A “Young Washingtonian to Watch” Reconnects to Curry
The Curry Foundation’s newest board member earned a master’s degree in social foundations of education from the Curry School in 2000. Yet, as a former White House advisor who is considered to be one of Washington’s leading commentators on education policy, Andrew J. Rotherham may just be in a class by himself among Curry alumni.
Rotherham began his coursework at the Curry School before founding the 21st Century Schools Project at the Progressive Policy Institute and continued while he was serving as its director. Both were interrupted by a stint as special assistant to the president for domestic policy during the Clinton administration (1999–00). Just shy of thirty years old, he managed education policy activities at the White House and advised President Clinton on a wide range of education issues, including the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, charter schools and public school choice, and increasing accountability in federal policy.
During this period he also began sending out mass e-mails of news, analysis, and commentary on education issues to friends and colleagues, which later turned into twice-monthly newsletters. In 2004 he helped pioneer education blogging with Eduwonk.com, an award-winning site now considered to be the go-to source for education policy news. An Education Week study cited Rotherham’s blog as among the most influential information sources in education today.
Rotherham had finished his Curry degree soon after leaving the Clinton administration and had returned to work at PPI. In 2005 he co-founded Education Sector with journalist Thomas Toch. A self-described “serial nonprofit entrepreneur,” Rotherham envisioned Education Sector as an “independent think tank that challenges conventional thinking in education policy.”
Rotherham’s impressive resumé also includes an appointment to the Virginia Board of Education by Gov. Mark Warner (2005–09). He writes regularly for U.S. News & World Report and has authored a mountain of policy reports, books, and articles for consumer, trade, and academic publications.
In 2007 Washingtonian magazine declared him one of the “40 under Forty” young Washingtonians to watch. Recently, Rotherham spoke with Curry magazine about his experience with the school and his interest in serving on the Curry Foundation board:
What brought you to the Curry School for your degree work?
It’s the best program in Virginia, where I needed to be located, and the program overlapped with what I wanted to learn in a master’s program.
What did you find most valuable about your Curry experience?
The diversity of coursework. I took courses from several disciplines, like school law and education finance, but also courses on substance abuse, history, and character education. In my work now I still use both the various texts and also the knowledge base, for instance, around finance or the philosophic tradition underlying many of the norms in our
How did your Curry experience influence you?
What I learned. The work that I do professionally is geared toward ambitious reform of the public education system to address the systemic inequities that we allow to persist today. What happens to low-income students and students of color in our public school system is catastrophic for this country. But developing ideas that can truly address those problems requires a firm grounding in where we’ve been, where we are, and how things work. I got that at Curry.
What attracted you to the Curry Foundation board of directors?
Professionally, I was aware of and respected Bob Pianta’s work, so when he asked if I’d serve, it would have been hard to say no. And, of course, it’s an opportunity to serve.
What influence do you hope to have?
It’s not really about influence at all. Rather, I’ve benefited from the University in different ways, and this is an opportunity to give back. In my work I’m privileged to be able to work all over the country with a variety of incredible socially entrepreneurial ventures, leading reformers in the public sector, and amazing educators in different kinds of schools. If some of the learning I’ve accumulated in that work can help Curry get even better or can connect Curry with leading-edge work and individuals, then I want to do that.
What do you think the Curry School is doing right?
Curry is obviously the flagship program in Virginia and enjoys a good national reputation. And there are plenty of examples of interesting and important things happening within the school, but it’s a credit to the leadership at Curry that no one is satisfied with where the school is. So rather than any particulars, the most important thing Curry is doing right is trying to become better, to ensure that the work at the school is relevant to the direction education is moving nationally, and that the experience for students is as powerful as it can be.
You are working on a Ph.D. in political science at U.Va. What are you focusing on and why?
Yes. I’m studying in the Department of Politics. but unfortunately that’s been on a slow track since my state board appointment, the birth of my twin girls (at U.Va.’s fantastic hospital) and my professional responsibilities. So I’m done with my coursework but still need to finish up. I wanted to pursue that degree to get deeper on some of the behavioral issues that under-gird much of the professional work I do.
You recently resigned from Education Sector. What’s next?
Education Sector’s been a great experience and I’ve learned a great deal. But I was ready for something different. So along with several very accomplished colleagues I’ve launched a new organization to support leadership and capacity building among entities trying to dramatically change outcomes for low-income kids. We provide a variety of professional services, and I lead the organization’s work around thought leadership, idea generation, and policy strategy. We’re calling it Bellwether Education Partners and are excited about the impact we know it can have. I’m also co-publishing a subscription-based service on education policy forecasting through Whiteboard Education Advisors, and I continue to write and publish the blog. I am going to be a senior fellow at the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington too. It’s an exciting time in the education policy space right now.
by Lynn Bell
Photo by Tom Cogill