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Education Opinion

Where is the Next Generation of Education Leaders Coming From?

By Sara Mead — May 23, 2011 2 min read

In making a list of promising young education leaders, it only seemed reasonable to look at their backgrounds, to try to identify trends in where young education leaders are coming from--and where we might look for them to come in the future.

Perhaps one of the most striking features of this list is the diversity of the people on it--in terms of race/ethnicity, geography, life experiences, and the type of work they’re currently doing. But a few clear trends emerge: Teach for America remains the dominant source of leadership talent in education, and the transformative reform efforts in post-Katrina New Orleans have made that city a fertile ground for new organizations and young talent.

More broadly, these young leaders hail from a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds, states--from New Jersey, to Indiana, to Hawai’i--and even internationally. All currently live and work in urban areas, but they are dispersed across the country. Reflecting New Orleans’ importance as a hotbed for education reform, three of these leaders live and work there--more than in any other city except New York. San Francisco, Boston, and the Washington, D.C., area each claim two. The others live in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami.

Given the dominance of women in education generally, I was a little surprised that 10 out of 16 people on this list are men. I’m still not entirely sure why that is the case and want to investigate that further.

By far the most common experience among these leaders is time spent in the classroom as a teacher. 9 out of 16 have teaching on their resumes, 8 of those through Teach for America.

Largely as a result of that, a master’s degree in education is the most commonly held advanced educational credential in this group, followed by law degrees (3), MBAs (2), one Ph.D., and one almost-Ph.D. But TFA and grad school certainly aren’t the only pathways to leadership in education reform today: Two people on this list have neither teaching experience nor an advanced degree!

The people on this list earned their undergraduate and graduate credentials from a variety of institutions, including: Brandeis, Berkeley, Boston College, Columbia, Dartmouth, Davidson, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland, Pace University, Stanford, Tulane, the University of Virginia, and Yale. And two programs designed to recruit and place recent professional school graduates and young professionals in education--Education Pioneers* and the Broad Residency--each claim two alumni or current participants on this list.

*Bellwether Education Partners has hosted Education Pioneers and currently does some consulting work for the organization.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.