Policy, Strategy & Counsel

Change in education won’t stick without smart policies, workable strategies and real partnerships. Leaders who envision a brighter future for children need advice in deciding what course to chart; help assessing the risks and opportunities of different options; and support to execute new ideas. Getting everyone on board with new ideas also requires engaging educators and stakeholders meaningfully, so that they are involved in real problem-solving and can take ownership of new decisions and policies. Because we’ve advised policymakers, managed grantmaking programs and led school systems and nonprofits ourselves, we understand the complex and dynamic contexts in which education leaders operate.

In each of the sections below, click on the images to see examples of our work.

Nonprofit Strategy & Support

Our strategy services include landscape scans/analyses, diagnostic and needs assessments; organization design and launch for start-ups; strategic and business planning for nonprofits; implementation support; talent development systems; and coaching and advising for nonprofit executives and boards. We blend traditional strategic planning with education expertise and a custom approach that recognizes the different needs of start-ups (creating an organization from scratch), of maturing organizations that need a strategic refresh (revisiting, either in whole or in part, its strategic foundations and/or management needs), and of mature organizations whose evidence of impact or other landscape opportunities suggest the time is right to consider scale-up (planning for organizational growth and/or replication or expansion of an existing model, program or solution).

Together with our clients, we build roadmaps that recognize the fluid and dynamic landscape of public education. These roadmaps often include:

  • Greater understanding of relevant education issues, competitors, allies and levers
  • Clarity and alignment on strategic problems the organization will solve
  • New or refreshed vision, mission, values and intended impact statements
  • A “theory of change” describing how the organization believes change will happen in public education and/or a “theory of action” that details how goals, strategies and outcomes will help the nonprofit achieve its mission
  • Practical resource decisions and plans in such areas as fundraising, board of directors, budget, staffing, organization structure and progress monitoring
  • Talent management systems for recruiting, hiring, developing, paying and retaining staff while increasing diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Coaching and advising for leaders to help them manage the change, align people and resources with goals and strategies, and focus on the right measures of success
  • Detailed workplans to help executives and staff implement with clarity and quality


Education First's Approach to Strategic Planning:

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Policy Analysis & Development

Education First emphasizes a collaborative, data-driven and actionable approach to policy analysis and development. We use our research, policy and advocacy and teaching experience to ask the right questions, focus on the most important issues and apply our knowledge to help clients make thoughtful and informed decisions. Our approach goes beyond supporting the preparation of a single PowerPoint, report, or policy proposal. We engage our clients in a collaborative process of identifying project goals and outcomes so that our research best meets the client’s needs. Our knowledge of what’s taking place in education across the nation gives our clients a head start. This deeper knowledge helps us to tailor our research and analysis—landscape scans, document reviews, expert interviews, stakeholder surveys and focus groups—to ensure we talk to the right experts and stakeholders, uncover the most-relevant research and evidence and synthesize the right information to inform and guide decisionmaking. We know where to begin: what questions to ask, who to call, who’s doing what well, who’s doing what poorly and how to identify the gaps in between.


Educator & Stakeholder Engagement

We believe in stakeholder engagement not because it’s something an organization “has to do,” but because it’s the right thing to do. Changing public education requires families, educators, policymakers, community and business leaders, funders and advocates to examine data, to consider alternative viewpoints, to listen carefully for others’ intent (and not just to others’ words), to seek common ground and to align behind new or different ideas. We design and lead processes to engage critical friends, stakeholders and even opponents in landscape analysis, idea generation and proposal development, implementation planning and feedback loops and evaluations of what’s working and what should be improved.


Helpful Resources

Featured Resource: Understanding Language at Stanford University

Education First helped Understanding Language—a field leader in strategies for English language learners—develop a strategy for disseminating its knowledge to more educators around the United States.

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Getting Out of the Way: Education Flexibility to Boost Innovation and Improvement in Ohio

As the state of Ohio looks to deregulate its education system in favor of for individualization and customization, our brief looks at the ways Ohio...
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Strategic Planning Overview

In any strategic planning project, our task is to help the organization leaders and staff develop a blueprint that will guide their organization for several...
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Educators Rising Overview

In 2014 we worked with Phi Delta Kappa International to create a strategic plan for the launch of Educators Rising, a new teacher pipeline initiative....
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