Deep expertise and commitment to public education

As a national strategy and policy organization with unique and deep expertise in education improvement and reform, we bring to our clients the experience of working with over 20 large districts, over 40 states, nearly 30 foundations and dozens of nonprofit partners. These organizations, like us, are committed to improving our nation’s public education systems in order to close race- and income-based opportunity gaps.

Achieving our mission is our bottom line. We select partners and projects around the nation with which we can best support the needs of students, educators and leaders. We work at the neighborhood, city, state and national levels. We are not beholden to a partisan agenda other than doing what’s right for kids and the adults who serve them. We aim to support each organization with which we work over time, through multiple engagements, because tackling tough problems requires more than a single shot.

We believe public and nonprofit education organizations are people-focused organizations and they will succeed only when they implement equitable, inclusive and coherent strategies and solutions.


We believe students, educators and families need to have different experiences in schooling—experiences that can only happen in equitable, inclusive and coherent education systems. In these systems:

Students experience...
  • Content connected to strengths, interests, goals and culture
  • Rigor and challenge
  • Sense of belonging in cultures of care, respect and mutual accountability
  • Intentional supports to develop skills & knowledge to navigate transitions
  • Educators who proactively work to disrupt inequities that stem from systemic racism
  • Learner-centered approaches
  • Opportunities to exercise choice and develop agency
  • Pride in and celebration of identity, family, culture and community
  • Trusting relationships with adults
...and adults in schools...
  • Experience trusting, diverse and inclusive environments
  • Feel challenged
  • Use evidence-based practice to inform effective instruction and have opportunities to grow and advance
  • Lead with and for equity
  • Have skills to be aware of and manage their own biases
  • Have tools & resources to meet every student where they are
  • Know who their students are and how they learn
  • Understand how their policy and practices uphold or disrupt racial inequities
...and families and communities...
  • Find open, welcoming schools
  • See educators who represent the diversity of the community
  • Feel they have a voice
  • Use schools to connect to other needed resources such as healthcare and food
  • Believe resources are distributed equitably
  • Have trust in educators and leaders to do what’s right
  • Value public education and believe their children will gain the skills for success in life

Where we work

Throughout our history, we have worked extensively for districts, states, nonprofits and foundations.

Our first clients included Achieve, Advance Illinois, American Federation of Teachers, the Cleveland Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the PIE Network, Washington State Board of Education and Washington STEM. In 2009, the Gates Foundation hired Education First to lead a large-scale, multi-state due diligence process to inform its investments in teacher effectiveness, data, college-ready policies and advocacy. From 2009–2010, Education First supported strategy, applications and/or interview prep for Race to the Top winners Colorado, Delaware, Hawai’i, Maryland, Ohio and Tennessee. In 2011, the firm was selected to support the US Department of Education and ICF International as part of the multi-year, technical assistance grant supporting all 19 Race winning states. We began supporting Race to the Top Districts in 2011.

Leaders in 41-plus states and school districts—including Baltimore, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Memphis, Nashville, New York City, Seattle and Syracuse—have turned to us to design better systems. We have strengthened the strategies for many nonprofits—notably Aspen Institute, Complete College America, Data Quality Campaign,, Educators 4 Excellence, Educators Rising, Hill Center and High Achievement New York—and advised many foundations, including Gates, Helios, Helmsley, Hewlett, Edna McConnell Clark, NoVo, Oak, Stone and Univision.

Because our mission extends to supporting deeper capacity in public education, we have published noteworthy reports, rubrics and toolkits on the Common Core State Standards, professional development, high-quality assessments, alignment of K12 and higher education, deregulation and flexibility, and educator evaluation and development systems that improve teaching.


Want to know how we can make an impact for your organization?