07/24/2013 03:10 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2013

Shining a Light on Education's Invisible Lever: Talented Leaders and Managers

Kristin Groos Richmond worked for four years as an investment banker for Citigroup when she seized an opportunity that would change her life. She left Wall Street to co-found the Kenya Community Center for Learning, one of the first special needs schools in East Africa. Kristin's experience in Africa sparked a desire to devote her career to working in education, and she unexpectedly found a place she could make a huge impact on the education sector: school meals and nutrition education.

In Africa, Kristin witnessed disturbing food shortages; the kids simply didn't have enough to eat. Back in the United States, she realized our nation was facing food quality issues. What kids were being fed in American schools -- especially students living in low-income communities -- was cheap, nutritionally-void food that simply wasn't providing them with the sustenance to have a successful school day.

In 2005, Kristin and Kirsten Tobey co-founded Revolution Foods, determined to transform how American kids eat at school, ensuring that every child has access to healthy, nutritious meals. Eight years later, Revolution Foods has already served more than 50 million healthy meals. This year it is serving one million healthy meals a week to students in almost 1,000 schools across the country. Kristin serves as the organization's CEO, and has overseen the company's rapid growth throughout northern and southern California, Colorado, the Mid-Atlantic, New York, New Jersey, Louisiana and Texas. As Revolution Foods grows, it continues to seek ways to broaden access to healthy food for all school kids.

At Education Pioneers, we invest in leaders like Kristin, an alumna, because they embody our organization's founding belief that talented leaders and managers can scale successful solutions for the education sector to impact millions of children nationwide.

Now, a decade into our work, Education Pioneers has amassed a significant amount of data on our more than 1,600 alumni. These leaders work in our nation's largest urban school districts, charter management organizations, education nonprofits, ed-tech companies and state and federal departments of education. Today, we released a report on our findings from a data survey of our alumni: The Invisible Lever: A Profile of Leadership and Management Talent in Education.

From the data, three key findings became clear:
  • Finding 1: A new wave of managers and leaders is stepping forward to address the significant need for skilled managerial talent in public education--but many more are still needed.
  • Finding 2: Although running excellent school systems and education organizations is incredibly challenging, the sector offers significant management opportunities in general and for leaders of color.
  • Finding 3: More than ever, education leaders and managers must have sharp analytical skills so they can work effectively with both business and student outcomes data to make important strategic, operational and instructional decisions.

Our first finding didn't surprise us. At Education Pioneers, we've seen year-over-year increases in applications to our selective Fellowship programs; in 2013 alone, we saw a 70 percent increase in applications over 2012. We are thrilled to see so many top graduate students and early career professionals seeking education careers, and we know that we need thousands more to create a high-performing education sector where all students receive an excellent education.

Additionally, the significant leadership and management opportunities that the sector offers for leaders from all backgrounds, including leaders of color, highlight the tremendous career opportunities that exist for talented people who choose to work in the education sector.

Lastly, the need for and importance of data analysis skills have skyrocketed in the sector. More than half of our alumni who work full-time in education indicate that they are working with different kinds of data, from achievement and performance data to core business operations data. Increasingly, it has become vital for education leaders and managers to have strong analytical skills to make smart, data-informed decisions.

While The Invisible Lever focuses on Education Pioneers' alumni data, we believe that the trends we've seen within our rapidly growing leadership network also offer insights for the sector as a whole. Most importantly, we hope this report will ignite conversations about the importance of education leaders and managers, and shine a light on these hundreds of thousands of roles so that they are no longer invisible.

At Education Pioneers, we believe that top leaders, managers and analysts -- inside and outside school buildings -- are the key lever to create high-performing education systems of great schools that recruit, retain and reward effective teachers and principals, that track and analyze performance and operational data to improve outcomes and that create a sector where our nation's top professionals in general and our top professionals of color are clamoring to work.

We need more talented leaders scaling success for school systems and education organizations across the sector nationwide. And we need thousands of top leaders, managers and analysts at all levels of the education sector who are working on a daily basis to get dramatically better results for kids.

I invite you to download the report from the Education Pioneers' website, and encourage you to discuss it with your friends and colleagues. The movement to transform education requires talented problem solvers to drive the revolutionary changes we need.