How Hard It Is To Translate Policy into Practice: The Broad Superintendency Academy (Part 1)

One would think that top decision-makers and philanthropists would learn a few lessons after these many years they have struggled in negotiating the pot-holed strewn road from adopting policies to changes in school and classroom practice. Perhaps a touch of humility in face of the complexity they face in improving urban schools. Or more consideration of the professional expertise that practitioners have. Not yet. Consider the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation’s Broad Superintendents Academy (BSA).

Eli Broad made it clear that he knew how to run successful businesses. He wanted customer-driven knowledge to be applied to urban public schools. At one conference, he said, “We don’t know anything about how to teach or reading curriculum or any of that, but what we do know about is management and governance.” What Broad did not say was that managing and governing are not the same as converting key policies into classroom lessons.[i]

The BSA was created to prepare a new breed of market-aware district leaders to raise student academic achievement and reduce the test score gap between minorities and whites. BSA, however, has quietly struggled with the trip from policy to practice. It is an 18-month program of extended weekends and internships for educators and non-educators (for example, ex-military officers, business leaders, and government officials). But determining how many graduates have become urban superintendents and how long they have served is difficult because of fragmentary and biased data salted liberally with conflicting accounts from Broad and its critics.[ii]

In attracting fresh recruits from the military, businesses, and government to enter urban education posts, the Academy has, to a small degree, altered the administrative workforce in urban settings. But whether Broad graduates stay longer or perform better as school chiefs than those trained in traditional university administration programs, I do not know. I do not know because since 2002 when BSA began, none of its nearly 200 graduates have stayed in a district superintendency for over seven years—a term that some observers believe is sufficient to show signs of student success. Broad officials say five years is the minimum, but I could still only find two BSA graduates who served that long: Superintendents Abelardo Saavedra in Houston (TX) and Mark Roosevelt in Pittsburgh (PA).[iii]

Lacking data on longevity and performance of urban school chiefs has persuaded independent observers (including myself) that the Broad pipeline into top leadership posts has not led to better test scores or significantly altered existing school structures.[iv]

Part 2 takes up the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation’s recent suspension of the $1 million prize for urban districts that had improved student achievement and reduced the test score gap between and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations dropping of their decade-long journey to improve U.S. high schools.



[i] Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine, “Bill Gates School Crusade,” July 15, 2010 at:

[ii] For press releases from Broad Superintendents Academy, see website: For a highly critical view, see Sharon Higgins, a parent who has followed Broad graduates of the Academy and other programs at:

As of 2011 there were 165 graduates. The Foundation released no figures for 2012 and 2013.

[iii] Angela Pascopella, “Superintendent Staying Power,” District Administration, April 2011 at:

Retrieved November 3, 2024.

[iv] Further evidence of the struggle to go from policy-to-practice is the announcement that the Broad Foundation no longer will give a $1million prize, begun in 2002, to urban districts that have improved student achievement and reduced the test score gap between minorities and whites. See: Howard Blume, “Broad Foundation Suspends $1-million Prize for Urban School Districts,” Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2015. For a recent study of the correlation between superintendents and student achievement, see Larry Cuban, “Superintendents and Test Scores,” October 14, 2014 at: Retrieved November 17, 2014.


Filed under leadership, Reforming schools

10 responses to “How Hard It Is To Translate Policy into Practice: The Broad Superintendency Academy (Part 1)

  1. Larry This has nothing to do with this post…but I figure you would have an answer to this query if anyone would have such. Am I correct when I say that teacher education in the past … particularly going back to the normal school era was primarily staffed by women? I am not thinking about the programs at what would emerge into research universities but more so would become the regional universities. Obviously the texts published in the eras were more often (at least in reading) authored by males with a growth of women authors from the mid 30s on. (Sorry in that this query comes at you via a back door of sorts.)

    • larrycuban

      To the best of my knowledge, normal schools that spread in the post-Civil War decades were largely staffed by men. The teacher ed texts, as you point out,were also authored by men. Take a look at David Labaree’s The Trouble with Ed Schools. He has a chapter on normal schools.

  2. Not too sure why my remark was removed but I am dropping in to give you a heads up. I reblogged this on my blog, a friend away it and gave it to City Watch for some reason the freind and editor missed your name in the title and the text. I always include a link back too. They put my name on your work . I contacted the editor and left a comment to correct the matter. I apologize for this, but really I had no knowledge of it until I went to read the local news just now, it is a very fine effort and you deserve credit for it.

    • larrycuban


      The reason I did not approve your comment yesterday was that I could not find a website that named a person and I do not publish anonymous comments. Now that you have identified yourself and after doing some digging as to who you are, if you have any further comments or re-send the one you submitted yesterday, I will include it.

  3. Thanks for this Larry. I find this idea that business ideas can be translated into education highly suspect. Superintendents of schools need to understand about child development, motivational theories and learning. The emphasis on tests, standards and assessments ignores decades of research on effective learner-centered teaching.

    BTW, connected but slightly different, did you see the New York Times piece on the Escuela Nueva (New School) model that has been successfully implemented in South America and other countries? It’s similar in some ways to the successful learner-centered models we have seen in the U.S. but takes them even further, closer to some of the ideas Dewey talked about, educating for democracy.

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