Chiefs for Change Group Expands and Shifts Membership

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 27, 2015 2 min read
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Chiefs for Change isn’t just for state education commissioners anymore.

That’s the message the group sent yesterday when it added three new members, and for the first time expanded membership to include district-level leaders.

Until this week, Chiefs for Change, an offshoot of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a reform group founded by former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, had always been made up of state superintendents. But that’s a thing of the past, as evidenced by its three new additions: Chris Barbic, the head of the Tennessee Achievement School District; Dale Erquiaga, the Nevada state schools chief; and Mike Miles, the superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District.

Barbic and Miles represent the first time the organization has added K-12 officials who aren’t state chiefs. Additionally, Deborah Gist, the Rhode Island schools superintendent, will remain with Chiefs for Change when she takes over the Tulsa schools this summer.

The group, like the foundation begun by Gov. Bush, advocates for school choice, test-based teacher evaluations, and digital education. In March, the group announced that it would broaden its mission and start recruiting public school leaders from big cities as members, and that it would no longer receive funding from Bush’s foundation.

As I wrote at the time, the group’s membership had dipped from a high of nine members in 2012 to four before the announcement, although the group’s chairman, Louisiana Superintendent John White, said that plans to shift Chiefs for Change’s mission had been in the works for roughly a year.

White said that the group’s new additions are “the start of an important broadening of our membership that recognizes that some of the best work in the nation to modernize schools at scale is occurring at the local level,” White said in a statement announcing the additions of Barbic, Erquiaga, and Miles.

Each of the three new members occupies distinct roles in K-12 administration. The Tennessee Achievement School District is a state-run entity that works with individual schools to improve their academic performance.

It hasn’t been the smoothest sailing lately for Barbic and Erquiaga. Several charter operators have backed out of prior arrangements to begin working with schools in the Achievement School District. The ASD also began charging charter operators a fee for administrative expenses to make up for expired Race to the Top funds. Erquiaga, meanwhile, has had to grapple with big technology problems that have hamstrung the Smarter Balanced exam.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.