How Charter-School Billionaires Corrupt School Leadership
It’s rare when goings-on in Kansas City, Missouri 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. 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. What caused Covington’s exit, Kansas City Star reporter Joe Robertson later reported, was “a phone call from Spain.” 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, providing more 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.
Jeff Bryant is a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools. 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.
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