It’s Time: I’m Stepping Down

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Cross-posted at Education Week.

In the British pubs, as the evening comes to a close, the bartenders intone the words, “It’s time, it’s time.”  NCEE is not a pub, but it is time.

I will be 79 come November.  Some two or three years ago, I began to think about how to arrange for a transition that would allow me to spend less time managing and more time researching and writing and—to be honest—just plain relaxing.

It was tricky.  I had no intention of just walking out the door.  This work is much too engaging for that and I have been having much too much fun doing it.  But I did not want to manage anymore.  I wanted someone else to do that.  But it needed to be someone who would recognize what a gem NCEE is now and how important its agenda is;  someone who would take the organization to new heights but build directly on its manifest achievements.  Those people don’t grow on trees.  They are not found by recruiting companies.

That sort of specification for a successor would have been quite unnecessary were it not for the fact that this organization is unique and plays a uniquely valuable role in American education. The press release we issued last week provides an abbreviated recitation of the institutions we have built and other accomplishments in our wake. I am intensely proud of those accomplishments and of the respect in which our work is held among top policy makers and classroom teachers alike.

When I left the National Institute of Education in 1981, I came very close to leaving the field of education altogether.  NIE was a very exciting place intellectually, but, after ten years in what had become the boiler room of a remarkable era in American education research, I concluded that we had had almost no effect whatsoever on the lives of teachers and students.

Six years later, I founded NCEE to see if we could find a way to create an organization that could help set the right agenda for American education policy and back up that agenda with high-quality research and analysis.  But I wanted us to go further than that by working hard to implement the ideas and proposals we would put on the table, not in cameo, like most educational interventions, but at scale, in a way that could help hundreds of thousands, if not millions of children.  I had in mind a think tank and a do tank.

NCEE was birthed in 1988.  In 1989, we launched our first major effort to benchmark the American education system against the best such systems in the world.  The results made a deep impression on me. I realized that we did not have to theorize about how to greatly improve our schools.  There were entire countries that were far ahead of us.  They did not do it with more effective interventions.  They did it with more effective systems.  It was going to be our job to figure out how those systems worked and then help our country develop our own version of them.  Our whole organization has never looked back.

On January 1, I will go on a six-month sabbatical.  As of that date, I will no longer be NCEE’s CEO and President.  Those roles will fall to Tony Mackay.  I’ve known Tony for a long time.  The organization will be in very good hands.  The list of important roles he has played in education at a very senior level all over the world goes on for paragraph after paragraph.  I invite you to read that list in our press release.  Tony’s credentials speak for themselves, but you may not know that he has been deeply involved in our work for years, at the top level and on the ground.

When I leave for sabbatical at the start of the next calendar year, Tony will step into his new leadership roles.  When I come back from sabbatical, on July 1, 2019, I will have my sleeves rolled up and a different hat on.  I may be doing some sailing, but I am not sailing off into the sunset.  I will continue to serve on the Board of Trustees as Vice-Chair of the Board, President and CEO Emeritus and Distinguished Senior Fellow.  Much more importantly, I will continue as a part-time employee of NCEE, writing the books and articles I have been longing to write, serving on the faculty of our own little university and doing research with our Center on International Education Benchmarking.  Given that I will be part-time, I may even have some time to do a few other interesting things outside my role at NCEE.

NCEE has never been better led than it is today.  NCEE has a strong senior management.  The organization is in excellent hands.

From now until the end of the calendar year, I will continue to produce a blog weekly.  Thereafter, though my blogs may be less frequent, they will continue for as long as I am able, or until the bartender tugs at my sleeve and whispers in my ear, “It’s time, Marc, it’s time.”

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