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The Pahara Institute Proliferation of Corporate Ed Reformers

March 28, 2017

Pahara Institute is a nonprofit, market-based-education-reform mill designed to proliferate corporate reformers. It was formed in 2012 and is located in Walnut, California.

The corporate reform message of Pahara Institute is the stale sale of *public schools failing and leaders with new, innovative solutions needed*– except the solutions are neither new nor innovative.

Still, Pahara Institute seeks to spread school choice and test-score based reforms.

Lest there be any doubt about Pahara Institute as a corporate reform proliferation nest, consider the bio of its founder and CEO, Kim Smith:

Kim Smith is the founder and chief executive officer of the Pahara Institute. … Immediately prior to the Pahara Institute, Kim was co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. Earlier in her career she served as a founding team member at Teach For America, created and led an AmeriCorps program for community-based leaders in education, managed a business start-up and completed a brief stint in early online learning at Silicon Graphics. After completing her MBA at Stanford University, she co-founded and led NewSchools Venture Fund, a philanthropy focused on transforming public education through social entrepreneurship, where she helped to catalyze a new, bipartisan, cross-sector community of entrepreneurial change agents for public education. Kim has helped to incubate numerous education and social change organizations and has served on a range of boards, which currently include those of Bellwether, NewSchools, and Rocketship Education, and she has authored or co-authored a number of publications about innovation and social entrepreneurial change in education. [Emphasis added.]

Corporate ed reform entrenched.

Note the all-too-familiar corporate reformer lingo in the Pahara Institute Mission and History/Purpose, which, of course, is both “bold” and “urgent”:

The Pahara Institute is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to identify, strengthen, and sustain diverse high potential leaders who are reimagining public education, so that every child in America has access to an excellent public school. …

American public schools are not delivering on our promise to prepare every child to achieve prosperity and success. Children from low income and underserved communities do not have access to the quality of educational resources enjoyed by peers in wealthier communities.

To achieve educational excellence and equity at the same time and to live up to our aspirations as a democratic society, we must make bold improvements to our public schools so that every child in America has access to the tools and skills he or she needs to be successful in life.

The Pahara Institute seeks to strengthen the movement for educational excellence and equity by:

  • helping to develop and sustain experienced, innovative leaders
  • identifying and developing the next generation of leaders
  • better connecting leaders across the field, and across traditional silos and stakeholder groups

Our work is to support exceptional, innovative leaders who bring urgency and dedication to ensuring that all our children have access to an excellent public school.

The following Pahara Institute mission comes from its most recent tax filing as of this writing: Pahara Oct 2014- Sept 2015

Pahara Institute identifies, strengthens, and sustains diverse, high-potential leaders who are reimagining public education, so that every child in America has access to an excellent public school.

In 2014-15, Pahara Institute spent $4.4 million on the following “service accomplishment”:

The Pahara Institute provides leadership development activities and programs for leaders in education reform. Education reform in the US is a complicated undertaking, and it is important that we have a strong cadre of diverse and highly skilled leaders who are able and motivated to reimagine our public schools so that we are providing a high quality education to all of our children and communities. The institute addresses this need through initiatives targeting the development needs of a range of education-related leaders. During the current fiscal year, the Institute had 364 participants in its programs.

In 2012, the Gates Foundation funded Pahara Institute $2 million “to support the Pahara Institute and its two leadership programs, the Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship Program and a new emerging leaders program designed to accelerate the development of high potential emerging leaders of color.”

However, Pahara Institute’s primary “partner” is the Aspen Institute, also a major vehicle for advancing corporate education reform ideas. (I wrote a chapter about the Aspen Institute in my first book, A Chronicle of Echoes, including its history and mammoth annual event, the Aspen Ideas Festival.)

Note that the Gates Foundation is a major funder of the Aspen Institute (over $94 million since 2002), which, in turn, is the primary “partner” of Pahara Institute. However, the Aspen-Pahara fiscal connection becomes murky as Pahara Institute is not mentioned on the Aspen Institute tax form and vice-versa.

Current fiscal murkiness aside, as its “about” page notes, Pahara Institute was originally launched in 2006 as the Aspen-NewSchools Fellowship, a joint venture between the Aspen Institute and NewSchools Venture Fund.

To give an idea of who participated in the Aspen-NewSchools Fellowship, see this 2008 newsletter featuring that year’s Aspen-NewSchools fellows, including:

  • Cami Anderson, Sr. Superintendent of District 79, NYC Dept. of Ed.
  • Jemina Bernard, Executive Director, NY Teach for America
  • Becca Bracey Knight, Managing Director, Broad Center for the Management of School Systems
  • Tim Daly, President, The New Teacher Project
  • John King, Sr. Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education, NY State Dept. of Ed.
  • Jordan Meranus, Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund
  • Rebecca Nieves Huffman, VP, The Fund for Authorizing Excellence, Nat’l. Assn. of Charter Schools Authorizers
  • Terry Ryan, VP for Ohio Programs and Policy, The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
  • Sarah Usdin, Founder and President, New Schools for New Orleans [Emphasis added.]

The first cohort of Pahara fellows (2007) included the following corporate ed reformers (bio links from main link above are rich with corp ed reform connections):

  • Russlyn Ali, Managing Director of Ed Fund, Emerson Collective
  • Chris Barbic, Founding (former) Superintendent, Tennessee Achievement District
  • Richard Barth, CEO, KIPP Foundation
  • Michael Bennet, US Senator (Colorado)
  • Susan Colby, Partner, McKinsey and Company
  • John Deasy, Former Los Angeles Superintendent, now with The Broad Center
  • Kaya Henderson, Former DC Chancellor
  • Jon Schnur, Co-leader, New Leaders for New Schools
  • Jim Shelton, Former Ed Program Director, Gates Foundation
  • Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America

Some more Pahara fellows from other years:

  • Ben Austin, Founder, Parent Revolution (2014)
  • Tom Boasberg, Superintendent, Denver Public Schools (2013)
  • Chaka Booker, Managing Director, the Broad Center (2015)
  • Derrell Bradford, Exec. VP and Exec. Director, NYCAN, 50CAN (2016)
  • Jean-Claude Brizard, Former CEO, Chicago Public Schools (2010)
  • Chris Cerf, Superintendent, Newark Public Schools (2016)
  • Deborah Gist, former Rhode Island Commissioner of Ed and current Superintendent, Tulsa Public Schools (2013)
  • Aimee Guidera, Founder and Exec. Director, Data Quality Campaign (2013)
  • Keri Hoyt, Chief Operating Officer, Success Academy Charter Schools (2014)
  • Shavar Jeffries, President, Democrats for Education Reform (2017)
  • Michael Johnston, Colorado State Senator (2013)
  • Neerav Kingsland, Former CEO, New Schools for New Orleans (2013)
  • Patricia Levesque, CEO/Exec. Director, Foundation for Excellence in Education (2013)
  • Marc Porter Magee, Founder, 50CAN (2014)
  • Deborah McGriff, Partner, NewSchools Venture Fund (2013)
  • Kira Orange-Jones, Executive Director of Teach for America, New Orleans (2010)
  • Dana Peterson, Deputy Superintendent, New Orleans Recovery School District (2013)
  • Margaret (Macke) Raymond, Founder and Director, CREDO (2017)
  • Caroline Roemer (Shirley), Exec. Director, La. Assn. of Public Charter Schools (2012)
  • Stefanie Sanford, Former Director at the Gates Foundation, now with The College Board (2011)
  • Laura Slover, CEO, PARCC (2013)
  • Andy Smarick, Partner, Bellwether Education, and Member, Maryland Board of Education (2010)
  • Preston Smith, Co-founder, Rocketship Education (2010)
  • Daniel Weisberg, CEO, The New Teacher Project (2016)

There are many, many more Pahara fellows on the long list extending from 2007 to 2017.

One would think that with such concerted effort, market-based ed reforms would actually work– school choice would clearly triumph over those stepchild community schools, and test score outcomes would usher in local and state economic improvements.

I wonder how many Pahara cohorts it will take to bring us into the market-driven promised land.

I have at least ten more years before I retire from my traditional teaching position.

The race is on.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. As much as I love reading your research and commentary I can only pray there will not be 10 more years of “Pahara cohorts.”

  2. Michael Fiorillo permalink

    Thanks for the Least Wanted List, Mercedes, but what makes you think you’ll escape these “Best and Brightest” grifters when you retire? After all, they’re after our pensions, as well.

    • Not escape. Finish my classroom career before corporate reform lives up to its hype.

      • The best of luck; it feels as if an avalanche is building.

      • Michael Fiorillo permalink

        Best of luck to you. I am in a similar situation, but am fortunate enough to be bailing out sooner. Whatever the outcome, thank you for your efforts.

    • Linda permalink

      The 2010-2014 President of the 113,000 member Massachusetts Teachers Association, who “served on many NEA committees at the national level, is also a Pahara-Aspen Teacher-Leader Fellow.” Paul Toner’s bio. is posted at the Massachusetts Dept of Higher Education Board member site.

  3. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Quite a list of people who are out to get rid of public education. I wonder what all of these transformative leaders are doing now, and will be doing during the Trump Administration.
    If you had all the time in the world you could do an interactive timeline of career trajectories (migration patterns) of these people. The software for this, created by the late Hans Rolling, is in the public domain. You can find some demonstrations on TED talks.…/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_you_…

  4. Linda permalink

    Pahara boasts of its first Fellow in a college education dean position- Dr. Gallagher-University of Southern California-Rossier School of Education

  5. Linda permalink

    The BATS organization should certify as a union, so that teachers have an alternative. About 4 years ago, the Executive Director or President of two, major city Federation of Teachers organizations and two, state Education Associations, were announced as Aspen Fellows.

    Thanks to Dr. Schneider for her Pahara research.

  6. Linda permalink

    The Kim Smith interview at Philanthropy Roundtable that identifies New Schools Venture Fund’s “marching orders” is a must read, “…different brands on a large scale”. Bill Gates is an investor in the largest seller of for-profit schools-in-a-box (Bridge International Academies).

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider on the Pahara Institute, Which Trains True Believers in Privatization and Testing | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Student Data Collector Aimee Guidera to be Next VA Education Secretary | deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider's Blog
  3. Denver: Corporate Reformers Dump $$$ into Mayoral Race | Diane Ravitch's blog

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