I guess it’s no secret that education reform is often branded as being whiter than the Bernie Sanders voting block.  Year after year in conference after conference the problem is given lip service by semi-sincere people who put a hand over their hearts and vow to do better.

Then they fund yet another education non-profit led by a young white Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Wall St./TFA grad.

At least some of the help is of color.

In 2014, Andre Perry framed the issue this way:

Let’s stipulate that, yes, change is badly needed. Call it “reform” if you like: Charter schools, curriculum changes (Common Core), testing, and accountability are not inherently bad things. They can bring justice.

But let’s also stipulate that overwhelmingly white movements pursuing change for black and brown communities are inherently paternalistic. The great educator Benjamin E. Mays famously said, “I would rather go to hell by choice than to stumble into heaven.” Reform is being done to communities of color. That’s why saying you’re a black education reformer effectually elicits charges of “acting white” from black communities.

I agree. There is no future in education advocacy or reform that continues the pattern of subordinating people of color to white coattails.

In the time since Perry made that criticism there has been a stirring of emotion, a disquieting of the soul, and considerable discussion of how to address community empowerment in the “movement” for better schools.

There have been fits and starts, new plans, but few workable designs – until now.

Deborah McGriff and the New Schools Venture Fund have put some money where the movement’s mouth (and heart) is supposed to be: diversifying the field so marginalized communities can develop their own leadership and power. The NSVF announced today an initiative that focuses on increasing black and Latino leadership at senior levels.

The new effort builds on existing work (building a pipeline of quality charter school board members and drawing new talent into solving education challenges), and also develops new organizations to rapidly advance diversity.

To that end, the NSVF has selected four powerful organizations as their inaugural investments (from their website):

Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC)  — EdLoC is a new organization of education leaders of color from across the country who have come together to: increase the number of Black and Latino leaders in the highest-level education roles; build a strong network of leaders nationally and locally who are supported through formal programming and convenings; and influence funders and key decision-makers by advocating for a “third-way” approach that brings the perspectives of families and communities to the forefront.  Kaya Henderson, Aimee Eubanks Davis, and Layla Avila spearheaded and, along with 15 other high-profile Black and Latino leaders, formed EdLoC. EdLoC’s Executive Director, a member of the original committee, will be announced in April when the organization formally launches.

Latinos for Education — Given the growth of Latinos in the U.S., we must ensure that the next generation of education leaders and advocates reflects the backgrounds and experiences of the Latino community. Latinos for Education, led by CEO Amanda Fernandez, is a new social venture dedicated to developing, placing and connecting essential Latino leadership in the education sector. LFE will develop Latino education leaders, forge a nationwide network of Latinos in education to accelerate their collective voice, and establish an advocacy agenda representing the unique assets of the Latinos in our nation. The work will be piloted in three cities over the coming year, starting in Boston, MA.

National Charter Collaborative — The vision of the National Charter Collaborative (NCC) is to equalize access and give voice to single-site charter school leaders of color. To reach this goal, Co-Founders Kim Smith and Trish Millines Dziko are developing a business plan to identify the range of supports, services, and resources single-site charter leaders need to build sustainable, high-quality schools. Replicating the benefits of well-known, high-growth “networks,” NCC will collaborate with its members to assess common barriers, partner with funders and providers to provide shared services. By creating alignment, the NCC will spur opportunities for leaders of color to grow professionally through the network and to develop sustainable schools resulting in a higher-quality education for students.

Ops360 — Led by Co-Founders Tanya Lewis and DeRonda Williams, Ops360 provides leadership development and training to finance and operations leaders to support the creation, growth, and management of high quality school operations. The result: Ops360’s charter school partners get MORE things done and spend LESS money while achieving excellent operational support for their academic teams. Serving approximately 60% Black and Latino leaders, Ops360 completed a pilot of its cohort-training program in New Orleans and Memphis and is in the midst of its second cohort in both cities. Ops360 looks forward to increasing its impact with cohort 3 starting in Summer 2016 followed by the launch of an online training platform. Moving forward, Ops360 is targeting a goal of 70% Black and Latino leaders across all cohorts.

All together this represents a sea change. There is a lot of promise here to increase the power of marginalized communities to write their own story, define their own success, and own the shop that produces their own thought leadership.

Critics should take note: this marks yet another example of how innovation and autonomy is embedded in reform ideology, and how it frees leaders to solve vexing problems faster than traditional systems.

We said the “movement” could not survive without a more diversity in leadership. The response was an investment in a bigger tent.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


  1. If you are concerned with marginalisation, why aren’t you advocating for fairer taxation? Money talks, look at Trump, so if you redistribute more money to marginalised peoples then their voice will presumably be louder, and if a voice is louder, it gets you further (Isn’t ‘money=voice=power’ what you’re suggesting with your thoughts on the evils of Whiteness?). Remember: Real reform and empowerment is structural; faux reform and empowerment is sold by consultants

    Talking of better representation, why not scrutinise organisations such as StudentsFirst and TFA a bit more closely? You might want to talk about the representativeness of their execs and staff – and of course TFA ‘teachers’. You might also think again about this blog and whether others through this are attempting to ‘do reform to others’ and indeed whether this blog too is not in fact ‘acting white’? Read up on Stockholm Syndrome as this provides an interesting parallel.


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