What does it mean to diversify education? In many ways, education in America is already quite diverse; more than half the students in U.S. public schools are Latino, Black or Asian. But, diversity is far less common among the ranks of education leaders. Too few practitioners mirror the ethnicity and socioeconomic status of the students they serve—making it more difficult to understand these students’ challenges.
Through my own experiences and life journey, I have gained a personal understanding of the urgent need to diversify education. That came full circle for me just a few weeks ago, when NewSchools Venture Fund announced the newest round of investments made under our Diverse Leaders strategy. I am proud to say last month we invested a total of $1 million in nine leaders—and their organizations—that have demonstrated a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in education. This builds on two earlier rounds of investments under the Diverse Leaders strategy.
I love the work we do, and I am always so excited when we share news of our investments. This announcement was particularly special to me because it reminded me of why I got started doing this work in the first place. I began my career as an educator, going on to become a superintendent in one of the nation’s largest school districts.
But, it all started when I was in fourth grade and I read the biography of Mary McLeod Bethune. This powerhouse of a woman was an educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian and civil rights activist who was also an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. I heard her story, and I was in love. Right then, I knew my life’s work would be devoted to her legacy. I knew I was going to work as an educator and a change agent on behalf of others, ensuring fair and equitable access to a high-quality education.
And today, I am proud to join many others who walk in her footsteps. Ms. Bethune is certainly not the only notable educator of color. There have been many thousands. Some of those who made the greatest impact on their communities and our nation have become national heroes, like Booker T. Washington, Jeanne L. Noble, Rod Paige, Marian Wright Edelman, Geoffrey Canada, Gloria Ladson-Billing and John King. It’s my hope that the investments made from NewSchools will help to keep that legacy going by supporting the next generation of Black and Latino senior leaders in education.
Diverse Leaders is one of three investment areas at NewSchools Venture Fund; it is focused on closing the racial and ethnic demographic gap between education leaders and students. At NewSchools, we aspire to increase the number of Black and Latino founders and CEOs, senior executives, and board members to represent at least 30 percent of all education leadership by 2020. This is a bold goal, but I’m so proud to say we are making great progress.
Among the organizations in which we invested—from a group of more than 70 submissions—more than half are first-time investments:
- School Systems Leaders Fellowship: Launched in 2012 at Teach For America, the Fellowship is now a project of Cambiar Education. The fellowship prepares high-potential, diverse leaders to take on instructionally focused cabinet-level roles in education organizations within two to three years of completing the program. This year, the program is open to Teach For America alumni; beginning next year, 50 percent of the fellows will come from other sources.
- Chiefs for Change—Future Chiefs: This nonprofit network of diverse chiefs of large-district and statewide education systems is dedicated to preparing all students for today’s world and tomorrow’s. NewSchools is funding the Future Chiefs initiative, helping to expand the program beyond its initial pilot of diverse fellows.
- Community Equity Partners: Community Equity Partners’ (CEP) goal is to retain and develop senior education leaders of color through cross-racial relationships and coaching that disrupt the dominant and exclusive organizational culture. CEP’s theory of change supports organizations in creating inclusive environments that encourage the advancement of Black and Latino senior leaders.
- Education Reform Now—Leaders of Color Initiative: The mission of Education Reform Now (ERN) is to build networks of progressive champions, allies, and supporters across the political and policymaking arenas to expand what works and change what is broken in the public education system. ERN is creating an initiative to alleviate the barriers to entry for elected leaders of color.
- Tennessee Charter School Center—Charter Board Leaders of Color Initiative: As the primary charter support organization in Tennessee, the Center’s planned collaborative will convene and connect existing charter board members of color and increase the number of Black and Latino leaders who serve on charter boards.
In addition to these new investments, we also reinvested in several ventures we funded last year. Although there is increased interest in DEI work within the education funding community, we know there is still not nearly enough money being invested specifically to fund this work. This is especially true for early-stage efforts, and we want to do what we can to support our most promising ventures. We are proud to reinvest in:
We believe entrepreneurs and their organizations will be more successful if they understand the perspectives and needs of their students, and have the insights required to develop creative solutions. This means we must broaden the group of people generating ideas to include leaders who have shared experiences with the students they serve. Diversifying the senior leadership and boards of directors of education organizations is key to this goal.