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SPARKS Igniting change in education for all students
Igniting change in education for all students




Kerry Donahue Prateek Dutta Ali Fadlallah Michael Figueroa Annice Fisher Ola Friday David Hay Zachary Herrmann Amanda Klonskey Andrea LaRocca Michael LaRosa Nicole Magnuson Mark Martin Sarah McLean Derek Niño Frances-Victoria Olajide Christine Ortiz Madonna Ramp Dwight Rhodes Tyler Thigpen Sarah Warren


Catherine Pozniak

Jessica Rose

Mary Wall


Copyright © 2014 All rights reserved. ISBN:



To the students and teachers who sparked our vision of equity and excellence for all.




  • 11 ONE



Renovating The Instructional Core In An Information Age

Tyler Thigpen

  • 27 TWO A-L-L E-L-L Derek Niño

  • 36 THREE Catching a Case: Creating Schools that Meet the Needs of Young People Returning from Prison Amanda Klonsky

  • 47 FOUR What if Relationships Were the Alternative?

Michael Figueroa

  • 59 FIVE


Creating a World Class Teacher Preparation System

Prateek Dutta and Zachary Herrmann

  • 72 SIX Supporting the Social and Emotional Professional Development of Child Care Workers Ola Friday

  • 73 SEVEN The Revolution Will Not Be Mandated: Why Teachers & Entrepreneurs Will Shape the Future of Learning David Hay

  • 84 EIGHT A Renewed Push for Professionalism Dwight Rhodes and Sarah Warren

  • 85 NINE From Line Management to Instructional Leadership: A 21 st Century Progression for the Principalship Frances-Victoria Olajide




From the What to the How – Taking a Developmental Stance Madonna Ramp

  • 107 ELEVEN


Access and Completion for All: Moving To and Through the High School to

College Pipeline

Annice Fisher

  • 119 TWELVE Next Generation Schools: Integrating and Innovating for the 21st Century Kerry Donahue and Sarah McLean

  • 130 THIRTEEN Rural Schools: the Untapped Resource to Education Reform Andrea LaRocca

  • 138 FOURTEEN What Schools and Teachers Can Learn From the Software Industry Christine Ortiz and Michael LaRosa

  • 161 FIFTEEN School-Sharing

Mark Martin


  • 172 SIXTEEN Transforming the Third Space

Ali Fadlallah

  • 183 SEVENTEEN Sparking the Will for Change in Public Education Nicole Magnuson







“Certain bodies

become luminous when heated. Their

... luminosity disappears after some time, but the capacity of becoming luminous afresh through heat is restored to them by

the action of a spark.”

Marie Curie


Providing all children with free, high-quality education has long been an espoused value in the United States. Yet, we see significant and persistent disparities nationwide among students in all stages of our education system. Sobering statistics lead us to ask questions about how we go about the fundamental ideas of what learning and teaching should look like, who is responsible for providing it, and how we can create the conditions and system that set all students on a path toward success.

Even though research has shown the beginning years of a child’s life are critical for building the foundation needed for success later in school and in life, children access early education opportunities – from birth and continuing through pre-school – at very different rates. Studies show that children from low-income families are less likely to have access to high-quality early education and are less likely to enter school prepared to succeed (Adams et al, 2007). By third grade, children from low-income families who are not reading at grade level are six times less likely to graduate from high school than students who are proficient readers (Hernandez, 2012). Despite how powerful we know early education investments to be, we under-deliver on them, especially with children who need them the most: the U.S. ranks 28th out of 38 countries for the share of four-year olds enrolled in early childhood education (OECD, 2014), and fewer than 3 in 10 four-year olds are enrolled in high-quality programs (White House, 2013).

Although elementary and secondary education reform, particularly in recent years, has shifted to focus on higher standards aligned to prepare all students for college and career, existing (albeit insufficient) data show us that far too many students are far from that vision. Students of color and low-income students often lack equal access to core elements of a high-quality education, including strong teaching, rigorous course offerings, high standards, enrichment opportunities, and safe school environments (Equity Commission, 2013). These students are also suspended, expelled, and face other adverse disciplinary action at higher rates (CRDC, 2012). Although the national high school graduation rate is at its highest point ever (80 percent), disparate results persist for students of color:

23 percent of African American students, and 15 percent of Hispanic students were still attending dropout factory high school in 2012, compared to 5 percent of White students (Balfanz et al, 2014).

In today's world, when a college degree or advanced certificate increasingly represents the path to a stable economic future, too few of our high school graduates are pursuing a postsecondary certificate or degree -- let alone attaining it. The U.S. presently ranks 12th in the world in our share of young people who have attained higher education (OECD, 2014). Just over half the students who begin college in this country do not finish within six years, and looking across races and income levels tells a more complicated story (NCES, 2014). High school graduates from the wealthiest families are almost certain to continue on to higher education, while barely half of high school graduates in the poorest quarter of families attend college; of those who enter college, four of five individuals in the upper income quartile attain degrees, in contrast to only one of ten in the lowest income quartile (Lumina, 2014).

These gaps not only hurt young people and their families, but they also negatively impact their communities and have ripple effects on the strength of the country’’s economy and democracy. It is


not only morally unconscionable for us not to act; remaining still and resorting to inaction will only collectively hurt us in the long run. In the words of our professor and colleague Dr. Deborah Jewell- Sherman, “Demography should not be destiny” (2011).

Authors apart from this book have argued that a low-quality education does not just maintain the status quo, but that it actually leaves some students worse off than they were before. Angela Valenzuela makes the case that schooling is actually a subtractive process for first-generation immigrant youth and beyond, divesting students of important social and cultural resources, leaving them progressively vulnerable to academic failure (1999). In response to these kinds of heinous outcomes, Larry Leverett proposes that the contributions of an entire system are required to overcome the complex set of conditions in place that currently preserve inequity and leave students behind (2002). Overcoming the mindset of difference-as-limitation, Leverett argues that we all have assets to bring to bear, as “achieving equitable outcomes for all learners is beyond the capacity of individual, highly talented leaders and requires the knowledge and expertise of others in the school or district organization working with a shared sense of purpose.” He pitches a reform movement full of “equity warriors” to unapologetically - and without regard to their scarcity of resources or position of authority - “passionately lead and embrace the mission of high levels of achievement for all students, regardless of race, social class, ethnicity, culture, disability or language proficiency.”

In addition to persistent gaps among student populations, there is an increasing concern that there is a disconnect between our current model of schooling, which was designed to meet the industrial demands, and what we hope to achieve in our post-industrial and rapidly changing world. Cutting across race, students are telling us in ever-increasing numbers that they are bored, disengaged, and apathetic about school (Yazzie-Mintz, 2010). While many reform efforts focus on improving conditions within our outdated system, there is also a growing call to spur innovation and reimagine altogether what a 21st-century system of education could look like.

It is with a sense of urgency that the contributors of this volume approach our work in the field of education and confront the task of charting possible paths forward for the changes we propose in this book. We share Dr. Jewell-Sherman’s conviction that demography is not destiny. Tackling this work requires an approach of improvement, innovation, and invention: the current way we are going about all students is not working, and so it is time to see problems and solutions in a new light.


The chapters that follow capture the present-day thinking of 24 educators who, in the fall of 2014, entered into Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program. Our cohort is a diverse group across many spectrums including race, age, expertise, ethnicity, and experience. We hold in common our commitment to improving education for all students, but even so, our visions of that aspiration look different. If our predecessors in this program are any indication, some of us will go on to become systems-level leaders in the traditional sense as superintendents, while others will lead from within as the heads of departments and initiatives, while still others will return to or will join the burgeoning trend of social entrepreneurship, founding new education ventures from schools to human capital organizations to ed tech companies. The diversity of the cohort, as the director of the program tells us, is intentional:

our selection was as much about our accomplishments as individual leaders as it was about our part of making a whole.


The idea of writing a book came from our Thinking Strategically About Education Reform and Sectoral Change course with Drs. Elizabeth City and Jal Mehta (really, it was an assignment). Writing a book in our first semester was a tall charge and a bold endeavor, especially for a newly formed group. Some believe that books that take on topics such as we have are the purview of academics steeped in theory. It is true that we are fresh from the field. Some of us sport to class the jersey from the track team we coached last spring, while many students from our own classrooms are still in the school system.

We contend, however, that we need more practitioners to take up the pen. We have come to realize that we bring as much learning as we have come to gain. The need to make responsible arguments grounded in data and facts cannot and should not be evaded, but there also is something to be said for the value of research and development emerging from the field. Indeed, each chapter in this book offers a solution stemming from a real problem with which some segment of the sector is grappling, and with which the author may have grappled with in her or his own work. Pieced together, these snapshots provide a panorama of the challenges our education system is facing in real time.

We are now students in an academic environment, having pressed pause on busy and successful careers to become better leaders in this work. As many hours as we have spent together, there is much we have to learn about the paths that led us to this program. In many ways, each of these chapters is autobiographical, the author revealing her or his commitment to education from a perspective that is as unique as a fingerprint – a perspective that sits at a particular intersection of values, personality, experience, and the evidence that supports them. By peering into the future with them, we come to know from whence each of our writers stands. Where to begin such an endeavor? To some degree, we are all here because of our dissatisfaction with the status quo. When prompted to think about change in the education sector, however, it was the possibilities that compelled this optimistic and action-oriented group, with many of us finding hope in one or many promising things we have seen in the field. Interestingly and more often than not, our inspirations are not full-fledged proof points. Far from instructive, our glimmers of hope do not tell us precisely what we should do next; rather, they give us an idea about an idea – a new way to approach or think about the problems the sector faces. They “spark” our imagination.

As it turns out, sparks lend themselves to other sparks. We have drawn inspiration from sparks, and we hope that our chapters will serve as sparks as well. Yet, readers will note that our chapters are not stitched together to form one coherent approach for sparking change within the sector. We do not endeavor here to build or advocate a singular viewpoint, and we do not coalesce around a single theory of action. We reject the idea of a silver bullet and embrace the complexities of public education practitioners are all too familiar with.

Sparks is a compendium of theories of action to transform the education sector. We believe we can radically transform the picture we opened this introduction with, turning the story of the differences among us not as one that perpetuates divisions and dictates disparate outcomes, but one that builds on the strengths we all bring to bear in the struggle for reform. We believe our divergences are complementary, and they illuminate impact that we could not have seen in isolation. Rather than making a blueprint, we are interested in building a vibrant discussion based on the convergences and divergences that our experience and learning has brought to life in us.



The book’s chapters are divided into four sections and each section advocates for sparking change through a different lens or entry point. The chapters within Section 1 focus on sparking change in schools by reforming the approach to learning and teaching. The ideas are grounded in the instructional core and the experience of individual students. Section 2 addresses methods for sparking change in the players who directly impact student success every day: teachers, administrators, and the other leaders who affect the system. Chapters in Section 3 attempt to instigate change in schools and systems through other levers that create the conditions for student success. The last section offers considerations for how one might spark change from outside the schools entirely through innovative partnerships and identifies groups to champion that work.

It is worthwhile to note that this book does not rely on sequential ordering: the reader should start with a section or chapter that intrigues them. From there, our advice is to follow your interests, whether that means turning the page and digging deeper into a section or hopping to another chapter to find the answer to a newly emergent question. This is a book that holds many ideas and as many pathways through those ideas.

Section One

Section 1 explores changes in classrooms and schools specifically around our approach to learning and teaching. All chapters in this section illustrate ways to update the instructional core - the relationship between student, teacher, and content -- to align with 21st-Century demands, student interests and needs, and maximize access for our most vulnerable students.

Chapter 1, “Renovating The Instructional Core In An Information Age,” by Tyler Thigpen addresses ways schools can drastically refine the American curriculum and way students engage with material to deepen learning, increase engagement better prepare students for college, career, and life. Specifically, Thigpen argues for a substantial subtraction of content- based standard while simultaneously adding skill-based standards and evolving to a transdisciplinary approach in contrast to the heavily segregated and fact-crammed content areas that dominate most students’ current school experience. Thigpen’s recommendations focus on changes that could be made today to nearly any school in the country and would have wide implications if adopted.

In Chapter 2, “A-L-L E-L-L,” Derek Niño asks how the U.S. education system contends with the needs of Spanish-speaking English-language learners (ELLs), a fast-growing population of students that includes both recent-immigrant high school students as well as native-born kindergartners. These students must master content, be remediated in those areas in which he or she is below grade level, meet graduation requirements, and learn a new language at the same time. Niño argues that if the nation is to truly teach all students, then implementing thoughtful and comprehensive approaches for ELLs, especially recent- immigrant Spanish-speaking high school students, will be paramount.

Amanda Klonsky’s chapter, “Catching a Case: Creating Schools That Meet the Needs of Young People Returning from Prison,” investigates what schools could do to better support young people returning home from incarceration. She highlights the importance for students to have trusting relationships with adults; for academic and social programs, social and emotional services, and supports to be in close collaboration and alignment; and for students to engage in authentic learning experiences that allow for self-expression that connects and


showcases their humanity. Klonsky’s chapter illustrates the daily hardships these young people face, particularly in accessing education upon release from jail or prison. The essay documents the ways in which policy perversely incentivizes schools to turn these neediest of students away, and argues for policy changes and resources that would help schools to better support them.

In “What If Relationships Were the Alternative?” Michael Figueroa focuses and extrapolates on the importance of relationships that Klonsky discusses. He proposes the central change that must take place in our schools to spark reform is not curricula-based, but instead firmly rooted in the relationships between students and teachers. He argues that developing strong relationships is more important than any other aspect of school -- even learning and teaching -- and is the most vital lever for education reform. Like the two chapters before him, Figueroa’s piece is situated with a particular population of students; in this case, those in alternative education programs. Similarly to the preceding authors, though, his recommendations for reform could apply to all schools across the country.

While all of the chapters in the first section focus on different populations with different approaches, they all concentrate on the instructional core and the work of learning and teaching as the nucleus of effective education. The authors make clear that policies unquestioningly impact students’ lives and the ability of schools to support them, and must be addressed. They also believe that focusing on the work that is happening in classrooms and schools this very moment (e.g. in the relationship embodied in every student-teacher interaction) is paramount. Even when an author discusses connecting students with internships, wrap-around services, or service learning opportunities outside of the school, the authors have chosen classrooms in schools as the site for the change they would like to see.

Section Two

Section 2 shifts from sparking change within schools and systems to considering the players who

enact reform on a daily basis: educators. Numerous studies highlight the incredible impact teachers and school leaders have on students and the following chapters attend to these critical roles alongside others within education that could spur lasting impact to the sector.

In “Creating a World Class Teacher Preparation System” Prateek Dutta and Zachary Herrmann dissect teacher preparation in the United States. While Dutta and Herrmann acknowledge that, “no current single pathway has established itself as the undisputed model for how to train individuals to become teachers,” (60) they advocate for a best-practice model based on competency development and an emphasis on clinical experience. In their chapter they share with the reader a vision for a complete pipeline from recruitment and selection to preparation, evaluation, and accountability.

“Supporting the Social and Emotional Professional Development of Child Care Workers,” written by Ola Friday, builds on Dutta and Herrmann’s argument for a new way to prepare and support teachers by examining how a focus on the social and emotional dispositions of teachers could facilitate stronger student-teacher engagement and consequently improve the quality of early childhood education. Friday examines a new, promising professional development initiative, R 2 , that engages early childhood teachers in a professional learning community with connected coaching that centers on the development of social and


emotional skills and dispositions. Friday makes a case that supports like R 2 should be the foundation of any early childhood professional development system. David Hay, the author of “The Revolution Will Not Be Mandated: Why Teachers & Entrepreneurs Will Shape the Future of Learning,” believes teachers must be the driving force reinventing the ways students learn. Hay points to teachers as the connectors and conductors between entrepreneurial innovators outside schools and the learning students could tap into through novel forms of technology. He argues that relying on schools and systems as the instigators of reform results in stagnation, and instead teachers should be empowered to iterate and innovate. Hay anticipates a revolution on the horizon that changes the way school looks and feels, permanently changes the lives of students for the better, and alters the world as we know it.

In “A Renewed Push for Professionalism,” authors Dwight Rhodes and Sarah Warren argue that if the quality of teaching is the most important factor in students’ educational success then reforms must be made to professionalize the teaching profession. Rhodes and Warren believe that if unions shift to a professional model, bridge the gaps between organizations at the national, state, and local levels, and take advantage of the opportunity to organize around reform efforts like the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and improved teacher evaluation, then they will be able to drive forward the professionalization of teaching and, ultimately, spark transformative improvements in the education system.

In Chapter 9, “From Line Management to Instructional Leadership: A 21 st -Century Progression for the Principalship,” Frances-Victoria Olajide reimagines school leaders as instructional leaders, transformed from their former roles as line managers. Olajide reframes principals’ daily activities through six dimensions of school leadership so as to directly support excellent teaching and build leadership capacity. While the propositions Olajide puts forth are common sense with the promise to be potent, she argues that we must also make the systems-level changes required in the supervision, support, and evaluation of principals. Visits to the majority of contemporary schools across the country would quickly reveal that they have yet to be actualized.

In “From the What to the How – Taking a Developmental Stance,” Madonna Ramp reasons that the challenge for leaders at the school, district, state, and federal levels, is not identifying which change is the best one to champion, it is figuring out which support the adults they lead need. Ramp argues that in a stressful and rapidly changing education system, educators at all levels of the system need enough support to balance out the challenges they experience. She calls upon leaders at all levels to find or create support for themselves and their staff members, and argues that shifting the climate to one of support is the most powerful change lever available in the sector.

All authors in Section 2 articulate a great hope in the ability of adult actors to spark and sustain reform in our nation’s schools. They believe that through dedicated investment in teachers and leaders at all levels and areas of the system, from the beginning of their career through the end, great impact will arise. They see educators as the most powerful and influential aspect of reform, whether individually experimenting with technology in the classroom or collectively rallying and creating national momentum.

Section Three


Section 3 examines ways to spark change at the systems level. Each chapter harnesses different levers to address separate problems within the system across the country. Rather than working to spark change within the existing paradigm, these authors are asking how to ask old questions in new ways to encourage the creation of bolder and potentially more impactful solutions.

“Access and Completion for All: Moving To and Through the High School to College Pipeline,” written by Annice Fisher, challenges pre-kindergarten to high schools systems -- what she refers to as “P-12” -- and postsecondary institutions to view the education system as an interconnected and comprehensive educational pipeline, which Fisher refers to as “P- 20.” Fisher illustrates the inequitable achievement gaps that exist across the high school to college pipeline by exploring the history and impact of P-12 and higher education mis(alignment). Fisher proposes changes in P-12 and higher education that realign efforts to increase student persistence and graduation.

In an attempt to combat the current inequities that Fisher illuminates as so obviously present in our schools and society, Kerry Donahue and Sarah McLean put forth an approach that intertwines integration with innovation. In “Next Generation Schools: Integrating and innovating for the 21st-century,” Donahue and McLean argue that while neither integration nor innovation are new ideas, weaving socioeconomic integration alongside a focus on developing 21st-century skills could be the spark that gives rise to a new generation of schools that adequately prepares our nation’s students to be globally competent and competitive. The cohesive system they envision considers the critical and influential roles of policy, law, state and federal aid, standards and state accountability, and public will.

While McLean and Donahue’s chapter is agnostic to setting, in “Rural Schools: the Untapped Resource to Education Reform,” Andrea LaRocca focuses on rural schools, where innovation is also needed. LaRocca points out that while rural communities are often unrecognized in education debates, they are primed for reform efforts. She argues that by using empathy to seek context-driven, locally based solutions, rural communities could create change within their schools and serve as proof points for reform across the country.

In “What Schools and Teachers Can Learn From the Software Industry” authors Michael LaRosa and Christine Ortiz note that education has often been compared to the fields of medicine and law. While these analogies serve us well if we seek to incrementally improve our sector, they fall short if we desire a more meaningful shift in the way we do our work. Chapter 14 starts to imagine what schools and entire preK-12 systems would be like if they followed the processes and mindsets of the software industry. They offer illustrative examples where this work has begun, and imagine a world where four staples of the software ethos are applied to education: the lean startup philosophy, a “hackathon” model of launching new ideas, open sourcing, and building and sharing bodies of knowledge across school systems. These mindset shifts intend to transition K-12 education from its historic mass production, industrial-style model to an approach that directly engages and serves students, families, and educators.

The four chapters in Section 3 utilize different levers to spark change across systems of schools, from aligning preschools to post-secondary education, to tying socioeconomic integration with 21 st - century skills, to changing the mindset to seek context-driven solutions in rural schools, or implementing a lean model design and adopting a new mindset. Together they show the potential


impact that could arise from selecting the right spark or mechanism to bring about large-scale change.

Section Four

The last section considers how one might spark change by blurring the boundaries between schools, communities, and other stakeholders such as business leaders, policymakers, media, the public, and in many cases, students. The authors seek to reframe the current narrative, re-conceptualize schooling, forge new and unique partnerships, and ultimately, mobilize people to action. Overall, the message is that the education of students is not the sole responsibility of educators, but rather that of a diverse group who can be found both inside and outside the classroom.

In Chapter 15, Mark Martin outlines the concept of “School-Sharing,” altering the long-held idea that teachers and schools should be the central hubs of student learning. Martin contends that communities need to unleash much of what they currently believe about the purpose and responsibility of schools, to then reshape shaping learning environments that adequately prepare students for the 21st Century. To shift the way students engage in deep learning he envisions students venturing out of schools and engaging in workplace learning with apprenticeships and internships facilitated by successful and educated mentor-adults in community businesses.

“Transforming the Third Space” by Ali Fadlallah explores the music industry’s influence on youth. Like Martin, Fadlallah argues that external spaces, rather than schools, are the lever for lasting reform and spaces that can be full of learning. He illustrates a variety of exemplars in the “third spaceacross the United States that are taking the power of music’s inspiration and making it positive and enriching for young people. Fadlallah argues that if community members recognize the media’s central role in adolescent development, and if education leaders prioritize positive media resources, then students will be better able to navigate the complex world of mainstream media and ultimately better positioned for college and citizenship.

In the last chapter, “Sparking the Will for Change in Public Education,” Nicole Magnuson argues that the most essential work moving forward is to build momentum for a social movement around equity and excellence for all students in public education. Magnuson explores paramount social movements in history and extrapolates best practices and critical conditions necessary for large-scale change in education. She advances that the driving force behind reform will be sparking external public and political will. Like Martin and Fadlallah, her theory is grounded in the perspective that change in education will require partnerships both within and outside of the system. Doing so will ensure a culture of high expectations and propensity to take collective action in the best interest of all students.

These final chapters remind us how our current educational system does not meet students’ needs. They emphasize any solutions we may be able to prescribe to a broken educational system will almost certainly require more resources and people than those already present in the debate. Each chapter in its own way amplifies the urgency of finding and implementing remedies that will support the current students who are travelling to and from school each and every day, dependent on the system to serve them well.


This book memorializes our first professional collaboration. While reading, consider which chapters seem foundational or secondary, which interact and build on one another or run counter to each other, which ideas seem to be prominent in reform today and why that might be the case, and what has been left out. We hope these chapters spark discussion, debate, and, ultimately, action.

(Other chapters omitted)




By Madonna Ramp


This book’s chapters eloquently describe many ways in which the education system might evolve in the coming years. Each one frames specific problems and offers solutions that in particular contexts show promise for improving the sector. Within the field, there are countless other actors with their own ideas about how to better serve students. In the coming years, all educational leaders will be responsible for guiding themselves and other adults—including both colleagues and constituent groups—through some type of change. This chapter seeks to step back further to frame educational change as a problem of creating the support necessary for humans—and specifically adults—to develop in the face of all of the change.


As is alluded to in previous chapters, the 21st Century demands that each child develop into a very different kind of human being than her or his parents and grandparents. The education system must evolve along with the rest of the world, even though the specifics of that evolution will never be entirely clear. Casner-Lotto and Barrington (2006) outline the skill sets that new entrants to the workforce need to succeed in the workplace. Their findings indicate that while basic knowledge and skills like the “three Rs” are still important in the work place, they are not as important as 21st- century skills, such as professionalism and work ethic, oral and written communications, teamwork and collaboration, and critical thinking and problem solving. The report concludes that students leave the preK-12 education system and enter the workforce, "woefully ill-prepared for the demands of today’s (and tomorrow’s) workplace" (p. 9).

Furthermore, the research on 21 st Century Skills does not take into consideration the emotional skills needed to meet the disruptions of modern-day life both in and outside of work. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study by The Center for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization uses ACEs to assess the total amount of stress during childhood, including physical and emotional abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and parental mental illness, substance abuse, separation and divorce. The higher the ACE score, the higher a person’s risk for innumerable health, social, and academic problems. Sixty-seven percent of the U.S. population has experienced at least one ACE (Center for Youth Wellness, 2014). With a score of four or more out of ten—including an estimated 13% of adults—the likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390%; depression 460%; suicide 1,220% (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2014). A study by the Area Health Education Center of Washington State University (Stevens, 2012) also found that students with at least three ACEs had “three times the rate of academic failure, five times


the rate of severe attendance problems, [and] six times the rate of school behavior problems…compared with children with no known trauma” (para. 6). It is true that some children will make it to adulthood untouched by such disruptions. However, there are enormous emotional demands inherent in the fact that they will still study, work, and live in a world in which two out of three of their classmates, colleagues, and friends are not as lucky. Children who grow into adults in the 21 st Century global society will struggle to accomplish anything they set out to do, unless they develop the interpersonal, and intrapersonal, skills to respond appropriately to the adults around them who walk through life with these experiences.

Some of these habits, mindsets, and non-technical skills, like grit, character, and growth mindset, have garnered significant public attention in recent years, and critics have called into question whether these skills should be within the purview of schools. The non-profit New America (Tooley & Bornfreund, 2014) recently responded to that question, releasing a report synthesizing research and practice on a number of fronts to broaden the scope of the work of education, including 21 st Century Skills, character education, social-emotional learning, and personal, social, and cognitive psychology. They call these “skills for success…integral to academic, professional, and personal success” (p. 1-2). They conclude that “many of these skills, such as self-regulation and cooperation, are, in fact, closely linked to academic achievement,” that the skills are “malleable,” and that “schools can impact them” (p. 2). This makes a strong case for educators to broaden the curriculum to include these skills through direct instruction and improvements in school climate that enable adults to model, and students to practice, these skills.

Though there is an initial understanding that students need to develop broader skill sets to meet the current demands of school, work, and life, and some initial research into what impact some of them have on school and life outcomes, there are many unknowns regarding which skills students will need to use to adapt throughout their lifetimes. The future of human civilization is rapidly changing and difficult to track. The problems of this century involve more than traditional technical challenges that require the knowledge of simple, concrete answers that can be looked up in a search engine, or the application of well-established routines and processes. This century also brings what Harvard Business School Professor Ronald Heifetz (1994) defines as adaptive challenges—those that require fundamental changes in values, beliefs, roles, relationships, and approaches to work.

James Martin from Oxford University (2007) outlines threats of the near future—climate change, famines, pandemics, violent religious extremism, terrorism, and nuclear war—any one of which could wipe out our species. Though these problems may have technical components, the interconnected nature of a global society ensures that they are also communication problems, intercultural problems, and emotional problems that cannot be solved by one person thinking in isolation. Technical skills may be helpful in addressing the problems that Martin identifies, but solving them will require a more evolved approach that incorporates many of the adaptive tools outlined above, such as teamwork, collaboration, and self-management. Current students must prepare to respond to these, and any number of other threats, as they grow into adulthood and take the helm as leaders in our global society.

Education leaders must stay ahead of the curve. They must be at the forefront of research and practice while the role of education broadens to include developing students who can use a wide variety of ever-evolving tools to adapt to new situations. Even now, the normal state of education is one of constant change, and so the adults in the system need to begin to use these adaptive skills in order to lead by example for the children of the future.



It is worthwhile to consider how to restructure or replace the educational bureaucracy, and to address the apparent talent crisis in the field. However, any solutions presented around these issues only address symptoms of a much deeper problem—that change itself is stressful. The ever- increasing types of change demanded by the 21 st Century cause complexity and uncertainty, which is stressful for the adults and children trying to make sense of them. Change on this scale demands adaptive tools.

The amygdala is an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, memory, and decision-making, and serves as an alarm system in times of crisis, sending distress signals to the entire body through the nervous system. In prehistoric times, when a tiger came running after a human being, her amygdala signaled the threat to her body, prompting her to run for her life. In his book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman (2006) states that if the amygdala perceives a threat based on its stored emotional memory, it “reacts instantaneously, like a neural tripwire, telegraphing a message of crisis to all parts of the brain…The amygdala’s extensive web of neural connections allows it, during an emotional emergency, to capture and drive much of the rest of the brain— including the rational mind” (p. 16-17).

He describes this process in which the rational part of the brain (the neocortex) is overpowered by the emergency response system (the amygdala) as “neural hijacking” (Goleman, p. 14). No matter how rational and creative a person is, once their amygdala becomes activated, that individual will no longer operate using their logical reasoning abilities or creativity. They will instead respond from a place of overpowering emotion and self-preservation that takes time to recover from. When their amygdalae are hijacked, human beings experience distorted perceptions, invalidation, defensiveness, and biased judgment. Where an outsider may see many options, an individual whose amygdala is triggered will feel few or no options, and may panic. This amygdala hijacking incites a strong urge in human beings to fight back, flee the situation, or freeze up—what is popularly known as the fight or flight reaction. This natural gut-level reaction that protected humans from being eaten by tigers at the dawn of their existence is now the same reaction that thwarts their attempts to adapt to the constant change inherent in 21 st -century life.

The American Psychological Association’s annual stress survey (American Psychological Association [APA], 2013) shows that adults are living with more stress than they feel is healthy and that they are having trouble managing the stress in their lives. In 2013, 42% of adults reported an increase in their stress level over the past five years, and 36% said their stress level had stayed the same. Sixty-one percent said that managing stress is extremely or very important, but only 35% said they are doing an excellent or very good job at it. The most commonly reported sources of stress include money (71%), work (69%) and the economy (59%)—all relatively recent stressors in the history of the species (APA, A stress snapshot section, para. 1-5). This stress interferes with everything from sleep to exercise to nutrition in a significant number of adults. Only 50% of teens report feeling confident about their ability to handle their personal problems (APA, Teens and stress section, para. 1).

Human brains and bodies are not wired to manage the chronic stress caused by 21st-century living. When someone pays pay their bills, worries about their mother’s recent cancer diagnosis, or fights traffic to make it to their son’s band concert, their bodies think they are running away from (or fighting, or freezing in front of) a tiger. Just being alive today creates more anxiety than most adults are equipped for.


Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey (2009) extend the understanding of this human self-protection by introducing a phenomenon they call “Immunity to Change.” They highlight the mismatch between the increasing complexity of the world, including the world of work, and the mental complexity of most adults, positing that each person has a hidden anxiety management system, or immune system, that allows people to function in a wide variety of situations. In order to make true changes, one must carefully examine and overcome that immune system, and construct a more expansive system to replace the old one. Taking an immunity to change perspective, it is possible to move beyond the common perception that educational bureaucracy is resistant to change, to consider that the human beings that work in education are resisting change in a perfectly reasonable attempt to protect themselves from real practical and psychological threats.


The daily work of education is sufficiently stressful to trigger an amygdala response. A classroom teacher may recall stopping dead in his tracks when he realized that his evaluation and job security would be based primarily on his students’ performance on an experimental test he had not seen or been trained to understand. He cannot control that his students regularly arrive at his classroom an average of three years behind grade level. His rational mind may want more feedback to improve his practice and better serve his students, but the natural, emotional responses of fear and self- protection take over. In the face of reforms like these, regardless of how effective they are with their students, many great teachers dig in their heels, refuse to adjust their instruction, ignore the changes entirely, or leave the work setting or profession.

This fight or flight reaction in experienced teachers is often misinterpreted as an unwillingness or inability to improve, and has led to a public belief that to fix the nation’s schools requires replacing the old, “bad,” teachers with new, “good” ones. The Time cover photo of Michelle Rhee holding a broom with the caption about “her battle against bad teachers” (Ripley, 2008) is a stark example of this phenomenon. Regardless of how well-intentioned reformers may be in their efforts to replenish the teaching force, both research and reason clearly indicate that seasoned teachers are more skilled at facilitating student learning. Ingersoll and Merrill (2014) cite several sources that document, “the reasonable proposition that teachers’ effectiveness—as measured by gains in their students’ test scores—increases significantly with additional experience for the first several years in teaching” (p. 20). And yet, principals, particularly in the most struggling and micro-managed schools and districts, hire newer, younger teachers, because those teachers are more able to adapt to the reforms that burnt out the ones who left.

Indeed, principals and system-level leaders are beginning to feel the pressure of the constant stream of attempts at systems reform. Given time to reflect, most educational leaders can recall at least one, if not countless, times when the demands upon them in their daily work made their stomach turn, or left them with a tension headache or backache from tightening their muscles or clenching their jaw. For example, a school principal can likely remember the tone of a heated conversation she had with her supervisor when she was suddenly given responsibility for observing and providing substantive feedback to over 150 staff members on top of the 70 hours of work she was already doing each week. Even the strongest principals may feel temptation to let the test scores sort the teachers for them because they do not see how it is possible to do that sorting themselves. A district leader may think back to when he discovered that he was responsible for leading a divided committee to overhaul that district evaluation system. A state official may recollect when she rushed to lead a complete revision of state policy without significant input from practitioners in the field to


prevent federal sanctions after half of her state’s schools were labeled failing. A federal policymaker might remember how he felt when he realized that Congress would not revise the federal accountability system, leaving his boss to make difficult choices about how to proceed in the wake of increased nationwide failure ratings.

All of these situations threaten the leader in question and trigger a state of high alert in their body because these situations call upon them to change something about their approach to the work in order to solve a complex problem. If they decide to change, then there is risk involved. They might fail, be exposed as a fraud, find out that they were wrong, or lose their job, or any number of other negative things might come to pass. Their amygdala sees these modern threats as equal to the primordial threat of a tiger rushing hungrily toward them, and reacts just as strongly, flooding them with all sorts of overwhelming physiological and emotional signals.

In the book In Over Our Heads: The mental demands of modern life, Kegan (1995) contends that “people grow best where they continuously experience an ingenious blend of support and challenge; the rest is commentary” (p.42). He goes on to describe environments that offer insufficient challenge as boring, and states that “Environments that are weighted too heavily in the direction of challenge without adequate support are toxic; they promote defensiveness and constriction.” He concludes, “In contrast, the balance of support and challenge leads to vital engagement” (p. 42). The work of education provides more than enough challenge; what is missing is the support necessary to make sense of those challenges and take steps toward the personal growth necessary to overcome them.

As our education system is increasingly becoming a focus of public discourse, the educators doing the work on the ground are increasingly in a position to respond to a seemingly endless stream of ideas that manifest as changes in their daily work. That means that people working in education are constantly thrown off balance and do not have sufficient time or support to recover from the disruptions—change is constant and their amygdalae are constantly hijacking their neocortices.

Martin Haberman from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (2004) describes a psychological model of how stress leads to burnout as a result of teachers’ inability to protect themselves against threats to their well-being and self-esteem. Teachers face demands that activate their coping mechanisms constantly. The coping mechanisms are not successful in mitigating the demands and their stress levels increase, threatening their physical and mental well-being. This leads to burnout and attrition. He concludes, “[B]ecause a high level of continual alertness is required, teaching is a high stress job” (p. 1). For teachers, and for leaders throughout the system, constant change and high alert is the norm.

In January of 2014, a parent of two Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) teenagers, Sara Roos, wrote a blog post called Too Much Change, Too Fast (Roos, 2014), in which she states, “As a parent I am overwhelmed by all the new education changes flying toward us, straight in the face…good luck even grasping what’s happening before a whole new, even bigger initiative blindsides you…” (para. 1). She goes on to enumerate a list of changes specific to LAUSD, but indicative of the amount of change most educators, students, and parents in our country are trying to adapt to right now. The specific changes—any one of which would require enormous resources to respond appropriately to—include the proliferation of charter schools, local control funding formulas, Common Core State Standards, high-stakes testing, and technology integration into the classroom via mobile devices.


Many of these changes, and others like them, are taking place in other localities across the nation and this parent is not the only stakeholder involved who feels overwhelmed by them. All it takes is a quick Internet search on any one of the topics above to discover thousands of similarly frustrated voices from teachers to parents to students. Constant change has become the new normal in education, and it is unlikely that anyone will be able to bring his or her best self to work in that sort of environment. The only way in which the human beings working in the education sector will ever be able to grow or change to reach their potential is if they create an environment that reduces stress and provides extensive support.


In the worst-case scenario, the adults referred to in the previous section will not receive the type or amount of support they need to adapt to the challenges presented to them—they will not improve their practice or the results of the organizations they lead. Untrained observers might see a hostile teacher, a checked-out principal, an indecisive district leader, an aloof state official, or a tone-deaf federal policymaker. A student of adult development might frame those problems much differently. Every single one of the leaders in question is facing more challenge than they have the support to adapt to, and therefore are unable to resist their immunity to change—they are stuck contending with their tigers alone.

If those same leaders had appropriate support they might be able to grow and employ adaptive skills to mitigate the problem. In this case, perhaps the federal policymaker would join a peer collaborative support group of federal leaders from a variety of domestic federal policy areas, including education, health, and transportation. A highly skilled executive coach would guide members to regularly reflect on problems of practice with a long-term collaborator, who would serve as a peer coach. The supposedly tone-deaf policymaker would bring the issue of congressional inaction around his policy to his peer collaborator. She would listen and help him to understand what is threatening to him about it in the first place—what makes it feel like a tiger to him. Then, they would collaborate to develop a response to the complex challenges of leading his team to craft policy that makes sense, finding the time, money and other resources to do so, and communicating with the public about it. Only then would observers see the true potential of that federal policymaker, and only then would he draw closer to achieving his intended results.

If one overlays the starkly different leadership outcomes described above with what the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF) (2003) calls a “national teacher attrition crisis” (p. 3)—they estimate that one-third of all new teachers leave after three years, and that 46 percent are gone within five years, costing schools and districts nationwide $7.34 billion a year”— then it becomes clear that the demands made on teachers today involve too much challenge without enough support. They are fleeing in droves.

The Alliance for Excellent Education (Alliance) and the New Teacher Center (NTC) (2014) recently released a report that seeks to understand this crisis—why half of teachers leave their jobs within five years. They cited a Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) report entitled The Schools Teachers Leave (2009), which found that schools serving low-income, minority students turn over half of their staffs every three years, so the attrition crisis disproportionately affects these most vulnerable schools and students. According to Alliance, most teachers leave because of job dissatisfaction, and those that do link their decision to five main factors: 1) inadequate administrative support, 2) isolated working conditions, 3) poor student discipline, 4) low salaries, and 5) a lack of collective teacher influence over school wide decisions (p. 4).


NTC suggests that improving teaching and learning conditions and strengthening new teacher induction could fix the attrition problem. In reality, both of those levers are within the locus of control of school and district leaders. Only through equipping leaders with the ability to experience and lead adaptive change can these problems truly be addressed at their roots. If sufficiently developed and supported, principals in most schools, and leaders all the way up the chain of command, could positively and profoundly influence at least four out of five of the factors cited by Alliance simply by providing a supportive environment for growth and change. Shifting the environment in the sector from one of burnout to one of support would stem teacher attrition. Most of the money and effort currently spent recruiting new teachers could then be redirected to developing the teachers and other staff members already working in schools today, positioning the current teaching force for unprecedented success with students.

The principal turnover problem follows the same trends, costing $163 million annually according to a report by the School Leaders Network (2014), which “calls upon decision-makers and funders to value and prioritize principal retention efforts as much as principal pipeline development efforts, which research shows are necessary for the sake of students and schools” (p. 2). Principals and superintendents are even less prepared for, and less developed in, their work than teachers are. Few come close to reaching their potential as leaders for the same reasons teachers leave the profession—they do not have the support they need. In a survey of educational leaders conducted by Public Agenda, 69% of principals responding (and 80% of superintendents) indicated that traditional leadership preparation programs were, “out of touch with the realities of what it takes to run today’s schools” (p. 31).

Meaningful adult development experiences for principals alone would greatly impact at least four out of five of Alliance's factors, lowering teacher and principal attrition. What would be possible if district, state, and federal officials, and the leaders of the boards that govern them, invested time and energy into managing their own immunity to change and supporting the adults with which they work to do the same?


The challenge for leaders in education is not identifying which change is the best one to champion, it is about figuring out which support is necessary to equip the adults with whatever it is they need to overcome their immunity to change. Every educational leader needs to address the developmental needs of her or himself and the adults they lead—whether she sees herself as a Chief Executive Officer or an instructional leader, and whether he is leading a charter management organization or restructuring a state education department—or else adaptive change is not possible.

This is made even more salient when placed in an international perspective. In How the World’s Best Performing School Systems Come Out on Top, McKinsey and Company (2007) examines educational systems that have made swift progress toward excellence. The authors conclude that, “There is not a

single documented case of a school successfully turning around



the absence of talented


did not find a single school system which had been turned around that did not

... possess sustained, committed, and talented leadership” (p. 40).


That leadership requires incredible personal resources, and leading adaptive change requires constant increases in mental complexity. Developing one’s own mental complexity requires intentional self- reflection. Thankfully, in “Immunity to Change,” Kegan and Lahey outline a theory, and describe


some of the practice, for how leaders and organizations can provide appropriate support and challenge. Leaders can use processes like this one to resist their own immunity to change, and the immunities of those they lead.

Kegan and Lahey (2009) propose that “To foster real change and development, both the leader and the organizational culture must take a developmental stance, that is, they must send the message that they expect adults can grow” (p. 308). They go on to outline seven crucial attributes of a genuine developmental stance, 1) committing to ongoing adult development, 2) honoring the distinction between technical and adaptive learning goals, 3) recognizing and cultivating individuals’ intrinsic motivation, 4) assuming that mindset change takes time and can be rocky, 5) recognizing that changing mindsets involves the head and the heart, 6) recognizing that transformation happens when change in mindset and behavior work in tandem, and 7) providing safety for adults to take the risks inherent in changing their mindsets (p. 308-322).

Recent research has suggested that educational leaders enacting a balance of technical and adaptive leadership are able to increase student achievement at higher rates than those employing only technical leadership skills. These studies have gone so far as to show that several facets of trust— benevolence, reliability, competence, integrity, openness, and respect—are highly correlated with school performance and student outcomes. Daly and Chrispeels (2008) conclude, “Trust, particularly the specific aspects of respect, risk, and competence, are significant predictors of adaptive and technical leadership” (p. 2). Taking a developmental stance means creating a safe environment for employees to make mistakes and evolve. That requires constant personal work on the part of leaders to become more open to the change required of them in order to make that safe environment a reality in their organizations.

Fundamentally, leaders must stop seeing themselves as the steward or defender of a particular change, and start thinking of themselves as the coach of a team of adults who are being asked to overcome their immunities to change. Only then will they begin to align their resources to maximize support, and only then will they lead their teams to reach the outcomes they seek. Rather than sorting adults into those who are for or against a preferred form of change, in an attempt to find the right people for the job, leaders at all levels will be able to coach the teams of colleagues and constituents they already have to overcome their immunity to change. The more leaders work on overcoming their own immunity, the more skilled they will become in guiding others do the same, and the more successful they will be in achieving goals with their organizations.


Regardless of what change is to come, the single most powerful course of action to prepare the next generation for the changes of the 21 st Century and beyond is to provide support to education leaders at all levels of the sector, and at all stages of their careers. Leadership skills and a developmental stance can be taught and learned—they reflect the same evolving adaptive tools and mindsets that are being integrated into the educational curriculum. It is more expensive to fund constant staff turnover than to fund widespread, meaningful development for leaders and those they lead, and theorists like Kegan and Lahey have already mapped out what it would take to create such support.

There are many valuable ideas for what the education sector should do to prepare students for the 21 st Century and beyond; none is as important as how leaders go about doing it, and how those leaders support their colleagues and constituents in how they do it. The attrition in schools reflects the failure of this generation to mitigate the challenges of a changing society, workforce, and


education system. Educational leaders must find support for themselves and their organizations, reaching out to others in similar roles, or finding executive coaches and mentors to guide them when they feel like they are running from the tiger. They must create safe learning environments for themselves and each other with attributes like those Kegan and Lahey describe, and keep track of which attributes are most helpful in their specific contexts.

When a leader takes responsibility for finding the support she needs to take a developmental stance with her colleagues and constituents, she creates a ripple effect throughout her sphere of influence, potentially affecting the entire education system. She will model more and more supportive behavior as she overcomes her immunity to change, and then the adults she leads will find that they have greater capacity to change and support change as well. Her actions will radiate throughout the entire education system and the outcomes of her work will improve. If all, or even a critical mass of, educational leaders do the same thing, they will collectively create a supportive developmental environment that will make it possible for the adults to stop running from the tiger long enough to do their best work to teach students to do the exact same thing.



According to David Cohen and Jal Mehta, there are at least four characteristics of successful school reforms that take national reach: “1) they offered solutions to problems that the people who worked in or around schools knew that they had and wanted to solve; 2) they offered solutions that illuminated a real problem that educators had not been aware of, or couldn’t figure out how to solve, but they embraced the reform once they saw that it would help; 3) they satisfied demands that arose from schools’ political, economic or social circumstances, demands that were powerful enough to move education or agencies that influenced education; and 4) they succeeded because there was strong popular pressure on and/or in schools or governments, in our very decentralized scheme of school government, to accomplish some educational purpose” (Cohen and Mehta, 2014). The authors go on to say successful reforms also either offered the educational tools, materials, and practical guidance educators needed to put the reform into practice, or they helped educators to capitalize on existing tools, materials, and guidance.

We see the many characteristics of what Cohen and Mehta highlight across the solutions proposed in this book, but it is important to note the complexities. The education landscape is rife with the pitfalls of large, seemingly immovable complexities and enormous bureaucracies, as is reflected in most of our public school systems across the country. It demands thoughtful leadership that is tailored to the needs of students and the educators who will make impact happen in this complex, interconnected environment.

Whether we choose to adopt the strategies and interventions proposed in this book, inaction – or the homeostasis of the system as it currently is – will continue to leave the fate of students up to chance. If we do not take the risk to pursue another strategy or a different path – or take the risk of having a strategy at all – then we leave undeterred the disequilibrium of our public school system. If we do not act, we believe that public education will continue to produce unequal returns. We humbly approach the work ahead in a learning posture, focused on the objective of providing a high-quality education for every student.

Although we may get signals along the way that the action we are taking seems effective, we may not be able to corroborate long-term effectiveness for a very long time. This is what makes our work challenging: reforms, in general, tend to move at glacial speeds. We pursue them from a position of urgency nonetheless, knowing that there is a great deal at stake. Learning is necessary to keep on moving and to make the most of the investments we collectively have made into crafting these theories of action. With so many ideas that seem worthwhile, the question becomes how we put them together.

As passionate as the authors are about the theories of action they propose, none among them that takes a dogmatic approach. Each author has expressed great willingness for ongoing feedback so they can discover the blind spots that may be inherent in theories and work to address them. By the very nature of these theories coming together, authors have been asked to place their bets on, at least to some extent, theories for education reform that will be most effective in producing their vision of change in the future. In education, we do not have the luxury of putting students or schools aside so we can figure out what works; we cannot take the time to develop and test before we launch – especially as we as a cohort are fiercely guided by a sense of urgency that there are real students whose lives matter every single day. It is on us to design instruction in a way that is


appropriate to reach each and every student – and to continue to learn from ourselves and each other along the way in our attempts to do so.


While each theory of action put forth in this book has its own unique take, none of them claim to be the solution that takes on the entire landscape of challenges facing the American public education sector. We thought it would be worthwhile to take a few of the “sparks” presented in volume to see what the world may look like if several came to fruition together. We lay out a few scenarios in which we describe how various theories may complement or build on each other, and we invite readers to think through what may be missing or what more we be done to deliver on the objectives set forth by the authors for transforming the public education sector.

Interpersonal and intrapersonal: a new way to see schooling

In Chapter 4, Figueroa makes the case that developing strong relationships is more important than any other aspect of schooling, as the returns in learning and teaching can be maximized when they are built upon a strong foundation of shared respect and support between adults and students. One such vision that takes on the challenge of building and sustaining meaningful relationships to improve teaching and learning appears in Chapter 12 by Donahue and McLean. Deep relationship building could play a critical role in the Next Generation Schools that they propose – and really may be a key precondition for their success. In an increasingly diverse world, Next Generation Schools rely as much on the embracing academic content skills beyond the traditional core – to include things like interpersonal skills – and to do so contextualized in a socioeconomically integrated setting. Changing one without the other, they argue, will not sufficiently address the education challenges that the nation faces: “What our children need now more than ever is not a compartmentalized approach to education but an interrelated one, where they see and experience the deep connections across people and disciplines” (119).

For Donahue and McLean’s vision to be sustainable, it requires education leaders who are adept and open to engaging across diverse parties to meaningfully forge relationships; doing so requires a radical look inward to transform leaders into change agents within themselves and within their organizations. This is the hypothesis brought forward in Chapter 10 by Ramp, who argues rethinking the role of systems-level leaders, including their training and development. Ramp claims, “Developing leaders is the most powerful change lever available.” Taken in coordination with what Figueroa, Donahue and McLean argue, the hard work of sustaining relationships to vastly benefit learning and teaching places leaders in a central role.

Reforming teacher preparation through the power of social movements

In “Creating a World Class Teacher Preparation System,” Dutta and Herrmann articulate an approach to recruiting, selecting, preparing, and evaluating teachers in a competency-based model that emphasizes clinical experience. What might happen if these preparation programs explicitly implemented a lean model approach to their own program iteration and intentionally fostered a mindset shift in their novice teachers, as described by Ortiz and LaRosa in chapter fourteen?

One might claim that teacher preparation programs are slow-changing creatures that generate incredible revenues for universities across the nation and that there is no indication or strong enough internal incentive to radically transform themselves. Imagine a social movement founded on equity and excellence for all students began to spark and demanded large-scale change in teacher preparation programs, akin to what Magnuson proposes in Chapter 16, knowing that the quality of


teaching is incredibly variable from classroom to classroom within schools? In Chapter 8, Rhodes and Warren consider the role and influence of teacher unions on reform efforts. It is worth pausing to imagine what might emerge in such a social movement if national teachers’ unions, alongside public and political will, drove reform.

Endless Combinations If examined in tandem, Thigpen, Fisher, and Martin’s chapters string together hope for a cohesive system that includes engaged stakeholders throughout preK-12, higher education, and the business sector. In their vision, students would delve deeply into authentic, real-world learning experiences that prepared them for success in the 21st-century. This trio of chapters challenges the inequity that currently exists in our education system and engages community members beyond the walls of schools to be part of creating a new equitable pipeline for all students and a new reality.

In Chapter 2, Niño shares possible scenarios of an English-Language Learner (ELL) named Juan, one in California and one outside Boston, Massachusetts. But, what if Juan was living in rural Maine? LaRocca claims that rural schools are prime venues for innovation and reform and argues for crafting solutions locally to address local circumstances, like those of José. Simultaneously, Hay asserts that teachers will use innovative technology to revolutionize current schooling practices. Imagine rural teachers harnessing new innovations that incorporate a blended learning approach in powerful ways to better serve ELLs.

In Chapter 4, Klonsky discusses how important it is for students to have expressive opportunities that offer engaging and real-world learning. She references the state of the art music-recording lab that the Juvenile Detention Center and Second Chance share. What if these students who are currently being mis-served by the legal and education systems become, as Fadlallah describes in Chapter 16, a “new generation of media consumers” (Fadlallah) who are “active agents in promoting democratic processes and civic engagement” (Strasburger, 2009)? Similarly, what if the teachers provided with robust professional development that Friday advocates for in Chapter 6, worked alongside the high-caliber principals who embody and practicing the six dimensions of instructional leadership that Olajide outlines in Chapter 9?

We invite the reader to consider what might happen if other sets of chapters were implemented simultaneously. We are curious which elements might reinforce others and what the implications would be for students across the country. We encourage the reader to play “what if” with us. What if any two, three, or even four chapters were held together as a set of sparks? What light might they provide?

In these scenarios, a certain “spark” is elicited, where embers from one solution cause a series of reactions elsewhere. If we pay close enough attention to evidence along the way, we may be able to find the spark that will blaze the next trail.


The recommendations within this book come out of the experiences and perspectives accumulated in our over 200 years of cumulative experience in education. In addition, we tapped into many experts in the sector who were generous to lend their insights, feedback, and wisdom. Each author starts with a “spark” – often something s/he had experienced firsthand that brings the imperative for change to the forefront of her or his mind. These experiences have sparked us into action and


eventually led us to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with the idea that we can take these sparks and make many more.

At the same time, even when we know what problems we are trying to solve and have a solution that might work, we do not always have a firm enough grasp or control of the environment to properly implement it. It is in that spirit that Cohen and Mehta’s elements for change ring true:

sometimes the protagonists leading reform come up short on practical resources and tools to put change into place, and even if they secure those materials, they generally cannot suffice in the absence of enjoying popular pressure and satisfying the demands of the social, political, or economic realities of the community (2014). We need to continuously grow our shared will, leadership capacity, and a never-ending appetite for learning if we want to make significant change across the sector.

We return to the 24 practitioners who are members of the fifth Ed.L.D. cohort. While one could approach this book as scattershot theories of education reform, appreciating each chapter for its own merits, we think that it is much more interesting and thought-provoking to consider how these theories will intersect through the writers, the members of Cohort 5.

Each of us on our own, armed with our experiences and the knowledge that this doctoral program provides, will no doubt make meaningful contributions in their schools, organizations, departments, and companies. Together, however, we have potential far greater than the sum of our individual contributions. Bound by this common experience, a spark that touches the cohort will inevitably cause a chain reaction that extends beyond the reach of any single leader. In this respect, the preceding chapters only introduce the elements – how they come together and the precise solutions that they will form are yet unknown. Meanwhile, the ideas contained herein will continue to shape and evolve as we do as leaders.



We would like to thank our professors Elizabeth City and Jal Mehta for their guidance and support in this project—and for giving us this challenge in the first place. You urged us to pursue our interests, tapped into your own networks to connect us with experts and resources in the field, and never hesitated to look at drafts and offer feedback. Thank you for your unrelenting encouragement and optimism. We’re deeply grateful for your passion for teaching and your dedication to us; thank you for letting your sparks ignite us.

Thank you to the Teaching Fellows for our course, Kristen Callisto and Jeff Carlson, for helping to coordinate this effort and their continual support.

There were also many others who contributed their experiences and expertise to the book. We would like to thank them for their time and willingness to engage with us.

With sincerest gratitude, Cohort 5




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The authors of Sparks are members of the fifth cohort of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Doctor of Education Leadership program (Ed.L.D.). The Ed.L.D. program harnesses the intellectual and professional resources of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Harvard Business School, and the Harvard Kennedy School. The cohort consists of 24 students from diverse professional backgrounds who bring their passion for educational excellence and equity along with a firsthand knowledge of learning and development, a firm grasp of public policy issues, and the organizational management skills to translate visionary ideas into real-world success. The Ed.L.D. program is designed to prepare system-level leaders for positions in national nonprofits and philanthropies, state and federal departments of education, mission-driven for-profits, and school systems.


Kerry Donahue began her career in education as high school social studies teacher in rural North Carolina through Teach For America. During her time in the classroom, Kerry designed and implemented a civics and economics curriculum which led to over 85% of her students to pass statewide exams, the highest pass rate for non-selective social studies classes in the school’s history. Following her time with Teach For America, Kerry worked in a variety of education organizations in Washington, D.C., including New Leaders and D.C. Public Schools. Kerry joined NewSchools Venture Fund in 2011 where her work has focused on improving school quality in the charter sector and supporting schools to take on growth. In her role as a Senior Analyst with NewSchools, Kerry has led due diligence on over five separate charter school networks, unlocking over four million dollars of philanthropic support and adding over 3,400 new high-quality seats to the D.C. charter sector. Kerry comes to this work with a passion for social justice, and a belief that every child must have access to a quality school in order for our country to continue to prosper and deliver on its promises of freedom and equality.

Prateek Dutta experienced educational inequality first hand when he moved from Calcutta, India to a failing school in Denver, Colorado. After being asked not to walk with his graduating high school class because he did not meet basic requirements, Prateek grew determined to fight for educational equity. In 2008, he joined Teach For America in New Orleans where he taught sixth grade and led his students to the highest standardized test scores in the Recovery School District multiple years in a row. Wanting to broaden his impact, Prateek transitioned into KIPP Through College and directed college placement for the first group of graduating seniors in KIPP New Orleans. The lessons he learned in New Orleans and from his own experiences as a struggling immigrant student drive him to bring reform and excellence to other failing schools across the country.

Ali Fadlallah founded Personality Music after teaching 11th grade ELA as a Teach for America Corps Member in Mississippi. Since 2011, Ali has managed his arts company with a mission “to advocate for equality in education through music, literature, and performing arts”, and has traveled


the U.S. to spark community dialogue and instigate progressive, grassroots change. In 2013, he pressed pause on Personality Music to further develop his entrepreneurial vision in an MBA program, where he also gained invaluable experience consulting social enterprises.

After spearheading the opening of 25 out-of-school time programs, Michael Figueroa worked to promote service-learning as an instructional method. His service-learning program became a state model and helped him view national service as a key strategy in public education. Over the last four years at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, Michael developed and led a statewide AmeriCorps mentor program with 16 urban/rural school districts in California. Designed to combat school push-out policies, the program connects mentors with students to provide social-emotional supports. Through this, Michael discovered a new passion for school climate and restorative work with a special emphasis on alternative education. Consequently, he earned his teaching credential serving as a math teacher at a community school. With these experiences and having a daughter with special needs, Michael is professionally and personally committed to creating inclusive school environments for marginalized populations.

Experiencing racial and socioeconomic microaggressions in education sparked Annice Fisher’s motivation to create social and educational change. “Create environments where everyone has the opportunity to actualize their full potential” is Annice’s philosophy for designing inclusive, empowering, and action-oriented spaces that transform lives, educational systems, and communities. As a university administrator, Annice developed innovative leadership curricula, academic interventions, retention approaches, and multicultural competence initiatives for students, faculty, and staff. Recognizing how access programs shaped her success, Annice led community-based educational programs for underserved preK-12 youth in Arizona and North Carolina. Annice’s simultaneous engagement in higher education and the community allowed her to recognize systemic weak links across the preK-16 pipeline. Most recently, Annice designed campus strategies for improving transfer student transition, persistence, and graduation. Through coalitions, Annice wants to build a stronger secondary to post-secondary educational pipeline, where regardless of demography students are academically and socially prepared to reach their highest potential.

As a child of two educators, Ola Friday was raised with an appreciation for the power of education to change lives. Initially drawn to the classroom, the urge to impact policy issues pulled her to pursue work at the systems level. After receiving her Master of Public Policy and a brief stint in private business consulting, Ola went to work in the early childhood education policy arena. Most recently, she led New York State’s quality rating and improvement system that works to improve the quality of the early childhood education programs by engaging providers in formal assessments and providing targeted technical assistance, professional development and enhances to the learning environment. Ola firmly believes that major education reform in the United States will only occur with a focus and investment in the earliest years of a child’s life. She also believes that the U.S. can learn from other countries and is interested in exploring the work of other nations in this arena. Finally, Ola is excited about the federal government’s role in promoting early education policies and she plans to pursue work at that level in the near future.


As a teacher, principal, school founder, and statewide leadership team member, David Hay has been instrumental in leading the charge for “transforming the educational delivery system to better and more efficiently meet the needs of all students.” David takes his work seriously, acknowledging that “the stakes are too high” not to. He believes technology can be leveraged to truly “transform” the system, however it is a means, not the end. Hay defines transformation as “authentic, integrated, and applied.” Hay most recently served as principal of Tomah High School, serving several rural communities in western Wisconsin. He previously taught at, and subsequently served as principal of, Kettle Moraine High School in a suburban community west of Milwaukee. Hay’s major accomplishments include leading the development of two innovative charter schools, one focused on global leadership, one that uses the arts to integrate all core subjects.

Zachary Herrmann has served as a high school mathematics teacher for the past seven years. After completing his teacher education program at Stanford University, Zachary taught for one year in Sunnyvale, CA before moving back to Illinois. Zachary earned the Most Promising New Teacher Award from the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Early Career Educator Award of Excellence from the Illinois School Board of Education for his teaching at Evanston Township High School. Beyond his work in the classroom, Zachary served as the head Girls Cross Country coach and the Boys Distance Track coach, as well as choreographer for several dance shows and musicals, and assisted with and directed several theatrical productions. Zachary also founded the Complex Instruction Consortium, a network of educators and schools who collaborate to improve instruction in mathematics classrooms. The Complex Instruction Consortium has held over 10 free workshops to date, reaching hundreds of teachers and thousands of students. Zachary also serves on the Nationwide Leadership Training Team for the American Cancer Society where he helps create and deliver leadership training content for American Cancer Society staff and volunteers. Zachary enjoys running, and has run six marathons, including Boston in 2014.

Amanda Klonsky has spent the past decade working in the nation’s largest juvenile detention center in Chicago. Most recently, she served as Manager of Juvenile Justice Programs for Chicago Public Schools, leading a team of social workers assisting youth making the transition back to public school after detention or incarceration.

Prior to this role, she served as Program Director at Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Program at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. In 2004-2005, Klonsky worked in South Africa with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. She earned a master’s degree in social work at the University of Chicago. She has received fellowships from the Chicago Foundation for Education, the University of Chicago’s Human Rights Program, and from the Chicago Community Trust, the last of which allowed her to return to South Africa to study juvenile justice reform.

Wanting to give students the same powerful public school experiences that she had, Andrea LaRocca started her career as a high school English teacher, first in Massachusetts and then in England. Andrea was impressed and inspired by passionate educators both home and abroad, though she was simultaneously struck by how overworked and under-supported they were. After earning her master’s degree, Andrea felt that the best way to ensure the quality public school experience that drove her was to move into education reform and pursue her belief that the development and support of educators improves all facets of education. As the Director of National


Initiatives for the past three years at NYC Leadership Academy, a non-profit that prepares transformational school leaders, she worked directly with states, school districts, and organizations on a range of school leadership development and support projects. Andrea hopes to continue to address the undervalued role of the educator and thereby improve education for both students and educators.

Michael LaRosa began his career in public education as a graduate of the Chicago Public Schools, where his student experience sparked his desire to work in the service of improving equitable access to superlative teachers and educational opportunities. As Chief Strategy Officer at Relay Graduate School of Education, Mike oversees matters related to institutional planning, advisory, and partnerships, and was part of the start-up team at an innovative higher education institution serving P-12 educators. Prior to Relay, Mike was a strategy consultant at Diamond Management and Technology Consultants, a technology consultant at Accenture, and a high school math teacher in the New York City Department of Education.

Mike earned his B.E. in chemical engineering from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and his M.B.A. from the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Nicole Magnuson is a brand and social change strategy consultant with nearly 20 years of strategic planning, communications, and executive leadership experience with nonprofits, foundations, and community collaborations. She has dedicated her career to improving lives and social conditions, working to inspire others to give back to their communities through advocacy, investment, and active engagement. Since 2006, Nicole has partnered with Helios Education Foundation, a $600 million philanthropic organization, helping to shape the foundation’s strategic direction as well as in supporting key education reform partnerships. From 2008 thru 2011, she led the creation of Expect More Arizona, an education advocacy organization, dedicated to creating a culture of high expectations and shared commitment to excellence for all Arizona students from birth through career. Long-term, Nicole seeks to lead within an advocacy or philanthropic organization to create high expectation, education-first cultures and to drive education reform efforts that ensure all students receive an excellent education.

As co-founder and School Director of Langston Hughes Academy, Mark Martin led the preK-8 charter school to six consecutive years of academic growth. He authored the proposal to build New Orleans’ first post-Katrina school, a $32 million project. He is a founding Board Member of THRIVE, Louisiana’s first urban residential school, which posted the highest academic gains in state history. Investing over 10 years educating children of poverty, Mark began his career with Teach For America in Atlanta’s Woodson Elementary, where he was honored as the Employee of the Year. Mark’s passion for this work is summed up in Nelson Mandela’s words, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Mark is committed to expanding educational options for families in under-resourced areas of our country, with a focus in the Southeast. Mark graduated with a B.S. in Finance from the University of Alabama and earned an MBA from the University of Georgia. Mark and his wife Tiffany recently welcomed daughter Marilee to the family.


As the first in her family to go to college, Sarah McLean has spent her professional career working for all kids to have access to an excellent education. Over the last decade, Sarah has held a number of executive roles in the public and non-profit sectors leading teams to achieve ambitious goals for educational equity. Most recently, Sarah served as the Chief of Staff for Teach For America’s Regional Operations team charged with the support and management of their 50+ regions, 1,300+ regional employees and a budget of $130M+. Prior to this, Sarah spent four years with the district office of Baltimore City Public Schools, two-and-a-half as the Special Assistant to the superintendent, Dr. Andrés Alonso. She led and managed special projects related to the district’s reform agenda, including the reorganization of the district office to better meet and serve the needs of local communities. Sarah spent the first six years of her career as an elementary/middle school educator in Baltimore and Guatemala City while also co-founding Math Works, a grassroots, professional development organization whose mission focused on increasing student achievement in mathematics through teacher-to-teacher professional development. The breadth of her experience in the public education system drives Sarah’s desire and conviction to lead and innovate at a system- level in the service of all kids and communities.

For the past 11 years, Derek J. Niño has served as a teacher of mathematics and the English Language department chair for Corona High School in Corona, Ca. Qualified to teach the highest levels of math and repeatedly encouraged to pursue administrative positions, Derek chose to stay in the classroom and work with the most challenged students. Derek reflects, “My passion is working with English learners, underrepresented students, and underprivileged youth. Many of my kids – and their families – are marginalized, disenfranchised. I felt that, by staying in the classroom, I could be most effective. Now, I am inspired to better myself so that I, in turn, can work toward bettering the educational experience for all.” Derek’s first goal is to effect positive change in educational policy as it pertains to Hispanic student performance in the southwestern United States.

As a teacher, instructional leader, graduate lecturer, coach, curriculum designer and consultant, Frances Olajide has already begun to make systems-level impact in New York City and Newark, NJ as she has worked to improve the quality of education that low income and high needs students receive. As a native Houstonian who was raised by a single mom in Third Ward, Frances became acutely aware of how a child’s zip code affects their destiny and has worked in schools or with education programs that address inequity and closing the opportunity gap since 2004. Frances began teaching full time in 2007 as a New York City Teaching Fellow in New York City. Following NYCTF, Frances served as a sixth grade writing teacher at KIPP: Infinity Charter School in Harlem. Frances earned a B.S. in Psychology from Xavier University of Louisiana and a M.S. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from CUNY City College. Most recently, Frances served as an Instructional Fellow at Relay Graduate School of Education where she taught, coached and certified teachers in Newark, NJ and as an Education Consultant with Generation Ready where she supported schools and leaders in New York City’s most troubled districts.

An MIT grad with two masters’ degrees, Christine Ortiz spent her high school years working on the national, teen anti-smoking Truth Campaign and advising corporate executives on engaging youths for social change. At the age of 18, she founded her first company, Allen Ortiz Consulting, through which she developed youth empowerment curriculums, designed marketing and branding


strategies for social change initiatives, launched state and country-wide change campaigns, and spoke in front of hundreds of thousands of youth and adults. Seven years ago she returned to Orlando and opened a tutoring center, a stepping-stone to her most recent venture, an Innovation lab that is rapidly prototyping solutions to education related issues which includes The Ampersand School, a K-12 independent school, with mixed-age classrooms, an integrated and thematic curriculum design, and a constant focus on individuality and Blank Schools, a radically different approach to new school model development.

Madonna Ramp has led adults and students in six states and two countries, and has served in a wide variety of innovative human development roles including crisis center training coordinator, high school special education literacy teacher, new teacher mentor, and school district-level coach. Simultaneously with this work as a practitioner, Madonna has impacted the system through U.S. Education Department and America Achieves fellowships, a variety of consulting roles, and the cofounding of a Political Action Committee to affect local school board elections. Most recently, she served as a Social and Emotional Learning Specialist in Austin Independent School District, cultivating transformational change by coaching principals and their leadership teams to improve climate, attendance, and discipline in preK-12 schools. Madonna is driven by a moral imperative to ensure that all students have access to transformational leaders like those who inspired her. She has learned that no human being truly wants to fail, and that a supportive environment focused on growth enables success in all members of the learning community. Ultimately her goal is to support schools and districts in developing their human potential so that all students, and their leaders, are enabled to succeed.

Dwight E. Rhodes most recently served as Chief Academic Officer and Chief Advocacy Officer of ReNEW Schools, where he supported the organization in turning around the lowest performing schools in New Orleans. As CAO, Dwight coached principals and deans of K-8 schools, facilitated the implementation of differentiated instructional techniques, oversaw enrichment programs, developed an alternative education program to minimize the number of expelled/suspended students, and built strong parent/school partnerships through community engagement.

Dwight’s previous experience includes serving as Director of School Reform, where he was responsible for launching a National Teacher Preparation Institute for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Dwight has also served as an elementary school principal in San Francisco, CA. Other educational experience includes being a middle school teacher for nearly 10 years in Atlanta, GA, where he was named teacher of the Year because of his unwavering passion to do what’s right for all students.

Intently focused on innovative educational design, Tyler S. Thigpen is passionate about achieving for preK-12 students and teachers a comprehensive transition to 21 st -century teaching and learning, and applying best practice from public, private, and charter schools to make our public school districts the best in the world. He helped pioneer a transdisciplinary curriculum at an Atlanta independent school where he served as head of upper school, integrated agriculture, arts, and the environment in the elementary and middle charter school he co-founded, and taught high school Spanish in Gwinnett County Public Schools, Georgia's largest district and winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education. Earlier, Tyler worked as a minister at a local Atlanta church and facilitated


international development in Peru in areas of healthcare, education, poverty reduction, infrastructure, and human rights. A husband and father of four, Tyler holds a Midcareer Master of Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a Master of Theological Studies from Regent College of the University of British Columbia.

For twenty years, Sarah Warren has led education and community development programs serving people affected by poverty and conflict. Sarah’s work began with Save the Children in Kabul during the Afghan civil war and rise of the Taliban. During this period, Sarah became energized by the possibility that education could serve as an antidote to violence and poverty—and that schools could become a platform for community development. Since then, Sarah has served in leadership roles in numerous non-profits, shaping strategy, building strong teams, and ensuring the delivery of quality programs. During her tenure with Mercy Corps, an international non-governmental organization, Sarah directed Global Citizen Corps, which trained, educated, and connected thousands of youth leaders in the U.S. and ten other countries. This experience fueled Sarah’s determination to help build a U.S. education system that better prepares young people for global citizenship and the realities of today’s world.



Catherine Pozniak is co-founder and COO of New Schools for Baton Rouge (NSBR), which is among an emerging group of non-profits across the country that are playing a “harbormaster” role in city-based education reform efforts. Prior to NSBR, Catherine served as the executive director and state agency head for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), the state policymaking board for K-12 education as well as authorizer and managing board for the Recovery School District (RSD).

Catherine moved to Baton Rouge after seven winters in South Dakota, where she was a 2004 Teach For America charter corps member on the Rosebud Lakota Sioux Reservation. Catherine taught fourth through eighth grades in two-classroom elementary school on the prairie before transferring to town (pop. 800) to pilot a special education inclusion program for her school district. Catherine held a number of leadership positions as a teacher, including union representative and negotiator of the teachers’ contract.

Following the classroom, Catherine led Teach For America * South Dakota as its executive director, collaborating with her counterparts in New Mexico, Hawai’i, and Oklahoma to launch the Native Alliance Initiative (NAI), which seeks to increase the recruitment of Native teachers, promote partnerships with Native organizations, and incorporate culturally responsive teaching methods in Teach For America’s training program.

Jessica Rose first started teaching as a junior in high school, when she taught creative writing to sixth and seventh graders, and subsequently attended Brown University to study education. While at Brown she worked for The ArtsLiteracy Project, which further solidified her belief that quality arts experiences should be an integral part of all schools. Jessica taught middle and high school English, Ethics, and the Arts for five years, mostly at Boston Preparatory Charter Public School, where she also became the English Department Chair. After earning her master’s in Arts in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, she joined the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). At RIDE Jessica developed educator evaluation and support models, and assisted districts in implementation through creating resources and leading training for school and district leaders across the state. She has wide-reaching interests in U.S. preK-12 education, but is particularly passionate about cultivating quality, reflective, common sense, synergistic school systems that promote powerful teaching and learning.

Mary Wall spent the past five years shaping and developing federal education policy across the birth through college and career pipeline in the Administration of President Barack Obama. Mary joined the Administration in 2009 in the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs, and transitioned from there to work in the Office of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education. In her first tenure at the Department, she focused on the Administration’s efforts around college access, affordability, and completion. Mary left the Department in 2011 to work across education policy areas at the White House Domestic Policy Council, where her work entailed policy research,


development, and strategy for all parts of the President’s education agenda, including the development and rollout of the Preschool for All proposal and legislative proposals and executive actions as part of the President’s college cost and affordability agenda. In late 2013, Mary returned to the Department to serve as a Senior Policy Advisor for higher education, where her efforts have been focused on the Administration’s proposed postsecondary institution rating system, developing the First in the World higher education innovation fund, and working closely on the Department’s higher education regulatory and rulemaking agenda and administration of Federal Student Aid programs.