With both of its founders off the education stage, the Education Equality Project gracefully closed its doors this week when its remaining board members joined Stand for Children, a national school reform advocacy group.
Board members announced the news in a press release today, although insiders said the partnership was considered a done deal for several months. EEP has been without a staff since December and has been looking for suitors to meet its lofty national ambitions ever since.
By tapping into EEP, Stand For Children will gain three board members — including Grammy Award-winning R&B singer John Legend — and access to a powerful and diverse Rolodex of influential people who could help it establish beachheads in more states.
Unlike some reform groups that frequently challenge teachers unions, Stand For Children, founded in 1996 in Oregon, has prided itself on generating local support and collaborating with unions as it promotes legislative change. That reputation was challenged this summer after the group was revealed to have lobbied aggressively against Illinois teacher unions to get a reform bill passed.
Jonah Edelman, Stand For Children’s founder and CEO, said today that the new partnership with EEP would help the groups extend their influence in more states, particularly southern states where the influence of reform groups has been less strong.
“Together, we’re positioned to shape the national debate on public education while building powerful statewide organizations across the country that will make a profound impact for students, from the state capitol to the classroom,” Edelman said in a statement.
EEP had national ambitions when former New York City Chancellor Joel Klein and the Rev. Al Sharpton forged a partnership in 2008 to close the racial gap in student achievement. The group immediately assembled a powerful advisory board and quickly collected hundreds of signatures of support from education officials and advocates from around the country.
But the field of states-based national organizations — such as Democrats for Education Reform, Stand for Children, and 50 Can —was growing crowded, and EEP failed to gain traction. Last year, the Klein-Sharpton partnership dissolved when Sharpton left the board. After that, the coalition’s spirit as a bridge-builder also dissipated.
Two EEP board members who run their own national advocacy groups — StudentsFirst’s Michelle Rhee and DFER’s Joe Williams — did not join Stand For Children’s board. Nor did Klein, who now runs an education division at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. A person who works in the education advocacy field said he thought Klein “wanted to throw his eggs in a new basket.”
In an interview, Edelman said that too often education advocacy organizations “work in silos.”
“This is the opposite,” Edelman said. “These are two organizations with a similar mission deciding to come together and work together.”