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DOE awards competitive contract to … itself?

If you’re confused today’s DOE press release announcing that the department has awarded a contract for principal training to the NYC Leadership Academy, you’re not alone. The Leadership Academy has been training principals since it opened in 2003, so today’s announcement sounds like a blast from the past — except that for the last five years, the academy has been funded using private dollars, and now it will be paid for with public money.

Joel Klein announced the academy’s creation at a December 2002 press conference where he was joined by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, who would lead the development of the academy based on his company’s management training program. To train a generation of leaders, principals would be selected from a competitive pool of applicants, thrown into an intense summer program in which they managed mock schools, then given real principals to shadow for a year before receiving assignments of their own. The program’s first three years would be funded through donations, many of them from corporations and major foundations, and the expectation was clear that the DOE would pick up the tab at the end of that time. In fact, Chancellor Klein said he hoped he would be able to use money awarded as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit to pay for the program; those funds finally began to make their way to the city this year.

But three years later, the program appeared to be in jeopardy. Not all principals who graduated from the academy found jobs as school leaders, and some of those who did garnered criticism as they ruffled feathers when introducing change, brought a business-like management style to schools, and sometimes proved incompetent. Vigorous — and expensive — efforts to recruit principals from outside the city yielded few transplants. City officials questioned whether the program’s success rate warranted its high cost. Ultimately, the scope of the program was scaled back, and rather than accept full responsibility for the program, the DOE started picking up the salaries and benefits for the principals-in-training, which make up the bulk of the academy’s budget.

It’s now been three more years, and the DOE has announced that the Leadership Academy bid competitively to win a contract to train principals. Obviously the Leadership Academy, constructed by Joel Klein to serve the DOE only, was the department’s preferred vendor. And it’s certainly appropriate for the DOE to foot the bill for training its own principals. But given that the academy was just three years ago considered inappropriate for the DOE’s budget, I would love to know what evidence the DOE is using to justify the expenditure now. Surely there must be information the DOE can make public about the success rates of Leadership Academy graduates? (In my experience, new principals coming from the academy are as mixed a bag as administrators who got their positions through other avenues.)

And I’d also like to know what three other vendors were foolish enough to prepare bids for this contract!

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