10 US education reformers that will impact 2010

  1. Arne Duncan is taking advantage of an unbelievably large budget and pushing a tough reform agenda targeting low-income kids and struggling schools.  While he’ll have his hands full with reauthorization, he has assembled a top notch team.
  2. Joanne Weiss leads the mother of all grant program—Race to the Top—with the same skill and diplomacy she exhibited at New Schools.
  3. Jim Shelton and sidekick Shivam Shah run grant programs of historically gigantic proportions:  i3, Promise Neighborhoods.
  4. Gene Wilhoit is pushing state chiefs, supporting common standards, and asking us all to think hard about the future of learning.
  5. Eric Smith, FL Commissioner, is leveraging the progress that Gov. Bush made earlier in this decade; he’s got a lock on phase 1 Race to the Top money
  6. Paul Pastorek, LA Superintendent, is a smart outsider and has maintained post-Katrina intensity.
  7. Joel Klein, with support of Mayor Bloomberg, is the best urban school leader and continues to expand impact with Education Equality Project.
  8. Joe Williams, Democrats for Education Reform, is reframing partisan debate, challenging historical alliances, and pushing an aggressive performance-based agenda
  9. David Steiner, NY Commissioner, and his able deputy John King, got more done in the first few weeks than most chiefs do in a lifetime.

10. George Miller will play the most important role in the reauthorization of major federal education bill.
10 reformers to watch in 2010

  1. Alex Johnston, ConnCAN, runs the most effective state education advocacy organization and is thinking about expanded impact.
  2. Ben Austin, Parent Revolution, crafted a parent empowerment bargain in Los Angeles and is close to gaining the same power for parents of students trapped in low performing schools statewide.
  3. Barb O’Brien, CO Lt. Gov., lead the most extensive RttT outreach effort in the country and pushed her state into likely phase 1 winner category.
  4. Gerard Robinson, Black Alliance for Educational Options, recently took the reigns from Howard Fuller.
  5. Marjorie Scardino, Pearson, leads the most active R&D and acquisition agenda in the sector and has a clear vision of digital learning services to come.
  6. Kim Smith, founder of New Schools, will do something interesting next year; so will Andy Rotherham, founder of EdSector.
  7. Larry Berger, Wireless Generation, is working on three of the most interesting projects in the sector with a mixture of private and philanthropic capital.
  8. 8. Nelson Smith, National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, is leveraging administration interest in charter schools.
  9. Susan Patrick, International Association of K-12 Online Learning, will help shape the explosive growth of online learning.
  10. [your suggestion here], I’m holding one spot for someone you tell me about; maybe a superintendent, human capital leader, consultant, state chief?

note: this list obviously incorporates Tom’s biases and includes friends, clients, and business partners

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Catharine Bellinger

Michelle Rhee for spot number 10!


Tom Vander Ark

Great choice

Erik Syring

Deborah Gist (contender for "got more done in a few weeks than...")


Tom Vander Ark

Agree, she rocks

john thompson

Where's Randi Weingarten's name? Would you consider Diane Ravich and Deborah Meier to be reformers?
Since the key issue for federal reforms in high-poverty schools, shouldn't you have someone on the list with real experience teaching in the urban classroom?


Hard to argue with Governor Bev Perdue not being in the top 10...some sites on her here:

Jennifer Kohn

George Cigale founder and CEO of Tutor.com for #10. An education company that has delivered 5 million online tutoring sessions for students through public libraries, schools and now the U.S. military. George believes in giving every child one-to-one qualified help just when they need it so the service is on-demand 24/7. I've worked for George for nine years and know first hand that his energy, passion and commitment to kids is now paying off as the the education community truly embraces what technology has to offer our students.


Tom Vander Ark

Other suggestions have included Steve Hargadon, Michele Rhee, and
Eli Broad (I intentionally left funders off, but you could certainly make the case he/others belong on the list)

Joe Gotchy

Representing court systems across the country, how about Judge Harold Manning? Two years ago Judge Manning presided over the Leandro Case which found North Carolina failing to meet its constitutional obligation to provide all young people a sound, basic education. In his decision, he condemned Charlotte for having low-performing schools that were performing what Judge Manning called “educational genocide.” Last spring the performance results of Charlotte’s schools increased substantially, in no small part due to the county investing heavily in new approaches to its lowest performing schools." (Judge Manning is mentioned in Issue #9 in Public School Forum's recently released 'Ten to Watch' predicting the issues that would have the most impact on schools across North Carolina in the coming year. A pdf of the document can be found at http://www.ncforum.org/doclib/Forum_final.pdf.

Mary Menne

I'd vote for Michelle Rhee!


Tom Vander Ark

more shout outs for Deb Gist in RI, Alonzo in Baltimore, Robert Bobb in Detroit, and Justin Cohen at Mass Insight


How many people on either list were actually teachers?

Andrew Coulson

Hi Tom,
How about adding a list of educational outcome criteria, up front, by which your reformers will be evaluated. A year from now, you can do a retrospective to see how your predictions have played out.

Dee Alpert

Hugh Monaghan, Director, Non-Federal Audits, US Dept. of Education. If he and others in the US DOE OIG's office are allowed to do their job without political interference - unlikely in the Duncan era - much of the spin, smoke and mirrors associated with the people you've nominated will simply go down the drain, and at some point we'll arrive at a legitimate understanding of how federal education funds are spent - and what the result of those expenditures really are.
Right now, the average education industry mantra or fad dies out in about 5 years. This is, not coincidentally, the average time it takes for the real data to come in showing what the mantra-du-jour has really done for the kids. Or, more likely, not done.
Race to the Flop, anyone?
Dee Alpert, Publisher

RI teacher

Seth Andrew, Mike Magee, Angus Davis, and Democracy Prep for #10. The work they've done in Rhode Island to lay the groundwork for real reform is why Deborah Gist is even here at all. TFA moving in, TNTP moving in, a fascinating new charter law (mayoral academies), new charter funding, recruiting a kick-butt Comissioner, and a really good shot at RTTT. I'm still in a traditional school, but I'm optimistic for the first time in Rhode Island that real no excuses reform may actually take hold statewide!

Denis Doyle

For # 10 I nominate Jonathan Harber, MIT whiz-kid, and my Schoolnet Co-Founder (a school reform company) that is among the nation's leaders in web-enabled data-driven decision-making -- with a track record: data for 3 million students under management, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Albemarle VA, Denver, Witchita, Northside TX just to name a few. Visit the site and see for yourself.

Marsha Cornell

You have named some people with ideas and who are extremely capable of getting media attention.
We also need finishers--the folks that make ideas happen by ensuring support for each student and the educational professional responsible for the student. Without safe schools and quality work environments, no permanent improvement in 21st Century education will be happening.

Shirley H. Smith, Ph.D. EEP Signatory

Michelle Rhee, Chancellor
Washington, D.C. Schools for the 10th Spot
Someone to watch in 2010

Fred H. Richardso

Justin Cohen and the team at Mass Insight's - Strategic Turnaround Group.
Tom - hope you are doing well - do you get down to Texas at all - Fred

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.