Alumni in Action
“I truly believe that public education should be seen as a civil rights issue.”
Neil Danberg - 2006 Bay Area
Spotlight on Neil Danberg
I started out teaching high school special education in Marks, Mississippi through Teach For America. My experience teaching in rural Mississippi was intensely challenging, at times frustrating, but ultimately inspired within me a strong commitment to improving the public education system. After my two years in the classroom, I was interested in an opportunity that would allow me to see the education system from a macro-level. The tenets of the recently-passed No Child Left Behind Act resonated with me and I moved up to Washington D.C. to work at the U.S. Department of Education. Specifically, I worked on teacher quality programs within the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII). OII had been created just a couple years before I joined, and it managed a lot of relatively new and inventive federal K-12 programs.
Through my early career, I have met a number of people who were working hard to try to repair a system that has been broken for decades. I knew I wanted to be a part of that effort, but I had never studied education within a public policy framework. The desire to understand education in this context led me to public policy school at the University of Chicago.
I found out about Education Pioneers because a couple of students in the class ahead of me had participated in the program. They highly recommended it and I went for it.
My summer placement, the California Charter Schools Association, was a great match for me. I wrote a report that focused on teacher retention in charter schools across the state. The experience gave me the opportunity to contrast the work I had done in federal policy while at the U.S. Department of Education with the reality on the ground in California charter schools. The flexibility of charter schools helps to produce innovative and exciting ideas. One of the challenges is determining whether the ideas could be replicated on a larger scale. I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn from my colleagues at the California Charter School Association, some of whom have worked to improve public education for decades.
It was very rewarding to discuss the big issues in public education with the other fellows in my cohort. One of the strongest attributes of the Ed Pioneers fellowship is in its ability to draw fellows with diverse backgrounds.
Engaging in debate with people who looked at the problems in education from a different standpoint challenged me to critically examine my assumptions and broaden my perspective.
The fellowship helped me get my job at the Office of Management and Budget in a couple of ways. First, the experience itself helped me focus my job search on the areas in education that I found most interesting and challenging. Second, Education Pioneers' staff was very helpful after my fellowship. In particular, I really appreciated Scott Morgan's perspective and knowledge of the education field.
I believe it's a very exciting time to be working to improve public education. I think there are a lot of new and exciting ideas in education policy that are creating fresh energy and renewing hope in the potential of our schools. It has been said before, but I truly believe that public education should be seen as a civil rights issue. In my job, specifically, I assist with the formulation of the federal education budget and the management of the Department of Education. I believe the federal government has the capacity and the duty to ensure that every student has access to a high quality education.