associates, Marvin Edwards and Jerry Chapman, have been guest lecturers at the Broad Superintendents Academy.
  • In 2011, Santa Barbara also employed Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates. Both Santa Barbara and Berkeley were helped by associates Maggie Carrillo Meja and Carolyn McKennan. In both cities, a Broad alumnus was hired: Edmond Heatley in Berkeley (class of 2008), and David Cash in Santa Barbara (class of 2009).

So, to recap: HYA has deep connections with the Broad Foundation including participating in training participants in its Broad Superintendents Academy, John Covington is a BSA graduate, and HYA has offered up Covington as a finalist to at least two different school districts who hired them to find suitable candidates.

It’s a power triangle on a mission to destroy public school education.

Who is the Broad Foundation? They are a group widely known for working toward the advancement of charter schools at the expense of public schools and of the wholesale privatization of services to for-profit corporations who enrich themselves with public tax dollars. The website Parents Across America put together a list of things you can use to identify if your district has become “infected by the Broad virus”. Here are a few that will look scarily familiar to anyone who has been following what gone on at the EAA:

  • Schools in your district are suddenly closed.
  • Even top-performing schools, alternative schools, schools for the gifted, are inexplicably and suddenly targeted for closure or mergers.
  • Repetition of the phrases “the achievement gap” and “closing the achievement gap” in district documents and public statements.
  • Repeated use of the terms “excellence” and “best practices” and “data-driven decisions.” (Coupled with a noted absence of any of the above.)
  • The production of “data” that is false or cherry-picked, and then used to justify reforms.
  • Power is centralized.
  • Decision-making is top down.
  • Local autonomy of schools is taken away.
  • Principals are treated like pawns by the superintendent, relocated, rewarded and punished at will.
  • Culture of fear of reprisal develops in which teachers, principals, staff, even parents feel afraid to speak up against the policies of the district or the superintendent.
  • Ballooning of the central office at the same time superintendent makes painful cuts to schools and classrooms.
  • Sudden increase in number of paid outside consultants.
  • Increase in the number of public schools turned into privately-run charters.
  • Superintendent attempts to sidestep labor laws and union contracts.
  • Teachers are no longer expected to be creative, passionate, inspired, but merely “effective.”
  • Superintendent lays off teachers for questionable reasons.
  • Excessive amounts of testing introduced and imposed on your kids.
  • Teach for America, Inc., novices are suddenly brought into the district, despite no shortage of fully qualified teachers.
  • Strange data appears that seems to contradict what you know (gut level) to be true about your own district.
  • Superintendent behaves as if s/he is beyond reproach.
  • Grants appear from the Broad and Gates foundations in support of the superintendent, and her/his “Strategic Plan.”
  • The Gates Foundation gives your district grants for technical things related to STEM and/or teacher “effectiveness” or studies on charter schools.
  • Local newspaper never mentions the words “Broad Foundation.”

Looking at these Broad viral symptoms, it’s clear that John Covington was a VERY good student in the BSA.

Meanwhile, back in Nashville, a coalition of local parents and other groups is demanding that the superintendent selection process be extended given the revelations about their choice of John Covington as a finalist:

Educational community stakeholders sent a letter to the chair of the Metro School Board Thursday saying they don’t believe the candidates for the Director of School position meet all the qualifications necessary for the job.

The letter to Sharon Gentry was signed by various stakeholders representing several local organizations such as Urban Housing Solutions, Nashville Organized for Action & Hope and the NAACP, among others. Click here to view the letter in full.

“We are writing you today because our organizations feel that your search firm has not yet provided a slate of four candidates that all meet the qualifications of the position, including experience with large school districts and school turnarounds,” the letter stated. […]

Controversy has already surrounded some of the candidates, with Looney being a source of division within his district and the teachers union saying Covington’s references weren’t all vetted.

One can only hope that John Covington’s days overseeing schools is over. However, with deep-pocketed friends with endless amounts of money like the Broad Foundation, that seems highly unlikely.

UPDATE: With Covington now gone from the EAA, that doesn’t mean that the “School District for Wayward Schools” is free from the Broad Virus. As it turns out, current Chancellor Veronica Conforme is herself a Broad Superintendent Academy alumunus. She was completing the program when was interviewed for the Chancellor position and had been receiving a salary as an EAA consultant for six months before Covington’s sudden departure. Then, shortly after she took over as interim Chancellor pending being hired permanently, she brought on Michael Gaal as the EAA’s Chief Operating Officer for a tidy $185,000 a year salary. Gaal is also – you guessed it – a BSA graduate.

See how nice that all worked out for them. It really pays to be minions of the über wealthy, doesn’t it?