An Open Letter

The following letter, which originally appeared at, represents the opinions of the signatories. To add your name to the growing list of supporters, follow this link.

The education reform coalition has a problem. Unlike other historical movements dedicated to the urgent betterment of social conditions, the most prominent leadership and voices of the school improvement coalition have not been representative of the communities that the effort hopes to serve. The leaders of reform organizations are mostly white, and mostly from backgrounds of relative privilege, creating a stark contrast with the communities, and leaders, of color that demand rapid improvements in their schools.

Those of us signing this letter are some of those white leaders. We must admit the extraordinary flaws and shortsightedness in our own leadership for letting the field become so lopsidedly white through the early 2000s. In under-representing the communities that we hoped to serve, particularly people of color, in the leadership and decision-making processes of reform, we created a movement that lacked the ability to drive durable change. A movement of innovators and technocrats will never have the intellectual and moral power of a movement created by, and led by, the communities most affected by inadequate public schooling. And while there is an important role for allies to play in advancing the work of school improvement for poor students and students of color, an unrepresentative group will lack the critical insight and creativity that diversity and inclusivity bring to addressing complex problems.

Despite our own mistakes, we have been heartened by recent course corrections within the reform community. When some major organizations in education reform, including New Schools Venture Fund, began to publicly embrace the need to not just diversify the leadership in the field, but also to ensure that the voices of people of color were centered in the reform conversation, we celebrated the shift in emphasis. That’s why we were so baffled by Robert Pondiscio’s article on the Fordham Institute website yesterday, which suggests a coalition problem that we don’t think needs to exist. In the piece, Pondiscio cites a string of anonymous “conservative education reformers” who are dissatisfied with the “increasing dominance of social justice warriors in education reform and the marginalization of dissenting views.” Pondiscio frames this tension as one of right versus left, or in his words, free market enthusiasts vs. social justice warriors.

It is striking that Pondiscio, and the anonymous sources he quotes, choose now to start worrying about dissenting viewpoints. For many years, the views and leadership of people of color have been overwhelmingly marginalized in conferences, panels, and other prominent education reform spaces. In critiquing the shift he is observing, Pondiscio’s piece makes many of the same mistakes that he decries. He resorts to a left vs. right dichotomy, while demanding the primacy of his own views. He diminishes discussions of social justice as “groupthink,” while asserting that markets, and the other ideas he embraces “need no apology.” Instead of wrestling with issues of institutional racism, he more or less ignores their existence. Most importantly, he worries about the marginalization of his own ideas while diminishing the voices and perspectives of the leaders of color.

When Brittany Packnett, one of those leaders, spoke at the New Schools Venture Fund conference, discussing the intersection of her roles at Teach for America and on the White House’s Task Force for 21st Century Policing, we saw a courageous champion tackling the complex intersections of issues that most affect communities of color. We witnessed the kind of intellectual generosity, coalition building, and diversity necessary to drive real progress. We should pursue transformational education ideas while also considering reforms to immigration and criminal justice, and the education reform efforts of the past twenty-five years are full of examples of unlikely alliances and mash-ups of political perspectives.

Believing that the people most directly affected by educational inequity should have an outsized voice regarding the potential solutions is not a political stance. A true movement for improving schools must embrace the leadership of the communities we hope to serve, and elevate—not ridicule—the ideas of the leaders of those communities. That doesn’t mean that we need to suddenly rebuke everything that Pondiscio and his anonymous sources believe, but it does mean their perspectives must live alongside the stated needs and objectives of the communities whose lives we wish to value in our work. Just as it was always a false choice between “fixing poverty” and “fixing education,” so is it a false choice between abolishing institutional racism and improving schools. 

Reimagining schools for all children, particularly the ones our current system ignores, will require many more years, perhaps generations, of hard work. There will be politicking, tradeoffs, wins, losses, frustrations, and celebrations. The greatest risk to our success is not the minimization of a particular political ideology, but rather the continued marginalization of the communities and leaders that most urgently need for schools to improve. We, as white leaders, have been imperfect allies in that work, but we’re committed to getting better. We hope that others will join us in this important work.

The following people are signatories to this letter. They sign as individuals, not on behalf of the organizations they lead.

Marcia Aaron

Jennifer Alexander

Drew Allsopp

Russell Altenburg

Jay Altman

Julie Angilly

Will Austin

Morty Ballen

Dara Barlin

Parker Baxter

Halli Bayer

Lars Beck

Josh Bell

Catharine Bellinger

Joshua Biber

LesLee Bickford

Kathy Bihr

Paisley Blank

Katherine Bradley

Crystal Brakke

Garrett Bucks

Maryellen Butke

Andy Calkins

Katie Campos

Matt Candler

Steve Cartwright

Kate Casas

Courtney Cass

Jonas Chartock

Katie Christianson

Lisa Clancy

Robert T. Clark

Justin Cohen

Marjorie Cohen

Teresa Cole

Eva Colen

Alex Cortez

Susanna Crafton

Marcie Craig Post

Michael Crawford

Courtney Criswell

Trey Csar

Michelle Culver

Peter Cunningham

Jim Curran

Jacquelyn Davis

Tracy Dell-Angela Barber

Josh Densen

Josh Dormont

Jen Dryer

Keara Duggan

Will Ehrenfeld

Kristin Ehrgood

Christopher Eide

Tracy Epp

Robyn Fehrman

Harris Ferrell

Bill Florio

Briana Foley

Kathleen Fujawa

Kelly Garrett

Stephanie Germeraad

Leslie Gerwin

Chris Gibbons

April Goble

Vanessa Gonzalez

Kate Gottfredson

Ethan Gray

Ron Gubitz

Deanna Harnett

Rich Harrison

Elliot Haspel

Beth Hawkins

Jimmy Henderson

Amy Hertel Buckley

Ryan Hill

Irene Holtzman

Julie Horowitz

Nik Howard

Tim Hurley

Carrie Irvin

Nithin Iyengar

Lida Jennings

Tim Johnson

Alex Johnston

Rhonda Kalifey-Aluise

Nate Kellogg

Jeff Kerscher

Paul Keys

Maryanne Kiley

Greg Klein

Jonathan Klein

Valentina Korkes

Holly Kragthorpe

Matt Kramer

Emily Lawson

Eric Lerum

Simmons Lettre

Katya Levitan-Reiner

Hilary Lewis

Marianne Lombardo

Allan Ludgate

Chistopher Maher

Maura Marino

Christi Martin

Lisa Macfarlane

Tracy McDaniel

Arthur McKee

Frances McLaughlin

Alex Medler

Dmitri Mehlhorn

Lynell Michelsen

Clare Middleton-Detzner

Derek Mitchell

Michael Moody

Scott Morgan

Alexis Morin

Sydney Morris

Nate Morrison

Jennifer Nagourney

Charlie Odom

Allison Ohle

William E. Olsen

Nitzan Pelman

Andrew Plemmons Pratt

Tatiana Poladko

Beth Rabbitt

Kyrra Rankine

Sendhil Revuluri

Benjamin Riley

Michael Robbins

Chris Rogers

Allison Rogovin

David Rosenberg

Jon Rosenberg

Kyle Rosenkrans

Margaret Runyan-Shefa

Mallory Rusch

Kristina Saccone

David Sailer

Susan Saltrick

Roger Schulman

Kristin Scotchmer

Mora Segal

Daniel Sellers

Natalie Shaw

Kimberlee Sia

Elliot Smalley

Abigail Smith

Mike Spangenberg

Ned Stanley

Zoe Stemm-Calderon

Matt Stern

Evan Stone

Chris Sturgis

Mary Ann Sullivan

Alissa Swartz

Cate Swinburn

Marc Terry

Justin Testerman

Celine Toomey Coggins

Jonathan Travers

Lisa Vahey

Patrick van Keerbergen

Michael Vaughn

Jenn Vranek

Sibo Wang

Jared Ware

Jacob Waters

Laura Waters

Eric Westendorf

Debra Wexler

Mieka Wick

David Wick

Laura Wilson Phelan

Ellen Winn

J. Gordon Wright

Elizabeth Zimmerman

Sarah Zuckerman