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Applications to Education Pioneers, a nonprofit group that brings high-performing leaders—particularly those from outside education—into K-12 administrative internships, are rising steadily, putting the 10-year-old organization in line to follow in the footsteps of other nontraditional talent recruiters such as Teach For America.
Despite that recent growth, however, Education Pioneers remains under the radar of many education leadership and management experts and organizations.
"[Education Pioneers] is able to leverage the huge benefits of cohort-building and human-capital and people pipelines, and they’re getting smart, interesting, engaged people into these roles,” said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.
“The fact that they’re off the radar is one of the key reasons why school improvement is having such enormous difficulties,” added Mr. Hess, who also writes an opinion blog hosted on Education Week‘s website.
The Oakland, Calif.-based organization experienced a 70 percent increase in applications this past year alone. For the 450 fellowships available for 2013-14, the group received almost 7,000 applications.
The influx of applications has allowed Education Pioneers to become more selective, admitting fewer than 10 percent of those who apply.
The organization’s goal is to build a network of 10,000 alumni by 2023, said Scott Morgan, its founder and chief executive officer.
Positions in Between
Education Pioneers places early-career professionals in paid noninstructional leadership and management internships—such as administrative, analytic, and operational positions—in a variety of education-related organizations, such as charter schools, educational technology companies, school districts, and support organizations. The average fellow comes with about five years of professional experience.
“Between the superintendent and the principal, there are a lot of people that are managing the finance and operations and human resources and professional development,” said Julie Angilly, the vice president of external relations for Education Pioneers. “Those are roles that most people in the general public don’t even know exist, but are just so critical to supporting teachers and successfully educating students."The organization has three different programs: a 10-week or yearlong internship for graduate students who are either finishing up their degrees or have recently graduated, and a 10-month-long analyst fellowship for those with a strong background in analytics, Ms. Angilly said.
The fellows complete a two-day training session introducing them to some of the big-picture challenges in education, plus five full-day workshops with their cohort to focus on such topics as education technology or human capital in education. They also receive one-on-one coaching throughout the program to evaluate their progress.
Seventy percent of fellows continue to work in education-related jobs after finishing the program, a recent survey indicates.
Education Pioneers works primarily in urban areas in order to have the biggest impact on underserved communities, said Ms. Angilly, and when it comes to placing fellows in schools, the distribution is split fairly evenly between charter and district-run schools.
The organization is supported through a combination of philanthropic funds and revenue from the partner organizations, which pay to have fellows placed with them. Some of the major funders include the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. (The Gates and Walton foundations also provide grant support for Education Week.)
Creating a Pipeline
The inspiration for Education Pioneers came from Mr. Morgan’s experience consulting with the Aspire Public Schools charter network. Then a fledgling organization, Aspire has since grown to encompass 37 schools serving low-income communities in California and Memphis, Tenn.
Mr. Morgan said that at Aspire he saw firsthand the potential that could be realized when leaders from education and business backgrounds were brought together.
“Across the leadership team, [Aspire] had people with these different backgrounds and skill sets all focused on a common mission and vision around providing students with an excellent education,” he said.
Mr. Morgan piloted Education Pioneers with nine fellows from a variety of backgrounds in 2004. Today, the organization boasts an alumni network of more than 2,000 people and works with education organizations in 20 cities.
Of the fellows who stay in education, 40 percent work in either school districts or charter school organizations, and 32 percent work in education support organizations, ranging from ed-tech companies to foundations to think tanks. The rest work in a mix of policy, legal, and advocacy organizations, consulting firms, government education agencies, and out-of-school service providers.
Aimee Eubanks Davis, the chief people officer for the New York City-based Teach For America and a board member for Education Pioneers, has watched the venture grow since its startup years and draws parallels between the trajectory of Education Pioneers and that of TFA, which enlists high-performing college graduates to teach for two years in disadvantaged schools.
In its first 10 years, TFA tripled its teaching corps from an initial group of 460 in 1990 to 1,400 new corps members in 2000. From there, the organization began experiencing a high rate of growth, adding 2,300 new members in 2002.
Mr. Morgan said that as Education Pioneers has grown, it has moved from hiring generalists to focusing on bringing in specialists, and building a strong recruitment team to attract talent.
Education Pioneers alumna Veronica Madrigal recently completed a 10-week summer internship. Ms. Madrigal, who was placed with a charter school in the nation’s capital, said she worked to create content for a new website for the school.
She said that having worked earlier in the 45,000-student District of Columbia school system through Teach For America, she gained insight into the differences in how district-run and charter schools are managed.
But perhaps even more valuable were the workshops with other fellows in her Washington-area cohort, said Ms. Madrigal.
“It was one of the best experiences in my summer to sit around with so many professional backgrounds to examine some of the big problems and issues in education,” she said, “and hear the way that each different perspective informed a different aspect of the solutions we were generating.”
Before entering the program, Ms. Madrigal said, she had anticipated having vast differences of opinion about how education should be led and managed from fellows coming from a business background.
“I was ready for a whole lot of ‘let the market solve the problem,' " she said. “But I ended up feeling awful about my preconceived notions because everybody I met was fabulous, and … they had plenty of insights beyond that stereotypical view.
“I finished the summer feeling like now whenever there’s a big problem, I want to have these different folks around the table to put their heads together because the solutions become so much richer,” she said.
Likewise, Education Pioneers alumna Annie Hsu, who recently completed her 10-week summer internship with the education technology company Chegg, in Santa Clara, Calif., said the experience also challenged her assumptions about those currently working in education.
Ms. Hsu, who comes from a for-profit background and is now finishing up her master’s degree in business administration at the University of California, Berkeley, said the experience opened her eyes to the number of highly competent and qualified people in the field.
‘Diving in Head First’
Another fellow, Kaleah Williams, is finishing a master’s in public administration with a focus in nonprofit management and plans to open a residential school for foster children in Georgia.
That dream led her to apply to Education Pioneers after working in for-profit management consulting.
“I had no prior experience with education, so I’m really getting hands-on experience and diving in head first,” she said.
Ms. Williams was placed with the University of Virginia’s Darden-Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education in Charlottesville, Va., where she works with school districts around the country to support their school turnaround efforts.
She said the experience has taught her a great deal about what it means to run a school and helped inform her next steps. Previously, Ms. Williams said, “I thought that … I could just hire people who knew what they were doing and that would be the end of it.”
But, after working in her capacity as a fellow, she said she now realizes how important it is for everyone in the school to have a strong understanding of the education landscape.
Coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts learning is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at
A version of this article appeared in the November 13, 2013 edition of Education Week as Fast-Growing Group Widens Talent Pool for Education Leaders